Ethnic schism a drag on Sindh’s growth (May 15, 2009)

Good thing is that sense prevailed and the Sindh government declared a holiday on 12th May to avert the ethnic violence which was brewing on the back burner. Unfortunately, the MQM protested against declaration of holiday on this date, although it had backed the strike call of its ‘Haq Parast Jirga.’ It wanted to protest the killing of its 14 workers on the same day in 2007. This was understandable.

But what did not make sense was MQM’s demand that the government should also declare a holiday for the days when Urdu speaking political workers were killed in the nineties. MQM has the potential of becoming a party of the middle class of all nationalities residing in Pakistan, if it stops projecting itself as the party of Mohajirs only. They should take some lesson from the fate of narrow nationalists parties of Sindh and Balochistan, which have failed to come out of their shell and hence have failed to grow.

True Sindh’s urban areas are MQM based, but it can easily expand this by accepting the fact that these cities are multi-ethnic. The legitimate rights of other ethnic groups should be respected and the fear of losing control over the cities should be shunned away. Please, learn to share the power and you would have wider support and more say in the national matters.

This issue is important for the people of Sindh as the tension caused by the ethnic strife since the mid eighties has resulted in serious economic setback to the province. According to Majyd Aziz the Chinioti business leaders are still in the city but they stopped investing in Sindh and shifted their younger generation to Punjab. Even though the Karchiites heaved a sigh of relief once the dark shadow of 12th May was lifted without any damage, businessmen complained of a loss of business. But privately they are happy that the city was saved from bloodshed.

Independent economist Asad Sayeed says that there were two main reasons of moving new businesses to Punjab: first, the ethnic tension in the city which created a sense of insecurity and disrupted production frequently; and second the networking was easy for the Punjabi businessmen because of their roots in that province.

The economic growth of the province slowed down directly affecting the urban youth of Karachi, as the private sector employment opportunities shrank. So in the tussle to get more government jobs, even private sector employment opportunities became scarce for the youth in Sindh. It was the private sector where one could get jobs on the basis of merit, and not the government. A point missed by the MQM leadership.

In the last two decades unstable coalition governments have ruled Sindh. Most of their time was spent in squabbling for power. It is generally accepted by the Sindh intelligentsia that the provincial government here has been inefficient and corruption ratio has been higher than other provinces, with the exception of Balochistan.

However, the entire blame of this mismanagement and apathy for business-friendliness cannot be placed on the successive Sindh governments alone. One of the misfortunes of this problem has been that all central governments had always tried to control Sindh through a remote control. So what they want here is not an independent efficient government, instead a set-up that can be managed from Islamabad. The other problem is of course that the province does not get its due share in the national income, although its contribution to the economy is much higher.

While the people of Sindh, irrespective of their linguistic ethnicity, should continue their struggle for the just provincial autonomy, they should also hold their government in Karachi accountable for inefficiency and rampant corruption. Don’t let them hide behind the lack of a provincial autonomy slogan. There is a lot which can be done in spite of the fact that the provinces do not have control over their economic resources.

To get more provincial autonomy is a long term struggle and continues in most democratic countries. But on an immediate basis who is stopping our provincial government to compete vigorously for the private sector investment in Sindh? (In Europe cities compete with each other to attract industrial and service sector investments). Who is stopping them from offering incentives for new industries in the province? Who is stopping them in the first place to make the existing business comfortable, so that they do not think of moving their offices or back offices to upcountry? Who is stopping them to give assurances to the businesses that there shall be no political interference? Who is stopping them from controlling thugs who demand protection money? Who is stopping them from rampant mugging at gun point? Who is stopping them from providing better gutter and garbage management in the cities of Sindh? Nobody. Sir, these are not issues for which you need more provincial autonomy.

Yes these are important and immediate issues. What I hear in the market place is that more and more businesses are contemplating to move much of their establishments from Sindh to upcountry. Two major banks have already shifted their head offices to Lahore, some smaller banks are also thinking on the same lines, although Karachi is the financial center of the country. Some multinationals have moved part of their head office functions to upcountry. All this would reduce the provincial government’s revenue base. This would weaken Sindh’s claim that it contributes more revenue to the center than any other province. And above all, this would reduce employment opportunities for the youth, whose cause all ethnic parties espouse. Will the coalition government in Sindh wake up and arrest the decline before the province loses more businesses to the upcountry? (ayazbabar@gmail.com)

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