The Sindh Cauldron

The present state of political unrest and social anarchy in Sindh cannot be explained by the application of conventional political theories based on class or nationality, as our leaders, political pundits and intellectuals have been trying to do for the past so many years. This is because the massive influx of refugees in 1947 and the continuing migration since then, from other parts of Pakistan, have brought about such major changes in the demography of the province that it can no longer be viewed, at least for the time being, as a normal, cohesive and historic entity.

In addition, the unequal development between the urban and rural areas, and the different levels of development between the locals and settlers, and between different groups of settlers themselves, confound things further. Then there are 11 long years of suppression under martial law which have changed the politics of Sindh from the well established cycle of dialogue-agitation-dialogue, to one in which terrorism plays a major role. Thus, a return to normal political activity through discussion and consensus will be a far more difficult process in Sindh than in the other provinces, the absolute majority of the PPP in the provincial assembly and its pact with the MQM notwithstanding. It is necessary, therefore, to examine the different ingredients simmering in the Sindh cauldron, the changes that have taken place in them and the pressures which they are being subjected to, in the post election era.

There is no doubt in any one’s mind that the MQM emerged as ostensibly the most vocal and powerful group in Sindh’s politics in the last years of the previous regime. In the elections its victory in the urban areas was absolute. However, it commands only one-third of the seats in the assembly and as such is in no position to bring about any of the changes it had advocated in its years of struggle. Its more militant activists, many of whom are armed, feel that their aspirations can only be fulfilled by the exercise of their street power which is far in excess of their voting strength. They feel that “nothing is happening” and are restless. So far the MQM leadership has kept these elements under some form of control. However, if they break free or cease to support the movement, then the bargaining power of the MQM, which is its biggest political asset, will be considerably curtailed in addition to subjecting the province to yet another round of violence. Constitutional politics have, it seems, cut the MQM down to size. How its electoral support is going to react to this remains to be seen.

The Sindh nationalists have problems similar to those faced by the MQM. They have been a major pressure group in the politics of the province and their power base is the student community in the colleges and universities. They have not won a single seat in the provincial assembly and if they are to survive politically they will have to take a progressively harder nationalistic line. Any failure on the part of the PPP, or any concession given by it to the MQM, will strengthen their position. Since the elections their activity has increased and the present turmoil in the educational institutions in the province is largely due to their new militancy. Like the MQM activists, they are also armed and like them, again, they are potential source of violence and terrorism.

The PPP has swept the elections in Sindh because the Sindhi-speaking population, which according to the 1981 census, comprises the overwhelming majority in the province, voted for it. Therefore, its main function has to be the protection of the interests of this group. At the same time it has to govern the province and for this it will have to continue to make concessions to the MQM, the major force in the urban areas. This is bringing it under considerable attack from its electorate and from other nationalist elements. It is a difficult situation for the PPP and it goes to its credit that it has continued to pursue a policy of governing through consensus in spite of provocation and bouts of non-cooperation from its allies and pressure and threats from other groups outside the assembly. However, its six month period of government, it has not been able to contain growing social anarchy, initiate development, suppress powerful mafias which make a mockery of the planning process in the province, or even keep itself aloof from the culture of loot through political patronage. It is ultimately the PPP’s achievements, or lack of them for the welfare and peace of this unhappy province, rather than a continued uneventful consensus, that will decide the future shape of things to come.

Apart from these political pressures, the two main groups in Sindh, the Sindhis and Mohajirs, have serious problems within their own societies. These problems are likely to affect their politics in the changed post-election political climate and may be create further division among them.

In the case of Sindhis, the last 20 years have seen a weakening of the old feudal system and the emergence of a new and vocal middle class. Under normal conditions this middle class would have struggled against the feudal structure and aspired to the leadership of the Sindhi people. However, conditions in Sindh are not normal, and this new middle class, in its search for jobs, education and business opportunities, finds itself in conflict with deeply entrenched Mohajir interests in the more developed urban areas. Thus, its field of activities gets limited to the lesser developed regions where educational and health facilities are poor, jobs, if they are available, are unsuitable for better educated candidates, and lucrative business activities are almost non-existent. This state of affairs is a major deterrent to the rapid development of a Sindhi bourgeoisie and it leaves the new middle class with no other alternative than forming an alliance with the feudal on a nationalist platform dominated by them. The contradictions in such an arrangement, along with the other issues mentioned above, have in them are seeds of a major conflict which cannot be easily resolved.

The Mohajirs, on their part, also have serious conflicts within their ranks. The MQM victory has, for the time being, pushed these conflicts into the background, but they are in the process of resurfacing. The main issue is the manner in which the Mohajir community should relate to Sindh and its people, and in turn, to the centre. Thus, this issue is fundamentally one of identity. There are those among the Mohajirs who firmly believe that they should fully identify themselves with the province, its history and its culture, conflict or disagreement with the Sindhis notwithstanding. They support the SNA stand on Kalabagh and are upset that the MQM does not; they think that the MQM walk-out from the Sindh assembly because the finance minister presented the provincial budget in Sindhi is unjustified; they believe that in a centre-province conflict or disagreement they should always support the province, and until recently they felt that they should be referred to as Urdu-speaking Sindhis and not as mohajirs. However, there are other mohajirs who think differently. They feel that there is an inherent conflict in any relationship between the mohajirs and Sindhis and that the mohajirs can only survive (which really means the protection of the privileges they enjoy by virtue of their education and control of small businesses) by building up their political strength as a separate entity. They feel that for the promotion of mohajir interests, political patronage is required, much on the same lines as the political patronage which was provided to the Sindhis during the first Bhutto era. Thus, there are those among them who refer to the MQM as a ‘mohajiroon ki PPP’. It is interesting to note that the vast majority of the mohajirs who belong to the first group are from Karachi, where contact with the Sindhis is minimal and the clash of interests between the two groups is hardly felt. The surfacing of these contradictions in Sindhi society and the crisis of identity in the second generation of mahajirs, have alienated the population of the province from the rest of Pakistan, made them introverted and pulled them out from the mainstream of Pakistani politics.

This host of divisions and subdivisions in the province, the clash of various interests and the constant fear of armed conflict can be contained if genuine grass-root level development is promoted. In the rural areas of Sindh, unlike the Punjab and Frontier, roads, canals and drainage channels are not maintained; agricultural produce is not lifted on time; credit facilities do not reach the small farmer or peasant, and in spite of a significant development budget no development takes place. Contracts for development projects are handed out as favours at well above normal rates, the contracts are not supervised and their performance is completed on paper alone. Basic Health Units and Rural Health Clinics are unmanned and without medicines, although officially, staff has been recruited and grants have been allocated for them. A large number of government schools have been converted into otaks or storehouses, and in a number of districts literacy levels have fallen, especially among females.

Gowcher, shamlaat and katcha lands have been encroached upon by the powerful, and forests have been sold, as political bribes, for a song. The whole rural economy is in shambles and traditional institutions, which were its mainstay, have ceased to be.

The situation in the urban areas is no better, Karachi, the provincial capital, is governed not by the state, but by powerful lobbies whose interests conflict with those of the people. These lobbies include the formal sector developers, the land grabbers the transporters and various trade organisations. Together they milk the city and control its resources. Because of the enormous financial resources at their disposal, they have always managed to dictate or suitably modify according to their own interests, the planning policies of the government and to control and use the political power in the province. It is common knowledge that these lobbies have partly financed the election campaigns of almost every political party and have close associations with the key personalities in them. It still remains to be seen whether the PPP and MQM will, in the larger interests of the people of Sindh, enact and implement policies that go against the interests of these lobbies or whether they will, like all their predecessors, become their partners. The functioning of these lobbies is facilitated by the lack of unity among the residents of Sindh; the constant turmoil in the educational institutions; the dacoities in the urban areas and the kidnappings in the countryside; and the constant discussion at all levels on the symptoms of the disease the province suffers from rather than the causes.

The Sindh situation as described above lends itself to exploitation by any group whose interests can be furthered by conflict and turmoil. One such organisation is the drug mafia. Recent articles in the press have established, not only the extent and scale of its operations, but also its method of operation and its close links with certain sections of the establishment and with trade, commerce and real estate. Its reasons for keeping the government preoccupied and harassed with law and order problems can be easily understood. In its formative years, the MQM raised its voice against the drug mafia in a big way. Now, however, it has ceased to be an issue with them. Then there are a large number of Sindhis and mohajirs, of all classes, who firmly believe that the post-Zia massacres and terrorism in the province were organised by those pre-November sections of the establishment who do not want the consolidation of democracy in Pakistan. They feel that these attempts will continue.

Given the situation in the province, the process of overcoming the causes of anarchy and conflict is bound to be a long and painful one. However, the most visible cause of conflict, especially in the educational institutions, is the question of the urban-rural quota for admissions to these institutions, for jobs in government and semi-government organisations, and for sharing power at the provincial level. It is essential that a firm agreement on this issue is reached by consensus, and that appropriate rules and procedures for acquiring a Sindh domicile are drawn up. Again, the position of the provincial language and the national language should be clearly stated without any ambiguity or scope for interpretation. These agreements, it they can be reached, should be heavily publicised. Along with this understanding it is necessary that local bodies be given effective power in Sindh. In a fragmented society, decisions should be taken at a local level and the revenue required to implement those decisions should also be raised locally. In the absence of effective local government an urban-rural agreement for sharing power and benefits in Sindh, will be no better than the terms under which the Christians and Muslims shared power in Lebanon till the civil war tore that country apart and reduced the famous Lebanese Convention to a piece of worthless paper.

One Comment

  1. Mustafa Bozdar

    Wow/////////////what 30 years back was saod is surely prevailent now as well. Great analysis by Prof Arif Hasan, who is like a doctor on a first glimpse of the patient knwo the remedy. Lovely peice of throught provoking article.

    Posted June 6, 2021 at 5:45 pm | PermalinkReply

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