Positive new trends emerging in Sindh politics
By Babar Ayaz
“The future rarely turns out as predicted. The reason is that most predictions are driven by the same conventional wisdom that drives the daily consensus around us, and are usually based on the big, easily spotted observations like the spread of the global economy. But as you dig deeper, you see a world teeming with lesser-known, harder-to-spot developments that really are the small forces that will drive tomorrow’s big changes.” micro trends – the small forces behind tomorrow’s big changes by Mark J. Penn with E. Kinney Zalesne
Yes it is perhaps the time to take notice of the ‘small forces that will drive tomorrow’s big changes, in the social and political milieu of Sindh. Such trends were visible in the discourse arranged by the Sindhi Association of North America (SANA) at its second convention in Karachi. SANA is an organisation of Sindhi middle class professionals who have migrated to North America. Some of its leading members are one-time Sindhi nationalists and communists. But the North American exposure has indeed broadened the world view of these Sindhi economic migrants. They do not suffer from xenophobia of many hard-core nationalists who have not been able to grow out of the ‘One-Unit syndrome.’ I remember those of us who used to campaign against one-unit felt robbed when General Yayha Khan announced its dissolution. Similarly, many of the nationalists have been robbed by the PPP-led coalition when 18th Amendment and 7th NFC expanded the autonomy given in the constitution. This was the major success of the forces which wanted provinces to have control over their respective natural resources.
A good trend was set at the SANA convention as a large number of Sindhi intellectuals keenly did some soul-searching. Contrary to the usual Sindhi nationalist meetings harangue, there were more speakers who lamented that Sindhis are being left behind because of lack of meritocracy and good education. Many nationalist leaders who addressed a representative gathering were as usual not happy with the introspection and some of them even lashed at the “NGO-walas who sit in Islamabad and are paid heavy salaries.”
But the dominating trend of Sindhi middle class intellectuals and professionals discourse was that
Sindhis have to attend to the poor education standards in the province if they want to meet the
challenges of globalization in the 21st century. Qaiser Bengali made a startling disclosure that
Sindh has 49606 schools out of which 85% have one room and one teacher to teach five classes.
As a result even a class 5 student cannot write his name, leave alone anything else.
Naseer Memon, a civil society activist, was candid that Sindhi society is rejecting the feudal system
which is state sponsored. He emphasized on investing in building the Sindhi human resource,
create space for women, promote argument instead of rhetoric eulogizing the past glory and
connect civil societies with political parties. Shahab Usto pointed out that there is disconnect
between the civil society and the poor peasants and workers of Sindh, who are “brutally
suppressed by the feudal class. Writer Jami Chandio maintained that Sindhi civil society needs to
construct a common narrative which is for changing the obsolete feudal structure of the society.
Successful Sindhi businessman Jehangir Siddiqui called for positive thinking and entrepreneurial
skills to establish more Sindhi businesses. Now this is the changing trend in Sindh’s politics as the
educated middle classes are moving away from the feudal-led politics and getting out of perennial
depression. This does not mean that exploitation of Sindh by Pakistan’s ruling establishment for the
last six decades which slowed down development of Sindhi middle classes can be ignored.
An anti-feudal movement has also been launched by Ali Kazi, Editor of popular Sindhi newspaper Kawish along with Marvi Memon. Sindhi electronic and print media has been critical of the feudal culture of Sindh and has raised awareness of people on issues related to women’s rights. They have been quite effective in this drive as brutalities in the name of honour and tradition are now exposed by the media.
Sindhi nationalist parties are agitated that the Sindhi speaking Sindhis vote for PPP which has
always supported the ‘politics of federation.’ Sindhi nationalists want ‘independence to break the
chains of slavery.’ And, if that is not possible, as it appears at present, then a confederation
arrangement with other provinces of Pakistan. They are bewildered that why people vote for PPP
and not for them. What the nationalists fail to fathom is the fact that voters all over the world have
an opportunist streak also. They want to vote for the party which can form a government in Karachi
and Islamabad and not some idealists who are far away from the realpolitik.
At the end of the day anybody who wants to eliminate poverty and get the Sindhis their due rights
has to keep in mind that their demands should be keeping the present situation in mind, instead of
castles built on distant dreams. All said and done the present government has conceded the
demand for more provincial constitutional and economic autonomy in the 18th Amendment and 7th
National Finance Award. Now the pro-people nationalist priority should be to force the provincial
government to work for the development of the province, consolidate the gains made through 18th
Amendment and 7th NFC. And above all if they really want the benefits to flow down to the people of
Sindh then should be asking for maximum devolution of powers to the local governments. They
should be asking for at least 25% share for the local governments of the districts which are
producing natural resources. This will automatically change the lives of the people of the backward
districts like Badin, Thatta, Kandkot and Tharparkar, etc.
The nationalist parties should now be focusing more on pushing the provincial government to
exercise its rights as provided in the amended constitution. There is still resistance at the Federal
level to reverse the gains made by the provinces in the 18th Amendment and 7th NFC. There is still
need to forceful implementation of the provincial autonomy gained by the provinces instead of
playing old tunes from the anti One-Unit album.
Another noticeable micro-trend was that Sindhi middle classes are now vociferously emphasising
that Sindh has secular culture and the majority of the people are anti-Talibanisation. Fire-brand
Safdar Sarki of Jiay Sindh Mahaz and Jalal Mohammed Shah of Sindh United Party were
categorical that religion should be kept separate from politics and the country’s foreign policy should
be to live peacefully in the world community. This led some of the speakers to address the West
that Sindhi and Baloch nationalists should be supported because they are secular, anti-Taliban and
want peaceful co-existence with its neighbours.
Now consider these statements in conjunction with the US State Department’s spokesperson
expressing concern on the situation in Balochistan while replying to a twitter question. And the
disclosure in the Foreign Policy magazine that Mossad’s agents are working using the CIA flag in
Balochistan to checkmate Iran by using some Baloch groups. The US may be raising the voice
against the atrocities in Balochistan for two reasons: one, they want a friendly force on the borders
of Iran and they want to send a strong signal to the Pakistani establishment which is playing hard-
ball with them these days.
Yet another trend that needs to be studied by economists and sociologists is the fragmentation of
agriculture land because of expansion of families and modernization of farming. It is pushing a large
number of rural poor and middle classes to the cities. The cities are bursting with inadequate
infrastructure. Poor law and order has shied away the industries and services sector investors.
Consequently unemployment is soaring in Sindh. The new agenda of the Sindhis who care for the
people should be to force the government to improve law and order, to attract investment without
any discrimination, to monitor the provincial government’s performance closely. Don’t let them hide
behind the slogan that the center is eating away the resources. Short term agenda of the people of
Sindh should be to wage their struggle on two fronts: First, make the provincial government deliver
education, health, infrastructure and law and order; and second keep the pressure on the federal
government to implement the provincial autonomy promised in the constitution. Rest is all rhetoric
full of sound and fury. (firstname.lastname@example.org)