The notion that the PPP leadership could treat Sindh as its fiefdom has been challenged by the Sindhi people. The more than a week long protests against decisions having a negative impact on Sindh are enough to indicate that PPP can no more take Sindh for granted. Anybody who thinks he alone knows what is in Sindh’s interests is now bound to be challenged in Sindh’s streets by the local population asserting its right to be consulted.
It is a slur to suggest that those presently being tagged as “nationalists” and the Sindhi media maintained silence during the military rule and have suddenly become vocal against an elected government. There is a need to put the record straight. Throughout the Musharraf era, the nationalists and a section of the local media stood in the way of the construction of Kalabagh Dam. It was the “nationalists” who organised protest marches against the Thar canal and against attempts to reduce or deny Sindh’s rightful share of Indus’ water. What one sees happening is a continuation of the struggle.
Besides the PPP and MQM, a third force has asserted itself in the politics of Sindh. This comprises Sindhi nationalists and ANP. It has already forced the government to withdraw the two tier LG system. Now it is posing a challenge to the 2001 LG system the PPP leadership has proposed for the province. The other issues it has raised are the revival of the five Karachi districts and the reversion of Hyderabad to its original status.
President Zardari has been taking the decisions to placate the MQM without caring to discuss them with the party’s provincial leadership. He knows the docile party is bound to adhere to the policy line obediently. He did not consider any party leader from Sindh fit enough to work out a local government formula with the MQM. He appointed instead his controversial trouble shooter from Punjab, Babar Awan, to do the job. Totally ignorant of the sensitivities of the national question in Sindh, an abrasive Awan announced two local government systems for the province while CM Sindh stood by as a passive spectator. The verdict was rightly seen to have laid the grounds for a possible division of Sindh. The next day, protestors were out in the streets. The issue was taken up in the National Assembly also.
The government was put on the mat in the NA by veteran PPP leader Zafar Ali Shah who accused the party leadership of “a sell out which we will not accept”. He told Babar Awan and Rehman Malik “not to come to Sindh on such missions.” No PPP MNA was ready to defend the party policy as the issue was taken up by an MNA belonging to ANP. Gilani had earlier faced similar criticism in the cabinet meeting from his Sindhi colleagues. This, however, turned out to be a storm in a tea cup.
The opposition from the streets of Sindh led Zardari to take another decision, the promulgation of the 2001 LG system throughout Sindh. The decision was equally unpopular. During the Musharraf era, the powers assumed by the Karachi District Nazim were used to discriminate against the Sindhis and Pakhtuns. A number of the old Sindhi Goths were declared unauthorised habitations. Sindhis were discriminated against in jobs also. In the interior of Sindh, the 2001 LG system had armed the local elite with extraordinary powers and deprived the common people of whatever little justice they could occasionally get from a supposedly professional and neutral bureaucracy. The new announcement by Zardari therefore only added fuel to the fire.
With public resentment continuing to spread, Zardari called PPP ministers who were reprimanded for letting him down. Qaim Ali Shah was told to enforce party discipline. It was decided to introduce a bill in Sindh Assembly to enforce the 2001 LG system which was to be presented as a stop gap arrangement.
Meanwhile, the party leadership has decided to play on the front foot. The nationalists who have been criticising the party leadership are to be sorted out. There are already reports of hundreds of activists having been arrested. Provincial ministers Sharjil Memon and Zahid Burghari have told the nationalists to stop criticising the PPP leadership or be ready to face reprisals from PPP workers. A leading Sindhi media house has been told to behave by senior provincial minister Pir Mazharaul Haq.
The third force has announced a general strike on Saturday. While there is a likelihood of its succeeding in interior Sindh, the ANP will have to use its full clout to ensure its success in Karachi.
The nationalists form a strong pressure group in Sindh. They, however, suffer from a number of limitations. They remain badly divided. They have yet not emerged as a viable alternative to the PPP and they have no countrywide alliances except with the ANP. They need the support from the mainstream parties, particularly PML(N) to face the PPP-MQM alliance.
The writer is a former academic and a political analyst.