Originally Published 2014-04-16 06:28:02 Published on Apr 16, 2014
The shift of the non-PPP Sindhi leadership to other non-Sindhi parties, and their subsequent victories there, though limited, is shows that much of Sindhi society is looking to the rest of the country to bring about change in the Province. Better connecting Sindh to the Pakistani mainstream is now seen by many as a solution to their internal grievances.
Sindh is not East Pakistan
"On April 13, hundreds of Sindhi activists from the Jeay Sindh Qaumi Mahaz staged a demonstration and sit-in at the National Highway in the northern Sindhi town of Sukkar. They demanded the registration of an FIR against the murder of Maqsood Qureshi and Salman Wadhiyo, who were killed on March 21. On March 23, similar protests in Karachi were recorded where thousands of JSQM activists gathered on Karachi's MA Jinnah Road, carrying the burnt and bullet-riddled bodies of their leaders to record their protest peacefully.

Mr Sunan Qureshi, chairperson of the JSQM and nephew of one of the deceased, Maqsood Qureshi, accused the state of Pakistan and its security agencies for the murders of Sindhi leaders including his father and former JSQM chief Bashir Khan Qureshi who had been assassinated in April 2012.

Some commentators and Sindhi journalists have been quick to term the protests as the first signs of the revival of the Sindhi nationalist movement. But there are questions about if the case for a possible insurgency in Sindh is a valid one at all.

For one, the Sindhi cause remains a divided one. There are separatists and anti-state actors like Mr Qureshi's JSQM and the Jeay Sindh Muttahida Mahaz which is headed by Mr Shafi Burfat, as well as a couple of factions led by the likes of Mr Abdul Wahid Arisar and Mr Riaz Chandio. There are others that are do not demand separation from Pakistan but are fighting for the rights of Sindh within the framework of the Constitution of Pakistan. These groups include the Sindh Taraqqi Pasand Party led by Dr Qadir Magsi, the Sindh United Party led by Syed Jalal Mehmood Shah, grandson of GM Syed, and the Qaumi Awami Party led by Mr Ayaz Latif Palijo.

Interestingly, neither the separatist parties nor the ones fighting for Sindhi rights within the political and constitutional framework, have ever taken centre stage in Sindh. In fact, the Pakistan People's Party has always remained the choice of the Sindhi voter. The unparalleled and unhindered success of the PPP in Sindh is shows the Sindhi voters' preference for a constituttional political process over a separatist agenda to resolve their grievances.

Some Sindhi analysts are hopeful that an alliance of Sindhi nationalistic parties can challenge the status quo of the PPP which serves in alliance with the Muttahida Qaumi Movement. However, the 10-party Sindhi coalition which was formed in 2013 to challenge the PPP-MQM domination was a complete failure. This was because the Sindhi parties had conflicting ideologies and no real interest in addressing the grievances of the people.

The alliance included the Punjabi-dominated Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) on the one hand and Right-wing religious parties such as the Pakistan Muslim League (Functional), the Jamiat-e-Islami, the Jamiat-e-Ulema Islam, the Jamiat-e-Ulema Pakistan, the Pakistan Sunni Tehreek on the other. Left-secular, Sindhi nationalistic parties such as the National People's Party, the Sindh United Party, the Sindh Taraqi Pasand Party and the Qomi Awami Tehreek were also part of the grouping. Interestingly, the coming together of Sindhi nationalist parties and the Punjabi dominated PML-N was supported and criticised at the same time.

A leader of the Sindh United Party during the 2013 election campaign had said: "In the 1990s, (Nawaz) Sharif was considered a Punjabi industrialist and a follower of dictator Zia-ul Haq, but the perception has completely changed since then....now, Sindhis are accepting the PML-N because of Sharif's frequent visits to Sindh, especially to the flood-hit areas, and his interaction with the Sindhi civil society and nationalist parties." Critics of the alliance said that the Sindhi nationalists had always been against Punjab in their political discourse and could not suddenly become friends with the PML-N.

Further, the Kalabagh Dam issue remains a major bone of contention between Punjab and Sindh. This did not help the Sindhi nationalist parties as the PML-N's has maintained a dichotomous stand over the subject. In the words of a Sindhi analyst: "One brother, Shahbaz Sharif, stands in Lahore and claims that his party will construct Kalabagh dam at all cost. The other brother, Nawaz Sharif, visits Sindh and promises that the Kalabagh dam will not be constructed without consensus of all Provinces."

Nonetheless, the 10-party alliance shows that the Sindhi leadership, despite its previous anti-Punjab stance, is now willing to form alliances with the Punjabi-dominated PML(N). For the Sindhi cause, this means further divisions. The PPP is increasingly becoming isolated in Sindh while Sindhi nationalist parties are losing their credibility by joining hands with the PML(N).

It is important to note that none of these Sindhi-dominated or Sindhi nationalistic parties are espousing a separatist ideology. Also, public opinion is not heavily in favour of these parties either. In other words, neither the Sindhi separatists nor the nationalists have significant popular support — certainly not the kind that will make them capable of fuelling a full-scale insurgency.

Lastly, comparisons between Sindh and the erstwhile East Pakistan need to be discarded. Sindhi leaders have actively participated in and led national Governments in Pakistan. The Sindhi masses are part of the mainstream Pakistani economy. A Sindhi may have his fair share of grievances, but to redress them, it is unlikely that he will resort to a complete disapproval of the state. He still has faith in the constitutional framework of Pakistan, and will rather seek amends via official channels.

In addition to this, ever since the rise of the PPP and the Bhuttos, most Sindhis have moved past the victim narrative. On the contrary, a strong Pakistani identity has struck roots in Sindh and Sindhis feel that they can be the change-makers and positive contributors to the Pakistani society at large.

Also, a fair share of Sindhi grievances have been brought upon the community by their own 'Wadera' feudal system. This has led some sections of the struggling Sindhi leadership, such as the minority Hindu-Sindhi, non-PPP candidates, to join the PML(N), the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf and other parties. But few can deny that the new-age Sindhi leadership is finding non-PPP platforms approachable and this may help it recast itself.

Also, this shift of the non-PPP Sindhi leadership to other non-Sindhi parties, and their subsequent victories there, though limited, is shows that much of Sindhi society is looking to the rest of the country to bring about change in the Province. Better connecting Sindh to the Pakistani mainstream is now seen by many as a solution to their internal grievances.

(The writer is a Research Intern at Observer Research Foundation, Delhi)

Courtesy : The Pioneer, April 16, 2014

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