11 – Rovers Diary

“In England (READ SINDH), there was scarcely an amount of order and protection to justify much national boasting. Daring burglaries by armed men, and highway robberies, took place in the capital itself every night; families were publicly cautioned not to go out of town without removing their furniture to upholsterers’ warehouses for security; the highwayman in the dark was a city tradesman in the light, and, being recognised and challenged by his fellow-tradesman whom he stopped in his character of `the Captain, ‘ gallantly shot him through the head and rode away; the mail was waylaid by seven robbers, and the guard shot three dead, and then got shot dead himself by the other four, `………” Charles Dickens wrote this describing the year 1775 in his famous book Tales of two cities.

And today some 230 years down the path of history, as a citizen of Sindh — the province I live in – I feel the same way about this unfortunate land. Father-in-law of a fellow journalist Malik was shot dead yesterday (1st August) at the doorstep of his friend by armed men, as they wanted his brief case. He had just returned from Frankfurt and drove to his friend’s house from the airport. 

This is not just an isolated case of wanton killings many other people who arrived back from abroad were robbed by the armed men. There was a time when such people were called highwaymen, as cities were considered safe. We tolerated it and now all that has come to town. What should we call them now when all this happens in the largest city of the country? Mobile phone snatchers are killing people if they resist scores of cars and motorbikes are snatched in a day. People are forced to spend a fortune on hiring security guards.  And the Honourable Caesars of our province are telling us all is well!! They are busy in palace intrigues and it is hard to tell who is out to backstab whom.

I get the opportunity to travel to all the provinces quite frequently and to meet the local officials and private sector people. One thing comes out clearly that Sindh and Balochistan are the two worst governed provinces. Right now I want to talk about my province, so let’s see what ails Sindh although economically it is the most viable province?

Perhaps one of the most important factors responsible for the bad governance of this province is that ever since one unit was abolished and the provincial set up were restored all the governments have tried to control it from Islamabad.  Bhutto removed his cousin Mumtaz Bhutto and appointed amiable and docile Mustafa Jatoi. Even military dictator Zia could not tolerate the independent General Iqbal and brought in General Abbasi. Benazir Bhutto always had yes men as chief ministers of the province ignoring some of the talented and honest people in her party.

Nawaz Sharif and President-General Pervez Musharraf cobbled the alliance of opportunist forces to deprive Peoples Party from its right to form the government, as they have been the majority party of the province. The establishment has been playing the game of turning majority into minority through bringing together odd pieces since the inception of the country. Remember how Dr. Khan’s government was toppled in NWFP?

Islamabad’s urge to have a weakling chief minister who is dependent or inefficient and corrupt ministers has resulted in the continuous decline in the standard of governance. It has also resulted in sidelining the good provincial officials as OSDs. Those who have the option to get postings in the federal government prefer to stay away from their home province. For the last many years no chief secretary has survived in Sindh for more than 11 months. “There is a limit to what one can reconcile with illegitimate demands and nonsense of the ministers,” a former chief secretary told me some time back.

A friend who has experience of both politics and bureaucracy says the major problem of our province is that the corruption level in Sindh is high. This added with inefficiency, he says, is the lethal combination for governance. The main reason for higher level of corruption and nepotism is that most of the civil servants are the first generation of salariats carrying with them the feudal value system. Empirical evidence also confirms that second generation middle class civil servants are more efficient and less corrupt.

In sharp contrast to this Punjab has performed better in the last 16 years because it had single party government and the strength to keep Islamabad at arms length. Bureaucracy in Punjab prefers to serve in the province instead of looking for sources to get postings in the federal capital. The level of corruption is lower than Sindh.

Now we come to the issue of Coalition governments. They are quite common in many countries these days. And it is also accepted that coalitions are less effective in management. What makes Sindh one of the worst examples of coalition governments is the complexity of this alliance. It represents the ethnic and rural-urban divide of the province. There are three parallel governments running in this unfortunate province – MQM rules the urban areas, PML (Q) which is suffering from infighting of its umpteen factions, is managing (mismanaging would be a better word here) the rural areas. And then the mighty forces of the establishment are always interfering. All of them put together are competing to spoil the broth.

In this coalition the MQM and the rest are actually quarrelling about the control over the rural and urban areas of the province and the government jobs. They are not interested in developing policies that are good for the entire province. They have narrow view of obliging their party cadre irrespective of the legitimacy of demands.

Take for instance one of the major reasons for the recent storm in the coalition cup. Insiders say one of the issues between the MQM and the Chief Minister was the allocation of over 100,000 acres of land in the outskirts of Karachi for a housing development. The chief minister’s lobby says that it is the provincial land hence it cannot be given to the Karachi city government (meaning under the control of MQM). The obvious issue here is that nobody is thinking of the importance of providing housing for the poor of Karachi or for that matter the whole province. Instead it is the issue of who should be the one to control the land development and its distribution. The underlying current here is that MQM is still considered a Mohajir’s party and their rural colleagues take themselves as representatives of “Bhomiputra Sindhis.”

One would question if the situation of the governance is so bad how come Sindh is the most urbanized province of the country with half of its population living in the urban areas? How come it still contributes 29% of the GDP, 95% of the country’s foreign trade is routed through Sindh, 85% head offices of banks, financial institutions and MNCs are based here, 50% of wheat, 42% of rice and 40% of cotton is produced here? Believe me all this is in spite of the bad governance of the province. But the economy of Sindh could have been much stronger and its peoples condition much better if the MQM & Sindhi leadership tussle for power would not have let us down.



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