DIVIDING Sindh along ethnic lines — the ‘Mohajir’ south in Karachi and Hyderabad versus the ‘interior’ of the province dominated by Sindhi speakers — is an idea fraught with the most dangerous of consequences. But, as reported in this newspaper yesterday, in Urdu-speaking neighbourhoods of Karachi and partly Hyderabad, the demand for a Mohajir province has grown in recent months, backed by a Mohajir province movement whose leadership has yet to reveal itself publicly.
With graffiti on walls proliferating and the odd rally held in support of the so-called Mohajir province, suspicion has fallen on the MQM as the architect of the movement. While the MQM has officially tried to distance itself from the campaign, particularly via supporting a resolution in the Sindh Assembly against the division of Sindh, it has not condemned the Mohajir province movement. Party leaders have spoken of the growing sense of frustration among Urdu-speakers in the province that they are not getting their due share of resources and jobs from the state. That has only served to heighten the suspicions of Sindhi nationalists, who are bitterly opposed to the idea of dividing Sindh and who have deep misgivings about the MQM’s intentions, particularly since the MQM introduced bills calling for the creation of new provinces in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa earlier this year.
If Sindh, especially its urban areas, is to be spared a terrifying round of violence between those who count Urdu as their mother tongue and native Sindhi speakers, both the MQM and the Sindhi nationalists have to act quickly. On the MQM’s part, it needs to go beyond demonstrating that it has no active role in the movement and address suspicions that it is not really averse to such a campaign. On the Sindhi nationalists’ part, their habitual reactionary ways need to be curbed. Their hostility towards the MQM, no matter what that party does or doesn’t do, only serves to keep ethnic tensions in Sindh at an uncomfortably high level. In recent times, Altaf Hussain has repeatedly spoken of recognising that Mohajirs were ‘new’ Sindhis and in a matter of generations would culturally and socially become indistinguishable from the ‘old’ Sindhis. Reaching out to Sindhis in that manner was unprecedented for the MQM, but the Sindhi nationalists have been dismissive of the overtures. That Karachi is a tinderbox always seemingly on the verge of an ethnic, sectarian or political breakdown is known to everyone. Talk of a Mohajir province only serves to complicate an already fiendishly complex problem. Mohajir and Sindhi nationalist leaders must work to reassure each other at this uneasy juncture.