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KARACHI: Sindh belongs to the Indus Valley Civilisation, which was unique in that it did not spread through military conquests but by cultural expansion as its roots can be detected from Mehrgarh to Kathiawar to Madhya Pradesh.

This was stated by eminent historian Dr Mubarak Ali during his presidential address in the first session at the Sindh Development Conference, which was organised by the Sindhi Association of North America (SANA) at a hotel, on Saturday afternoon.

Mr Ali said Sindh held an important position in the history of the subcontinent. He said after the failure of the Non-Cooperative Movement and Khilafat Movement in the 1920s, communal parties came to the fore. He said in order to stake a claim in the history of India, Muslims attached two aspects to the subject: one, that Sindh was the Baabul Islam (gateway to Islam); two, that Mohammad bin Qasim was a hero. This deeply impacted the region, he said, because by saying that it was the Baabul Islam, they connected themselves with the Middle East, totally disregarding the links with the Moryas, the Aryans, the Buddhists and the Jains etc that were part of the civilisation; and by saying that Qasim was a hero, other heroes (Mahmood Ghaznavi, Ghori) were created who were attackers (hamla awar).

Mr Ali said Sindh played its role against colonial rule. He said colonialists were of the opinion that the people of the subcontinent did not have the ability to rule; but when Moenjodaro was discovered they came to know that 1000 years ago people of this area were able to create a civilisation for themselves. He said this civilisation was unique because it did not come about through military exploits but by cultural expansion. He said it had its links from Mehrgarh to Gujarat to Madhya Pradesh, indicating how strong it was.

The session had speeches by courageous women Musarrat Abro, Mehnaz Mehr and Mirzadi Khoso who talked about how against all odds they were contributing to the fields of education and health in their respective areas. Gull Mallah gave a presentation on the Sindh skills development programme and Valeed Sheikh spoke on the joint programmes being carried out in the province for students. Dr Raheem Bux Bhatti, who received a standing ovation, narrated his journey with reference to the establishment of the Gambat Institute of Medical Science.

The inaugural session of the conference commenced with the welcome speech delivered by SANA general secretary Noorunisa Ghanghro. US consul-general Brian Heath was the first formal speaker. He said Sindh’s culture was thousands of years old marked by its mystics, Sufis and poets. He said the US and Pakistan’s interests converged, and the former was assisting the latter in the fields of health, education and energy.

‘Karachi’s economy does not allow the rest of Sindh to develop’

Sindh Finance Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah said he was supposed to speak in the concluding session of the moot, but since he had to travel abroad for a meeting he requested the organisers to move his speech to the opening ceremony. Highlighting the provincial government’s priorities, he said they were centred on the social sector (health and education) and on energy. He said for the past three years, the focus was on service delivery. He said Sindh was not a poor province but its resources had not been exploited to the fullest. He conceded that there were governance issues which needed to be improved and said the capacity to implement and human resource were the “problem”. He urged SANA members to visit Thar and see for themselves as to what the government had done there.

In his keynote address, IBA Director Dr Ishrat Husain said we should aspire to have sustainable and equitable development. Development, he said, had three major endowment factors: land, labour and capital. He said Sindh was blessed with those factors but they were not being used efficiently. Addressing the finance minister, he requested the government to keep its hands off education and health, giving the example of IBA Sukkur that did not suffer from interference in admission or administrative processes.

Dr Pervaiz Tahir chaired the second session. Abdul Fazal gave a presentation on the progress made in the Thar coal project. Next up was economist Dr Kaiser Bengali whose topic was ‘Development in Sindh is possible’. Dr Bengali called for a growth centred approach. He explained that it had three sectors — urban conglomeration, rural conglomeration and education. He said Karachi’s economy was so overpowering that it did not allow the rest of Sindh to develop, which was why it needed to create engines of growth. He said Hyderabad, which didn’t have a four- or five-star hotel, was not an engine of growth. He said an effective Sindhi entrepreneur class was needed.

The penultimate session was titled ‘Connecting technology, governance and women in the development of Sindh’.

Intel Pakistan Country Manager Naveed Siraj, who spoke on technology in development, said Sindh needed more schools with high-speed Internet connectivity. He said less than five per cent schools in the region had any form of technology. He said the panacea lay in the private sector, leading the way.

Social analyst Dr Kausar S. Khan’s presentation was on women and development. After discussing the plight of women in Sindh, she recommended that a centre be established to initiate a participatory action research, a fellowship be established to develop human resource for the research, and there should be a Sindh watch that could monitor abuse. Former federal secretary Fazlullah Qureshi spoke on governance and development.

Economist Dr Akbar Zaidi, who chaired the session, while summing up the three speeches said one party was responsible for the issues raised by the speakers: government. Contrary to Mr Siraj’s assertion, he said, he believed that the emphasis should be on public sector reforms.

In the last session, Additional Chief Secretary Planning and Development Aijaz Ali Khan was to deliver the concluding remarks, as the provincial finance minister had informed the attendees in the morning.

Published in Dawn, January 24th, 2016