Earlier, I had elaborated the bitter experience of Sindh with the federal regimes. The other small provinces also have had the same grievances with the federal authorities ensnared in the self-deceiving theory that only a strong center rather than autonomous federal units could guarantee the survival of Pakistan as a culturally, politically and economically homogeneous entity. Thus, we trudged on the misguided pathdeclaring Urdu as the sole national language, imposing One-Unit as countervail to the majority Bengal, introducing the scheme of parity in political and administrative structures. All this could not save Pakistan from disintegration.
Sindhi nationalists along with peers from Balochistan, Punjab, KPK and Bengal resisted these misguided recipes for nation-building. But the bureaucratic regimes of the early years and the military autocracy of General Ayub Khan bulldozed one scheme after the other reducing democracy to a farce. Bhutto framed the Constitution of the truncated Pakistan that was also well short of empowering the federal constituents and ensuring fair and just distribution of resources and political and administrative dividends among the federating units. Barring a few nationalists, the PPP legislators voted in favour of the Constitution of 1973. For the first time, Sindhis felt stakes in the federal authority. This owes a great deal to the efforts of Z.A Bhutto.
The Sindhis’ romance with the federal authority was cut short by the coup d’état of General Zia and the mass arrest of PPP workersin Sindh and the judicial murder of ZAB. The MRD movement attracted another wave of violent suppression of Sindhi masses. Although the PPP leaders and the ideologically motivated activists of the Awami Tehrik of Rasool Bukhsh Palijo were in the vanguard of the movement, the participation of the Sindhi masses in the demonstrations was highly impressive reflecting their political consciousness. Unfortunately, Punjab – always wittingly or unwittingly identified with the establishment – remained totally indifferent to the MRD movement and let the Sindhis to fight out alone their battle for the restoration of democracy.
The former touches on the raw nerves of Sindhis by raising the bogey of ‘Save Sindh’ and the later reiterates its demand for a province within Sindh. Sindhis have always succumbed to this ‘Save Sindh’ or the electoral rhetoric across the divide
The movement shook Zia and his coterie to the hilt. General Zia looked into the possibility of putting in place a political organization of non-Sindhi speaking population of the province ala the erstwhile Mohajir-Punjabi-Pakhtun United Front of Nawab Muzaffar Khan. He was rebuffed by many sensible Urdu speaking leaders including Mairaj Muhammad Khan. Finally, they chose the All Muhajir Students Federation converting it into Muhajir Qaumi Movement sowing the seed of the ethnic division in the province. How the ethnic-based politics of MQM has been keeping the province hostage to blackmailing, violence, bloodshed, breakdown and threats of territorial division since the 1980s needs no elaboration. It is a pity that the MQM in this sinister game has always had the backing of the federal authority from General Zia to Ghulam Ishaq Khan and Pervaiz Musharraf.
The landlords and Sajadahnashins in Sindh have had no scruples in power politics and become party to any political gimmick promising them crumbs of power. With the exception of the PPP, no national political leader has ever tried to reach the Sindhi masses. These leaders mostly from Punjab and KPK (ANP) have depended on the landed gentry of Sindh or ethnic groups. The political dynasties which had jumped on the bandwagon of ZAB, in their second or third generation, have perfected the skill of sentimentally exploiting the Sindhis singing the hymns of the tragic deaths of ZAB and Benazir Bhutto or playing on their fears of cultural and economic invasion on their land by ‘others’ or the division of their province with the connivance of the federal authority. There seems a tacit understanding between PPP and MQM to play their cards at the time of every election. The former touches on the raw nerves of Sindhis by raising the bogey of ‘Save Sindh’ and the later reiterates its demand for a province within Sindh. Sindhis have always succumbed to this ‘Save Sindh’ or the electoral rhetoric across the divide.
Sindhis are caught in this political charade since the mid 1980s. With the national political parties interested only in their votes without putting in viable organizational structures to tap the vast number of political activists, liberals, left wingers, nationalists and reconciling their manifestos with the concerns of Sindhis on the issues elaborated in my earlier articles, Sindhis find no alternative use of their votes than pleasing the politicians of PPP for petty favors of menial jobs, help in our oppressive thana culture, transfers and postings. The PPP politicians have woven a cobweb of client-patron politics to strengthen its grip on these hapless voters. They usually have officers of their choice in every district administrative department to dole out favors and manipulate electoral rolls and polling booths and, some of them, patronize goons to keep voters in line.
Sindhis need to be freed from the clutches of these two political mafias. The national political parties should come forward to organize themselves in Sindh revisiting their manifestos in accordance with the sensitivities of Sindhis. The political activists and conscious sons and daughters of Sindh, shunning their political differences, should come together to form a broad based democratic political party with an easy and understandable manifesto diagnosing the problems facing the people of the province and suggesting practical solutions to provide an alternative option to the Sindhi masses. They should understand that the powers that may be, by design, keep them divided to subdue and prevent their province from demanding the ownership of its resources. The bureaucracy should be de-politicised completely. The Election Commission should review the electoral rolls thoroughly striking out the non-resident votes from any constituency. One PPP MPA has reportedly registered over 10000 non-resident voters in his constituency. There must be many more such cases. Large numbers of voters from other towns of Sindh are reportedly registered in Karachi to benefit an ethnic-based party. The ballot box stuffing was a common practice in the province. Therefore, the people of Sindh generally welcomed the deployment of the army or rangers at the polling booths in 2018.
The writer was a member of the Foreign Service of Pakistan and he has authored two books