ONCE again, differences between the PPP and MQM have translated into a Sindhi-Mohajir confrontation. In fact, the reasons for this are inherent in the politics of both parties.
The politics of PPP which it calls ‘the politics of reconciliation’ is in fact politics without principles that negates its manifesto. For example, the party promised to undo the Musharraf-era division of Hyderabad district and the clubbing together of Karachi’s five districts, which Benazir Bhutto criticised as an administrative division imposed by a dictator. But the promise was never fulfilled
The PPP’s major fault is, however, to take the support of Sindhis for granted. It has failed to recognise that the Sindhi people’s love for their motherland transcends party lines, all sacrifices rendered by the PPP or any other party notwithstanding, and that their unity of thought on major issues is phenomenal.
The MQM’s politics appears to be based on the ethnic sentiments of its voters, which when exploited, have the damaging effect of causing dislike for those who do not speak Urdu. The journey from ‘Mohajir’ to ‘Muttahida’ was considered a policy shift towards the integration of MQM supporters with the rest of Sindh. But it turned out to be more a change of strategy than of heart.
Such politics tend to paint all Urdu-speaking people with the same brush although most are progressive and liberal and desire peace and integration. Pakistan’s security establishment, the guardians of the ‘ideological and geographical frontiers’ of the country, have contributed their own bit to this confrontation so that the province has reached its present status of seemingly insurmountable problems.
Consciously or unconsciously, a large segment of the Urdu-speaking intelligentsia, civil society and media have either kept quiet or are perceived as supporting such an ethnic viewpoint thereby increasing the rift. Pervez Musharraf’s dictatorship further widened the gulf through deliberate design to give control of Sindh’s urban centres to the MQM as independent administrative units through the district government system. The LGO 2001 appeared to dovetail with the thinking of those who supported the idea of a Mohajir province in Sindh. This resulted in causing suspicion among Sindhis, who despite the numerous merits of the local government system, rejected the change as an attempt to divide Sindh.
Sindhis voted for the PPP and its manifesto which promised to undo all Musharraf’s actions including the local government system of 2001. Since then, there have been incessant demands for the promised actions.
One point must be noted here. Since 1988, the MQM and the PPP have shared power in Sindh three times. Without going into the deeper factors, the general acceptance of the power-sharing by the masses is indicative that by and large the voters and also the people are fundamentally in favour of coexistence between the Sindh- and Urdu-speaking people of the province.
Another point worth noting is that the ‘Sindh card’ often played by the PPP whenever it has been in trouble is in effect dead from this point on.
Rather than acting on people’s aspirations, the PPP government has resorted to unprincipled politics, refusing to understand the larger issues involved in the present controversy and thus further aggravating the Sindhi-Urdu divide.
The angry reaction of Sindhis against the PPP and MQM must be seen against this backdrop. It is not about a few nationalist leaders, intellectuals and members of civil society agitating the people. Neither is it about the present district government controversy. It is the pent-up frustration and anger of many decades of authoritarian and military rule in Pakistan, especially in Sindh. It is about what is seen as the plunder of Sindh’s resources without corresponding benefits to Sindh.
It is about the ownership of two prosperous cities of Sindh, established and developed by a competent and dedicated mercantile and cosmopolitan Sindhi Hindu and Muslim class that flourished much before Pakistan came into existence. It is about the humiliation of seeing a provincial assembly passing a resolution to in effect put a ban on Sindhis getting admission in public-sector professional institutions and employment in the multinational companies. It is also about the frustration at the unending cycle of blood on the streets.This constant confrontation between Sindhis and Mohajirs is a source of great loss to Pakistan and still greater loss to Sindh. Despite being secular and progressive, Sindh lags behind in terms of economic and social development because of the albatross of PPP and MQM policies. Sindh is a prosperous and resource-rich province. It is also a land of secular and liberal people who have given strong political leadership to Pakistan from Jinnah to Benazir Bhutto.
It presented the incumbent PPP government an unmatched opportunity to correct all the wrongs done to the country by the civil and military establishment of Pakistan. A strong democratic and plural society, could have been created to tackle terrorism, the sectarian and ethnic divide and violence in politics but the opportunity was lost by the PPP. The MQM’s alignment with the security establishment further damaged the cause.
There is still hope though. The present revolt against the PPP indicates that Sindhis can reject their own elected government if they fear a division of the province. This raises the opportunity for progressive Urdu-speaking people to join hands with the Sindhis to make the province an ideal homeland setting an example of peaceful coexistence and democracy.
The writers are members of the Sindh Democratic Forum.