Prize or pariah?

14 Aug 2018


IT seems that Sindh will be the only outlier for the next few years as the PTI seems poised to form governments at the centre, in Punjab and the KP and be an active partner in running Balochistan along with the Balochistan Awami Party. This makes the PPP-administered Sindh something of a deviant in Naya Pakistan. There may lurk an opportunity behind every challenge, but the big question is whether the province is seen as a prize that various suitors try to win over or a pariah left to stew in its own juice because it remained impervious to which way the wind was blowing.

Among the three main contenders, the PPP cannot really afford to let go of this last vestige of its erstwhile glory. It will be disastrous if it only harps on the Bhutto legacy instead of reorganising and consolidating its power base in preparation for reclaiming the lost political ground in the rest of the country. It has the most to win and everything to lose, depending on which way its popularity graph moves in Sindh.

The PTI has made inroads into Sindh, mostly in Karachi without having to do anything for the city. To be fair, the PTI did not owe anything to Sindh as it had no responsibility where the makeup of the outgoing legislature was concerned. Its surge in the July 25 general elections could be explained more as a ‘protest’ vote against the incumbents than a sudden rise in its popularity. Some disillusioned MQM voters may have voted for the PTI, but a great proportion of the vote may also have come from people tired of the MQM’s and PPP’s violent ways. This cohort of voters may already be feeling shortchanged as the PTI has entered into an alliance with the MQM under a nine-point agreement — so much for the ‘protest’.

The PTI has the most incentive to show gratitude for the rise in its electoral fortunes in Sindh and build upon it. However, after the 18th Constitutional Amendment most developmental subjects fall under the provincial ambit. The PPP would not want the federal government to make inroads into what it considers to be its backyard, development or no development. The fact that the outcome of the general elections is perceived to have been ‘massaged’ in favour of the PTI — if not outright altered by the establishment — may also result in every issue turning into a three-way fight or a zero-sum proposition.

What will be status of Sindh in the days ahead?

Water has emerged as the biggest issue in both urban and rural Sindh. Suppose the provincial government’s reform initiative regards the Karachi Water and Sewerage Board includes the rationalisation of its workforce. How do we think the MQM would react when it comes to the question of on whose watch the KWSB staff doubled? It will expect its senior partner at the centre, the PTI to do something equally painful to the Sindh government. This is where Imran Khan will find himself between a rock and a hard place as something as necessary and urgent as the reform of PIA can start looking like a tit-for-tat move because the national airline is overstaffed thanks to the PPP. It just so happens that K-Electric’s sell-off to Shanghai Power is above any single party’s pay scale, otherwise we all remember how every political party joined hands with the K-Electric employees in their protest against reforms.

The MQM for its part may find that it has another thing coming if it is entering into this understanding with the PTI on the assumption that it will claw its way out of the political wilderness on the strength of the city government. Imran Khan made it quite clear in the run-up to the polls that he envisages a new form of local government. While ‘all politics is local’, it is imperative that political parties willingly share credit for service delivery at various tiers of governance. For Sindh to be considered a prize and not a pariah, creative tension is all that is required between the contenders.

To prevent Sindh from sliding deeper into the urban-rural divide, Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari cannot and should not give up on Lyari. He heads a party whose popularity is increasingly becoming restricted to the rural areas of the province. He needs to grab the opportunity while Karachi is still the headquarters of both rural and urban Sindh. No one has ever refused to drink from a filtration plant installed by a candidate they did not vote for or walk on a pavement made by the losing side.

The Sindh government must involve all stakeholders to monitor its performance, and communicate it to the electorate regularly. All aspirants to Sindh’s vote bank must have stellar report cards on performance. Legislate wisely, raise revenues, make the public money count and prove to the people of Sindh that you care.

The writer is a poet and analyst.

Published in Dawn, August 14th, 2018