At last, the winds of “change” have turned their way to Sindh.
Some say the Kaptaan seems to be struggling in gaining a foothold in Sindh. Others are more optimistic.
In any case, while the celebration of Diwali in Umerkot was a part of it, it is Imran Khan's upcoming jalsa in Larkana on November 21 which truly marks his first foray into Sindhi politics.
The PTI’s arrival has indeed instilled a glimmer of hope in the young and educated people of the province.
But even as he drums up promises of a Naya Sindh, Imran will have to talk definitively on matters most important to Sindh, some of which, he has appeared to have been dodgy about in the past. This time, he will have to establish a strong and clear position on every issue instead of tiptoeing around them, because it will essentially be the difference between a successful and an unsuccessful jalsa.
Here's some homework for the Kaptaan:
1. Division of Sindh
Imran would fall at the first hurdle if, like Tahirul Qadri – whose 'inqilaab' works in tandem with Imran's 'tabdeeli' – he announces support for the idea of carving out a new province in Sindh. This is the first hurdle he will have to jump over – nay, remove altogether.
He must know that a new province in Sindh is not a public demand at all. It is plain old political point-scoring. Given the PTI's popularity, many status quo parties are down in the mouth. They see people (especially the youth) drifting away from them, and then play cards like this one in attempts to consolidate their vote banks.
For a great majority of the Sindhi people, the province is their motherland, a sacred soil once home to a great civilisation. So any discussion of Sindh's division is intolerable for them; they see the demand for new provinces as leading to becoming strangers on their own land.
Know more: PTI against division of Sindh, says Qureshi
Imran has been largely silent about the demand, though his party leaders have spoken against a new province in Sindh. However, the PTI does support new provinces at least in the rest of the country.
How is the Kaptaan planning to reconcile this?
2. Kalabagh dam and the water issue
Sindhis see the building of Kalabagh dam as a death knell for them.
Irrigation water is scanty as it is. Where tales of canals drying up are getting common, not releasing sufficient water into the sea is also damaging thousands of acres of fertile land in Sindh. The popular opinion, at least, is that the construction of Kalabagh dam will turn Sindh into a desert.
Take a look: PTI’s hydel vision
The PTI says it will not build the dam without national consensus. That is a diplomatic statement. Can Imran go further and say what the people here want him to say i.e. a project detrimental to Sindh will never be considered?
It is a complaint older than many PTI supporters would be today: Sindh laments Punjab 'stealing' its water. It is a matter of hearts and the PTI chairman will have to somehow hit the right chord if he wants to win them over in Larkana.
3. Extremist apologist
Many Sindhis are annoyed with what appear to be the Kaptaan's unclear viewpoints on extremism.
Calling the Taliban “our estranged brothers"; condemning drone attacks targeting terrorists; demanding a Taliban office in Islamabad; nobody has forgotten that.
For these reasons, the people of Sindh are wary of Imran. He will have to disown the killers of thousands of Pakistanis if he wants to be welcomed here. There are no two ways about it.
On the subject of minorities, he fares better. The celebration of Diwali and the condemnation of atrocities committed against religious minorities, especially the forced conversion of Hindu girls; all are certain to attract support from the Hindu community.
But although Sindh is relatively peaceful, it is in danger of falling into the inferno of extremism and sectarianism. Sectarian outfits have been gaining footholds in rural Sindh. So while he is championing minority rights, Imran will have to specifically address the targeting of Shias and express support for the community.
4. Hidden hands behind tsunami?
It has been rumoured that Imran is working hand in glove with “hidden hands” to throw out Nawaz Sharif. The rumours took succour from Javed Hashmi's allegations.
Then came the recent suggestion of including representatives from intelligence agencies into the proposed commission to investigate poll-rigging. This raised even more eyebrows. What are his plans exactly?
The PTI chief must remind himself that Sindh has a long history of political struggle against dictatorship. It has fought tooth and nail to save democracy. Therefore, many people feel his 'change' is rather specious; is this change for the better or change for the worse?
5. Counting on ready-made Azadi pasands and allies
Imran's plans of a Naya Sindh will go up in smoke if he counts too much on reprobates waiting in the wings to join the PTI. If he noticeably goes against Pakistan Peoples Party, he may soon find many Sindhi leaders lining up to join him just because, despite their efforts, they could not make their way into PPP.
There are other off-the-shelf political allies – who are really worthy of only being allies – now eyeing Imran's party after Nawaz Sharif did not fulfill the promises he made to them.
For example, Mumtaz Bhutto and Liaquat Jatoi are no more in the Sharif camp. The Jatois of Naushero Feroze, Sherazis of Thatta and Arbabs of Thar, all seem to be ready to leave the PML.
For one, they won't – or rather can't – help Imran win elections in the whole of Sindh. And secondly, they will smudge his reputation.
Imran will do well to focus on the youth and try to win genuine support as opposed to paying more attention to opportunists.
6. Zinda hai Bhutto
Bhuttos and Sindh are inseparable. All sympathies of the people of Sindh go with Bhutto's name.
There are reasons for their awe; sacrifices, most of all, including four leaders of this country. To the PPP's credit, their relatively stronger standpoint against religious extremism and dictatorship attract a lot of people.
That’s why despite their bad governance and incompetence, people are still seen chanting Zinda hai Bhutto and Jeay Bhutto in the streets and corners of Sindh.
Thus, the PPP remains the biggest obstruction in the PTI's advancement into Sindh. If Imran manages to raise the public's spirit in Sindh as much as he has done in Punjab, it would be fair to say that he has been successful in his mission in the southern province as well.
To sum up, Imran Khan may promise to change the system; bad governance; corruption; poverty; inflation; unemployment; nepotism; highhandedness; and build roads and schools and hospitals and so on. But if he fails to clarify his positions on the above-mentioned issues, his efforts will be in vain.