Dawn News

Smokers’ Corner: Sticky myths

Amajority of political analysts and journalists, especially those based outside the Sindh province, continue to sound rather presumptuous while commenting on the politics of Sindh. Much of this is due to certain sticky myths that have been constructed over the years by various state security institutions, political parties, media outfits and even political elements operating within Sindh itself.

One such myth is that Sindhi nationalism has never manifested itself as a widespread movement/insurgency (like the Baloch and Bengali movements).

Sindhi nationalism in Pakistan’s context emerged almost about the same time Pushtun, Baloch and Bengali nationalisms had begun to flex their respective muscles — i.e. soon after the state and government of Pakistan introduced the ‘One Unit’ in 1954.

‘One Unit’ was a controversial project launched by the federal government of Pakistan to merge the four provinces of West Pakistan into one unit. Sindhi, Baloch and Pushtun nationalists saw the move as an attack (by the ruling elite) on their cultural autonomy and democratic right to retain their ethnic identities.

Sindhi nationalism was not separatist; or at least not as much as Bengali and Baloch nationalist movements. Sindhi nationalism was/is largely based on the writings and thoughts of GM Syed, even though over the decades (and especially after Syed’s death), Sindhi nationalism has continued to fragment into various tendencies across classes and between anti-feudal and non-feudal strains.

A scholar and a politician, Syed, through a series of books between the 1950s and early 1970s, painstakingly constructed an elaborate historical narrative of Sindh and its people. His expansive thesis presented Sindh as an ancient land whose people have always been one of the most pluralistic and secular under both Hindu as well as Muslim regimes. He suggested that Sindh’s pluralistic tradition was carried on by a number of Sufi saints after Sindh came under Muslim rule.

In 1966 Syed formed a cultural organization called the Bazm-e-Sufian-i-Sindh. Driven by a number of Sindhi intellectuals, the Bazm proposed that Sindhis could not be integrated by the state of Pakistan due to the stark cultural differences that they had with what became known as ‘Pakistan ideology’ (a term first used by the fundamentalist Jamat-i-Islami in 1967).

The Bazm then went a step further when it published a controversial study in late 1966 that stated that Raja Dahir (the 8th century Hindu ruler of pre-Islamic Sindh) was actually a hero to many Sindhis and that it was Muhammad bin Qasim (the Arab Muslim commander who defeated Dahir and conquered Sindh) who was the actual usurper!

Ironically, apart from the Pakistani state, Syed could also not reconcile his politics with a fellow Sindhi, Z A. Bhutto. Bhutto and his Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), experienced a meteoric rise (in the late 1960s) when Syed’s narrative had begun to take hold among Sindhi youth. Syed did not applaud Bhutto’s rise in spite of the fact that Bhutto was a declared progressive; to Syed, if one brushed off Bhutto’s leftist notions from the surface, underneath was a man wilfully doing the bidding for the ‘Punjabi ruling elite’.

Syed’s analysis had deemed Pakistan to be a state that was destined to fragment. But it wasn’t until 1972 that Syed openly called for the separation of Sindh. Though Sindhi nationalism, popularised and intellectualised by Syed, did not express itself violently (as Baloch nationalism/separatism), it finally did culminate into an insurgency of sorts against the state of Pakistan in 1983.

Some historians believe that what history records as the 1983 MRD movement was actually an armed uprising of Sindhi nationalists.

MRD (Movement for the Restoration of Democracy) was a PPP-led anti-Ziaul Haq initiative. But parts of it in Sindh (especially in 1983) took the shape of a Sindhi nationalist movement participated by youth wings of the PPP and various Sindhi nationalist organisations.

Many of the nationalists had understood the execution of a Sindhi prime minister (Bhutto) by the Ziaul Haq dictatorship (in 1977) as a show of ‘Punjabi chauvinism and arrogance.’ But in an ironic twist, the main political and intellectual architect of modern Sindhi nationalism, GM Syed, did not take part in the movement.

In fact, at the expense of annoying a number of his supporters, Syed saw the MRD movement as yet another PPP-led initiative to ‘exploit Sindhi sentiments and keep them attached to the federation.’ Also, perhaps he did not feel that the movement was the true representation of the kind of Sindhi nationalism that he was advocating.

Hundreds of Sindhis were killed by the military-led operation and some Sindhi nationalist leaders also claimed that whole villages were razed during the movement. To some, Sindhi nationalism (during the MRD movement) had exhibited its first expression of an armed insurgency.

Another myth associated with Sindh’s political history is that the MQM was created by the Ziaul Haq dictatorship.

Academics specialising in the politics of Sindh, such as Amir Ali Chandio and Dr Tanvir Tahir, trace the formation of Mohajir ethnicity way back to the 1960s. From the 1960s onwards, when the Mohajirs had begun to be dislodged from the Punjabi-dominated military-bureaucratic elite, a number of movements emerged calling for a Mohajir province. In fact, one of the first to do so was Syed Haider Kazmi’s faction of the left-wing, National Students Federation (NSF) in 1969.

Then Mohajir nationalism again reared its head during the language riots in Karachi in 1972, but the fact is few Mohajirs took the notion seriously, as they were still firmly embedded in the concept of federalism, and (like the Punjabis) repulsed by ethnic nationalism — until the 1978 formation of All Pakistan Mohajir Students Federation (APMSO) by Altaf Hussain.

The much overlooked reason behind APMSO’s process of giving birth to MQM (in 1984) is largely an economic one. It has little to do with Zia encouraging the formation of a Mohajir nationalist party to subdue the PPP and Sindhi nationalism, even though he might have tried to do so after MQM’s creation.

According to famous Sindhi scholar, Ibrahim Joyo, ‘Punjabi economic hegemony’ increased immensely in Sindh during the dictatorship of Ziaul Haq. This situation had a negative impact on the interests of Karachi’s leading business communities (Memons, Gujaratis and other non-Punjabis). The concern saw some leading business members of these communities form an organisation called the Maha Sindh (MS) in 1983.

It was an organisation set up to protect the interests of Karachi’s Memon, Gujarati, Sindhi and Mohajir businessmen and traders from — as one Mohajir businessman termed at the time — ‘the invasion of Zia-backed carpetbaggers from Punjab.’

Celebrated Sindhi intellectual, Khaliq Junejo, suggests that Maha Sindh encouraged the formation of a ‘street-strong’ Karachi-based party. It can be argued that it is this aspect of the MQM’s formation that sometimes gets mistaken into meaning that the party came about with the help of the Zia regime. This is so because the business communities in Karachi (stung by Bhutto’s nationalisation policies) were anti-Bhutto and had hailed his overthrow by Zia in 1977.

But by the early 1980s, however, they had been deluded by Zia’s supposedly ‘pro-Punjabi’ economic manoeuvres in Sindh and felt the need to have their own political outfit. It was then that Maha Sindh was further financed by Karachi’s Mohajir, Gujrati and Memon business communities (as a pressure group) , and by 1984 the group eventually became the MQM.

Nadeem F. Paracha is a cultural critic and senior columnist for Dawn Newspaper and Dawn.com

He tweets @NadeemfParacha

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (47) Closed

Alam A.
Jun 03, 2012 03:15pm
Paracha is glorifying separatists. Enough is enough,these splinter groups are either jobless bunch or brain washed goons of exploiters. About time Sindhis quit blaming Punjabis for all their failings. Current leadership is in a Sindhi's hand.His name is AAZ, in case you don't know. If Bin Qasim , with few hundreds soldiers defeated Raja Dahir the hero of GMSyed, blame Raja for being an easy push over.
rk singh
Jun 03, 2012 03:31pm
excellant article, yet again.
Jun 03, 2012 04:59pm
Abbas, Exactly my thought! It is about time the people of federation other than punjabis get their share. It is time for all the other provinces to unite and reduce/challenge the punjab's grab on pakistan's wealth. Only places peaceful in entires pakistan are Lahor and Islamabad, wonder why?
Jun 03, 2012 05:10pm
Indeed a good article as for as the upper portion is concerned . The Sindhi nationalism no doubt has not so for vanished a moment after the so called one unit. It always exercised a non violent role since the introduction of dictatorship in our society. It would be more better if the said author explored the new wave of nationalism after the sad incident of firing on a peaceful rally in Karachi against creation of so called Muhajir province . The sentiments of general masses in Sindh particular were elaborated and commented by a renowned journalist Mr Tallat Hussian in his recent episode of programmes that showed how the people of Sindh are attached with this land of piece called Sindh .They do not even think about to division for any reason at any cost .
Ramesh Mohindra
Jun 03, 2012 12:37pm
Jinnah's speech of August, 1947 to constituent assembly " You are free to go to temples, mosques, churches , you are now citizens of Pakistan....etc." If Pakistan was created in the name of of Muslims, then why this speech of temples, chuurches? Secondly, which Muslims? Panjabi Muslims, Pashtuns,Sindhis,Baloch, MQM, Bengali, Ahmadis, sunnis, Shias. What about Muslims left behind in India, those were the reason behind the creation of Pakistan. These were the people who asked for Paistan. Panjabis, Unionist Party ,headed by Sir Sikander Hyatt, Cief Minister of Panjab, had rejected the concept of Pakistan. So please some body answer-what is the ideology of Pakistan? Why after 65 years, still questioning the identity of Pakistan?
Jun 03, 2012 12:41pm
Your call sign should be," Neutered Brain Punjabi." Better suits you. NFP is not only the BEST journalist Pakistan has to show case; he is the most daring in writting the unpalatable truth about Pakistan and it's dysfunctionalities in most truthful and unbiased manner.
Jun 03, 2012 12:15pm
Nothing comes without a price tag. Too much of sub-nationalism will lead to splintering of Pakistan. Such splintering will lead to losses due to loss of economy of scale and consolidation. That would definitely be a retrograde step. It is neither good for Pakistan nor for its neigbours. Dominance by any linguistic, ethnic or sectarian group should be checked by appropriate provisions in the constituition like reservations and affirmative actions for all groups.
Syed Ali Raza Shah
Jun 03, 2012 02:09pm
A very well written and well researched article which details some of the causes of the ailing of urban Sindh especially Karachi. I being a Karachiite from a Punjabi family, do recognise that it was mostly the hegemonic behaviour of the province of Punjab which fired a sentiment of distrust among the people of Sindh giving sometimes the impression of anti-Pakistanism. This is however not true. Despite the ethnical divide between the populace of urban Sindh, we have never demanded a break-up of Sindh or a break-up from Pakistan. At the same time, no matter if individual members of the population of Sindh can speak sindhi or not, we are surely proud of our sindhi heritage...and even if we are born to Punjabi, Gujarati, Kachchi, Balochi, Pashto or Urdu-speaking families, we are always proud to call ourselves Sindhis. Not in terms of racial nationalism but more in terms of the sense of belonging to our province!
Jun 03, 2012 11:50am
Question is, after 65 years of all ethnic groups living together despite all ill-feelings, is a split of Pakistan even possible on ethnic lines? Whether the nationalists like it or not, all ethnic groups have inter-mingled too much with each other and the geographic lines are not too clear anymore. Pathans won't be interested in the cause of Pakhtoonistan because there are more pathans in Karachi than in Peshawer... and pathan business interests in transport, retail, construction etc are spread all over the country now. Sindh cannot be separated as its dominated by a Federalist party, PPP... and the urban areas of Sindh, dominated by Mohajirs and Pathans, would never support such separatism. Mohajirs themselves are too small a community to think of separatism as a viable solution. Baloch are only half of total Balochistan in terms of population, while having sizeable presence in South Punjab, Sindh and some pockets in Karachi. Ultimately, all ethnic groups need to find a solution within Pakistan that guarantees rights for all via decentralization... the sooner we reach that solution, the better it is for everyone.
Jun 03, 2012 11:39am
arnold toynbee said on the creation of pakistan that if the bases of newly formed pakistan are laid on linguistics, than pakistan is sure to be disintegrated. he was very prudent of this fact. to make pakistan integrated we need one ambit, whether it is islamic republic state or secular or watever but we need one umbrella to shadow whole pakistani nation. we had already parted with bengalis now we cant afford an other disintegration
P N Eswaran
Jun 05, 2012 03:28pm
GM Syed moved the Pakistan resolution in the Sindh assembly. Jinnah was a secularist before embracing communal demand; Syed was a communalist before realizing the hollowness of the two nation theory. Truth is in shades of grey but history stands witness, in black and white, to these leader’s myopic visions.
Ghani K.Niazi
Jun 04, 2012 01:35pm
MA Jinnah, did not march into Sindh with army divisions to annex Sindh.Creation of Pakistan was based on the collective will of the people. Johnny Come Lately leaders like GM Syed were disgruntled politicians who exploited other disgruntled.To protest against despotism is one thing,separatist movements amount to disloyalty to Motherland.
Jun 10, 2012 06:10pm
continuing with your words of "wisdom", not only muslims are forced to immigrate to these evil western countries, they are forced to work in haram businesses; but worst they are forced to own businesses, take the best education for themselves and their children, become politicians and the most haram one is to think, read and live freely. How dare!
Ghani K
Jun 06, 2012 01:23pm
@ pathanoo ; Oh yes, he can write 'unpalatable' truth just about any thing except his favourites namely AAZ & PPP
El Cid
Jun 10, 2012 10:12am
Your comment is out of context. And your sarcasm misses the point. I was refering to Jinnah's speech, and its base in the Noble Quran...and NOT on how some countries govern themselves or what they call themselves. Muslims too are not thriving in the countries ruled by non-Muslims. However you digressed.
Jun 04, 2012 08:32am
You're quite a paranoid personality, aren't you. You go on and on about how Islam is about tolerance and accommodation, and yet you have no qualms pointing fingers at people you think are infidels, traitors and what not.
Jun 04, 2012 08:37am
El Cid, you should rename yourself as El Gestapo.
Jun 04, 2012 08:45am
Dear El Gestapo, stop being such an apologist for hate-mongers all the time.
shahid jamil
Jun 03, 2012 05:02am
How come many Sindhi's were among the leaders and workers of the Pakistan movement? Jinnah himself was from SIndh and so was G.M. Syed who was a part of this movement.. Please check the history for a more complete list and also to learn that SIndh assembly was among the first to vote for Pakistan. How come G. M. Syed and his followers could never win in any elections? Trying to revise history - like the "neo-cons" in the west - in the service of a particular ideological polemic, is very popular these days, but unfortunately ground realities are too stubborn and quite hard to refute and walk around.
F Abbas
Jun 03, 2012 06:19am
Jamil sahib, it is you who needs to re-look at history. The reason Sindhi nationalists couldn't and can't get votes in Sindh has two main reasons: The PPP and the consequential splintering of Syed's movement. Both of these reasons are touched upon by NFP in his article. And yes, Syed was once part of the Pakistan movement, but soon split from it, especially after the One-Unit. This too is correctly mentioned by Paracha.
Jun 03, 2012 06:55am
What a well informed article. But I continue to be confused on many issues. Do or do not the majority of Pakistanis believe in one Pakistan? Do the provinces of Balochistan and Sindh desire greater autonomy or do they want independence? Which way are KP and GB going? Will conceding ethnicity-based provinces (Hazara, Seraiki speaking) diffuse the desire for independence of exacerbate it? Why do we root so raucously for the national cricket team and then slaugher each other because of our different ethnic origins.
Jun 03, 2012 07:04am
Fascinating thesis. Especially regarding the formation of MQM. My maternal uncle, a gujrati trader based in the Bolton Market of Karachi, did use to say that he played a role in forming the MQM. I never understood what he meant by that because he was never a member of MQM. He used to say that traders of Karachi had formed an organization that was against Zia's economic policies. He also added that the organization was 'hijacked' by those wanting to challenge Punjabi traders and businessmen in Karachi. I now think he was talking about the organization NFP has mentioned, Maha Sindh.
Malek Tauqee -USA
Jun 03, 2012 07:05am
I remember in the 1950s Nawab Muzaffar, a Muhajir (?), had formed a "Muhajir-Punjabi-Pathan Ittihad" party. The Sindhis and the Baloch were left out. I wonder to what extent it was/is the source of inspiration for MQM's basically anti-Sindhi anti-Baloch psyche!? Also, I wonder why the Muhajirs as a whole and the MQM and its predecessors in particular have always preferred, to say the least, the post Ayub Khan military regimes to Federal Democratic systems!??
Jun 03, 2012 07:09am
Good questions, Conflicted, but don't we keep hearing that in many areas of Balochistan and in some parts of Sindh, certain strong nationalist organizations do not allow schools and buildings to raise the national flag or sing the national anthem on Independence Day? As Paracha recently mentioned in, I think, one of tweets, that Pakistan does not only need more provinces but also give them a lot more autonomy. I agree with that.
F Abbas
Jun 03, 2012 07:18am
MQM's anti-Sindhi/Baloch psyche? It is anything but. The rupture between MQM and Sindhi nationalists took place when in 1988 terrorists mowed down hundereds of both Sindhi and Mohajirs in Hyderabad. On the other hand Altaf Hussain and GM Syed were actually quite close. When an army operation was taking place against MQM in Karavhi in the nineties, many MQM avtovists escaped to Balochistan and were given refuge by Baloch nationalists. That's why MQM almost quit the Nusharraf regime when military killed Bugti. Not all Sindhi nationalists are against MQM. The GM Syed factions still have good relations with the party whereas other factions that never came under Syed, like Awami Tehreek of Pelijo, were always anti-MQM.
Jun 03, 2012 07:21am
Jinnah was not sindhi. He was Gujarati from Kathiawar India...same place as Gandhi....Jinnahs father was known as Jeenraa Poonja....Jeenraa meaning 'Short' in Gujrati!!!
Jun 03, 2012 07:47am
Whatever the case , the days of Pakistan turning into Punjabistan are long gone. Sindh is the new sacred cow. The likes of Punjab, Balochistan and KPK do not matter anymore especially Punjab. Punjab is being divided which will lead to 'sudden' rise in Punjabi nationalism. In last decade or so, Punjab and Punjabi through Musharraf's and PPP's government have been put up against wall and its only matter of time when Punjabi go the Baloch way.
Jun 03, 2012 07:47am
True. But why are you saying this? I don't see anyone here calling him a Sindhi.
Jun 03, 2012 07:52am
Good! Finally Punjab on the way to tasting the medicine it has been feeding Sindh, Balochistan and KP. How does it feel to taste ones own medicine? This is only how Punjab can reflect at what it's ruling elites have been upto for over 60 years, using religion and the military to keep other provinces down.
Mujeeb Nizamani
Jun 03, 2012 11:32am
A simple question: Why is he appreciated among sindhis (including MQM) ? Assuming that your presumtion is right !
Neutral Punjabi
Jun 03, 2012 08:31am
Paracha has a huge following among Sindhi nationalist youth and also among the MQM. So one can expect him to keep speaking for them. But his history as a student leader and writings also suggest that he is mainly a PPP jeeyala. But I must add, I haven't come across a Punjabi like him who is so anti-Punjab, even though he says he's against Punjabi ruling elite. I'd suggest some objectivity on his part because he is an influential columnist.
Jun 04, 2012 02:57pm
that is why christians, jews and hindus are thriving in muslim countries like pak, saudi, iran etc. countries claiming to be champions of islam. pakistan in fact has the largest population of minorities in the "whole wide world" and they are so happy that they dont know how to thank you.
Jun 03, 2012 09:02am
I don't understand the logic of nationalist politicians, they often talk Pro India and content that Pakistan was not feasible given its geographical contiguity, same culture, shared history and so many common things with India but at the same time they profess for further smaller states within Pakistan on the plea that their culture, history and traditions are different from other states of Pakistan. I wonder, they find similarity with Tamil Nadu and Jharkhand but not with their neighboring provinces. Is it a dichotomy or they have decided to speak whatsoever against Pakistan.
Jun 03, 2012 09:21am
Irony! party made for safeguarding economic interests of local business community is became a gang of extortionists.
Jun 03, 2012 09:36am
Paracha sahab whats the point of this article ? So what if Punjab is the dominating province in Pakistan ? I live in KArachi and I dont see anything wrong with that .
Jun 03, 2012 09:41am
Agree and, lest we forget, a river runs through it :))
Jun 03, 2012 09:42am
Read history, you will stop wondering about why muhajir preferred military regimes...... Or least his article again..... Wihout any research or posting on a column without reading it, sounds complaining not wondering........
Jun 03, 2012 09:50am
The article is nothing but a deep hatred against Punjab. Hatred because may be the progress of Punjab in education & economy is un-acceptable to Sindhi nationalists who are not willing to work.
Jun 03, 2012 10:44am
I think that Paracha should write a book on the history of Pakistan of the last 65 years.
Jun 03, 2012 05:50pm
Pakistan (people of this land ) will never progress if they keep talking and fighting eachother about Sindh, Panjab, Balochistan and KP. That is why Mohammad Ali Jinnah advocated Unity, Faith and Discipline. Instead of talking about Punjabis did this and Sindhis did that, why dont we all condemn the unjust policy of certain rulers (Punjabi or not) rather than creating bad blood among the brothers. NFP is skeptical that Islam could have been a binding force among the people of this land. It demands justice for all Muslims or Nonmuslims alike. How could you kill your brother because he is Sindhi, Muhajir, Punjabi, Baloch etc. Why dont we try to understand Islam. Why dont we look at early Islamic history when Prophet Muhammad united the tribes who had enmity among themselves for generations. Why dont we stand united and struggle peacefully against bad policies of corrupt and selfish rulers and try to achieve peace and prosperity for all.
Jun 03, 2012 07:01pm
One man Saiin G.M.Syed, so powerful that the State didn't have the courage to give him a fair trial. 'Justice delayed justice denied'. In his case justice was completely denied. This is the standard of the Islamic Democratic Pakistan.
El Cid
Jun 03, 2012 08:39pm
"If Pakistan was created in the name of of Muslims, then why this speech of temples, chuurches?" Because the Noble Quran catregorically states that mosques, churches, temples, synagouges...all places of worship are protected under by Allah's command. Mr. Jinnah was refering to those verses in the Scripture. Further, Islam does not segregate, ostracize, or differentiate on the bases of caste, creed, race, skin color or ethnic origin...this is stated in the Noble Quran and emphasized in The Prophet's last address. Of the people you mention only Ahmadies don't fit the description of a Muslim. Nevertheles they are included in the Umma and protected under Shariah Law, as are ALL minorities.
El Cid
Jun 03, 2012 08:43pm
NFP is spokes person of and 'motivated' by certain external elements. He speaks for them, not Pakistan.
Jun 03, 2012 09:39pm
I second the contention that NFP is one of those rare journalists who still has cojones, despite living in a dangerous land.
Jun 03, 2012 09:45pm
Whoa, another history buff in Jamil. You do not even know the origin of the person who created I presume your native land. Jinnah was not Sindhi. He was Gujarati from Kathiawar India...same place as Gandhi's.
Jun 03, 2012 10:51pm
G.M.Syed & Sheikh Mujibur Rehman were members of the Muslim League when Pakistan came into being. Why did they go renegade? Delve into the early history of Pakistan and you will know why. Saner elements in the Punjab realise that using religion as a weapon will not work. It is still not too late to save Pakistan.
El Cid
Jun 10, 2012 10:28am
I point no fingers. I analyse and conclude. I have never called any one infidel--a latin derived Christian word first coined around the 12th century--or traitor. Your are projecting your thoughts and personality. When you call out names and impute motives to others, please give examples to substaniate your claim or else you lose credibility.