East Pakistan, Balochistan, and now Sindh

by:Mohammad Ali Mahar

The PPP was always seen as a ray of hope for the Sindhis for a long time. A kind of last refuge. This administration has brought a common Sindhi to the point where he feels robbed of this hope. If ever there existed a Sindh card, the government has already sold it to its coalition partners for a few years in power

When in the 19th century (1851 AD), Richard Francis Burton wrote about Sindh, he titled his book Scinde, or the Unhappy Valley. And, when Roger Pearce, ICS, penned his memoirs about his experiences in the 20th century Sindh (1938-1948), he named the book Once a Happy Valley. What, one wonders, would a 21st century foreigner title his book were he to venture into today’s molested, manipulated, robbed, unemployed, crime-riddled, dacoit-infested, terrorised Sindh?

Sixteen well-timed bomb explosions on the railway tracks, rocking one end of Sindh to the other, should serve as an alarm bell to those who rule the destiny of otherwise tranquil, though hapless, Sindhis, who never react until an extreme provocation befalls them. What led the slumbered nation to wake up with so much violence needs to be analysed.

I visit Sindh almost every couple of years. As soon as I step outside Karachi, I find the province in worse shape than ever before. I ask people around me to name one sincere politician, bureaucrat, or academic. In response, I receive a blank gaze, as they try to think of one. They can name a few. One elder in a village said to me, “Stop looking for them. Sincere Sindhi leaders have been long been liquidated.” What is left is a miserable lot emasculated through the merciless ‘hidden hands’ or by their greed. Meanwhile, the loot sale of Sindhi resources is on.

The situation is not the work of one day. Throughout the history of Pakistan, except for a brief respite during Zulifiqar Ali Bhutto’s era, Sindh has been denied its fair share in everything. Nawaz Sharif placed a bar on employment in the country in 1996. Ever since that day, the Sindhi youth has seen little in the name of jobs. One sees throngs of unemployed youths loitering in the streets of towns and villages in the province. During the whole Musharraf period, all the economic activity and funds — meaning new jobs — meant for the whole of Sindh, went to the development of the city of Karachi. The dawn of the era at the demise of Musharraf’s misrule has brought forward the bane of nepotism and corruption -- moral as well financial -- where jobs go to either those who can grease the right palms or the scions of the powerful. The poor Sindhi, who is indeed in a vast majority, not related to a political bigwig and with not enough money to buy employment, is jobless as well as helpless. The doors of federal employment are closed to the Sindhi as ever before — statistics produced in parliament in the last few days showed less than a fraction of federal government jobs meant for Sindh-domiciled candidates going to the rightful unemployed.

As regards education and healthcare, the less said the better. To demand those would be tantamount to asking for the stars.

The PPP was always seen as a ray of hope for the Sindhis for a long time. A kind of last refuge. This administration has brought a common Sindhi to the point where he feels robbed of this hope. If there ever existed a Sindh card, the government has already sold it to its coalition partners for a few years in power. The blockage of a bill in the Sindh Assembly against an amendment favouring the division of provinces — a prelude to Sindh’s disintegration in the eyes of a common Sindhi — has only reinforced his sense of betrayal and suspicion of this regime.

The pain hurting the Sindhi body politic is severe, so severe that it has started to be felt even by the far flung Sindhis, forging foreign-based Sindhi organisations such as Sindhi Association of North America (SANA). The natives too view the recent interest of expatriate Sindhis in the affairs and wellbeing of Sindh with renewed hope. The reason the recent conference sponsored by SANA in Karachi has been so very well received is that the common man, as well as the elite in Sindh, have started looking for an alternative. An alternative that could deliver the much needed succour and reforms Sindh so badly craves.

Despite all its good intentions, however, SANA — having held a position of responsibility at its cabinet, I can only speak about SANA — may not be in a position to offer the much needed political support. The reasons being that it is not an organisation aimed for the purpose, and neither is there any desire in the expatriate Sindhis to remote-control Sindh. Whatever the solution, it has to come from within Sindh itself.

And Sindhis understand that too. A very successful rally by the local media mogul, Ali Kazi at Bhit Shah, which was able to gather thousands of people without the support of a political force, may very well have been the fruit of that understanding. But this is what Sindhis can do for themselves. The responsibility also needs to be felt by the real handlers of the destiny of the country.

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto spoke very wisely when he said, in some other context, on September 21, 1968, at the Sindh Convention of PPP: “If this continues...the people will rise in rebellion, and there will be bloodshed and civil war in the country. I am not prophesying. It is logic. I might be accused of spreading rebellion. Well, I will do that, if needed. I fear no one.”

Not learning a lesson from the debacle of East Pakistan has brought Balochistan to the point where it is at the brink of ending its ties with the rest of the country, and the blame is being put on the ‘foreign element’ and the ‘misguided’ Baloch. If the real powers running the country refuse to hear the cries of Sindhis at this time, they would have no one to blame but themselves.

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