Will NAP truly fix the broken Sindhi dream?

Published September 29, 2015
Sindh has seen all this before. What matters is, how the establishment is planning to end its game this time? —Reuters
Sindh has seen all this before. What matters is, how the establishment is planning to end its game this time? —Reuters

A lot is going on in Sindh, cities and smaller towns are getting some space to breathe, and villagers are beginning to find the courage to venture out before dawn and after dusk. This may not have been vocalised fully yet, but the progress has a lot to do with what is going on in the province, in terms of NAP operations and the subsequent pressures felt by both ruling parties in Sindh.

The Sindhi middle class, intellectuals and traditional social and political activists are suddenly at the forefront, trying to determine their place and influence the outcome. The NAP operations have provided this space. However, Sindhi intelligentsia are not content to be buying in the rhetoric with closed eyes.

All the stakeholders, stalkers and common people are looking at this unbelievable change from their own perspective; the targeted ones reconsidering their own plans, strategies and tactics for surviving the onslaught, and the common man onlooking with the cautious optimism that this is real and it is going to stay.

For some, it is a loss of power and revenue, a sudden stoppage in manna from heaven. Even after sweeping away billions of dollars, for them, it is a loss.

For some, it is broken dream; a dream modelled on Singapore, which was carved out of Malaysia. Their loss is the loss of total control of all the resources in the new Singapore in Sindh, where every foot of real state would be in hundreds of thousands of rupees, or perhaps measured in a whole other currency, like a Karachian dollar.

For the majority though, this is yet another ray of hope, that once all the known culprits are behind prison bars, they and their family can safely earn two meals a day and hopefully break the begging bowl by their next generation, so that their children can live respectable civic lives.

Although a large number of Pakistani citizens cannot perceive Sindh as anything other than waderas, dacoits and followers of G.M. Syed, people might be surprised to know that there is a lot more to it than that: there is a middle class and a so-called civil society in existence and they are watching this with great focus and interest, along with the public.

These people have borne the brunt of all the rule and misrule that has been going on over the years. This section of the population does not need a 'tsunami' or an earthquake to tell them their lives are wrecked – they are the ones who live under a perpetual tsunami, a perpetually shaking earth.

Questions and apprehensions

Getting rid of all the criminals (of all types) is necessary and welcome, but people who like to think and have experienced purgatory episodes of a similar nature before have several questions and apprehensions.

In sittings and gatherings, certain quiet but widespread discussions are catching trend, and they have made their way to the Sindhi media too. But since Sindhi isn't understood by everyone, the general population is deprived of this discussion and the opinions and apprehensions expressed in it.

Here are a few of them:

Is this just another face of the establishment? Do they want to finish the PPP and/or bring it to a state where it cannot do more than just survive, and let the establishment rule Sindh the way they have always ruled Sindh or have always wished to?

Or will the establishment continue the cleanup operation throughout Pakistan honestly and evenly, and clean up administration and politics from crime and nepotism and establish rule of law?

Has there been a change of heart in the civil and military establishment, and will they ensure this time that resource distribution becomes fair and transparent?

Will the establishment accept all constituent parts of Pakistan, along with their respective cultures and languages, or keep insisting on moulding historical cultures by force and other artificial means?

Will the state allow different constituent units to freely take their own paths forward in terms of culture and religion? Is it willing to eliminate all the forces assaulting this freedom? Forces ranging from previously sponsored gangs and mafias to religious and secular parties and the institutes behind them?

Will the establishment stop supporting direct and indirect methods to sweep in all the benefits of modernisation, industry and commerce to a specific zone in the country?

There is a feeling that the establishment has decided to safeguard the geographical unity of Sindh. This is appreciated and understandable because of Sindh's strength in revenue generation and its large seaports. However, the question is, are they willing to keep the political, historical and cultural unity of Sindh in tact as well?

Dreams and demands

Ideally, the powers that be should help create an environment where people are free to practice their religion as per their liking and beliefs, live their culture and speak their language as they have done for centuries. The protection of these people and their assets should be the top priority.

It is being said that the 18th Amendment and the NFC award has some inbuilt mechanism to alleviate some federation and provincial disparities. However, in practice, these mechanisms are not implemented, and there seems to be an ongoing movement to reorient these instruments to the centre's benefit. Some people see that as a permanent loss to Sindh, but it is true that PPP, too, either used these instruments for party and personal benefits or were unable to see through their implementation.

The powers that be should also ensure that there is no manipulation in elections and no buying of votes under any pretext, including the so-called development schemes; jobs for their political workers; distribution of land and other resources to their cronies or business partners. Votes should be registered properly, polled properly and counted properly.

Beyond that, the winner of an election should not suddenly become master of everything, king of yore. Sindh overall and, Karachi specifically already has many lessons about what should not happen in any democracy.

Who will ‘they’ replace the PPP with?

There is a strong feeling in Sindh that the PPP, as it has existed historically, is no more. As a matter of fact, for Sindh, except for the two to three years in the Z.A. Bhutto government, PPP governments were either rife with misrule and corruption or Sindh was waiting for miracles to happen.

What we are seeing now are the last and painful breaths. The newly-activated chairman has not been able to resuscitate the PPP as the co-chairman is too strong and has a stronger grip on party affairs via well-fed but still hungry party “leaders”. The famous “Adi” is following Mr Chairman like a ghost everywhere he goes.

The battle against financial crimes ‒ most of which are now being reinterpreted as terror-related ‒ will be fought only in Sindh and with specific political targets in mind. Don't expect it to be a nationwide and across-the-board affair.

Sindh will be the eventual looser, because with PPP gone, another group of loyal ‘waderas’ will be propped up. Sindh has witnessed this proxy government during the Musharraf era and during other military and civilian governments of the past.

The issue of the PPP is critical because currently, there is no political alternative in Sindh. The establishment could prop up whomsoever they choose as a puppet of the centre. Historically, their puppets of choice have been ‘waderas’.

The reasons are simple: Waderas are easy to purchase and waste no time in unfurling whichever flag they have sold out to, on their rooftops. All it takes is a few plots and permits, freedom to rule over people in their area, control over rural economy, including sugar mills, and lately, the freedom to appropriate lands and real estates to their ownership and freedom to transfer earned money to foreign lands.

Proxy governments have been tried before in the eras of Jam Sadiq, Arbab Rahim and other opportunists. The fact of the matter is, the establishment is still not ready to face the Sindhi voice which will contend and question policies and invoke the pressing issues of language, culture and human freedom.

This non-conformist voice may radically upend the mindsets and policies of the establishment, which has traditionally made out its own business to define what Pakistan is and how it should be run.

The people are watching. How is the establishment going to end this game ‒ a compromise with the waderas as usual, after demoralising them, or with a fair and comprehensive judicial process against the culprits for all financial and political crimes, and establishment of rule of law?

Letting Sindh rot is not an option anymore

Some will take this as a prime opportunity to strike the metal, because it is very hot right now and can be moulded any way. But that is where things can go wrong. By throwing Sindh to the dogs or propping another proxy government or giving birth to another counteracting and balancing party like Ziaul Haq did, the short and long-term problems of Sindh (and for that matter, of Pakistan) will only get worse. Already, there is a lot of accumulated bitterness in the province, any more cannot be afforded.

Having suffered under all kinds of brutal rulers since time immemorial, it has seen the days of One Unit, of Zia and Musharraf, and the days when even saying “Sindh” was a crime; or as Shaikh Ayaz once said, “Oh Sindh, just saying your name is like stepping on a cobra”. It has known the Musharraf days, when cities were handed over to newfangled waderas, and towns and villages to traditional waderas. It has lived under the mismanagement and greed of the PPP, and is now living with the expectation of yet another Bhutto.

But Sindh has also fought for its cultural, political and economic rights. It has never been the blue-eyed boy of any establishment, whether religious or secular.

In this region, expect to see big graveyards, mausoleums and memorials but not many prominent palatial structures and gardens. That should tell you something about the way Sindh's people respond to rulers who have tried to rule it by force and disregarded local concerns.

They may not be known as a 'warrior' race, but expressed and unexpressed resistance in Sindh is a historical phenomenon. They don’t take up guns, but have never given up either.

‘A bastion of feudals and feudalism’ — the misperception of Sindh

One often hears this from people who are either beneficiaries of the system or politically ignorant: Why are the Sindhis voting for the PPP/waderas?

Such insulting comments betray an ignorance of reality on one hand and a lack of empathy on the other.

The fact is, the waderas in Sindh have always been supported by the establishment. Every time they become the establishment's favourites, they acquire full control over life and dignity of the local population, as they have full control over police and the revenue department. They can freely hound people via their dacoits and urban terrorists, and also control jobs and other avenues of livelihood and business. They are also hired to rig the elections.

Therefore, the perception of waderas ruling Sindh with an iron grip, and the notion of wadera-support in Sindh is completely false. This myth was broken by Z.A. Bhutto himself in 1970. The people of Sindh had voted, back then, for a party programme and a progressive mandate.

What happened eventually and how waderas were reimposed in Sindh in stages ‒ first by the PPP and then by subsequent civil and military encroachers ‒ is another matter.

With this embattled history of betrayals, there is more than enough cause for people to be sceptical this time. Will things be any different? Will Sindh get opportunities to decide its course for itself, or will it have to live with decisions manipulated and imposed by the establishment, directly or indirectly? Is dividing Sindh into political fragments like Balochistan still an agenda? Is the establishment going to prove this time that they have learnt their lessons?

The question has always been, why are the Sindhis not accepting Pakistan?

But the right question should be, is the establishment ready to accept Sindh? Can they live with the emerging middle class of Sindh?



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