Faultlines in Sindh’s politics


Amidst the backdrop of the proposed 20th Amendment to the Constitution, tensions between the MQM and Sindhi nationalist parties went to the boil. The disagreement was seemingly on the question of new provinces, with the nationalists essentially accusing the MQM of conspiring (with the PPP) to divide Sindh through their plan of creating new provinces elsewhere in the country. The rage was such that apart from Karachi and a small section of Hyderabad, Sindh went on strike. The MQM, through their iconic chief, responded with the assurance that the division of Sindh is a no-no.
And yet, the acrimony persists and distrust has widened.
There is much history and much love lost, literally, between the MQM and the Sindhi nationalists, their relationship having started during the MQM’s days of struggle for recognition. At the time, the two had teamed up, with the Sindhi nationalists providing support – logistical and otherwise – to the MQM, then the united Mohajir Qaumi Movement. Altaf Hussain’s first public gathering in Hyderabad was organised by the nationalists, with Qadir Magsi – now the chief of his own party, the Sindh Taraqqi-Pasand Party (STP) – acting as his bodyguard. The relationship soured soon after when MQM activists tried to rename a busy chowk in Hyderabad, originally named after the iconic progressive peasant leader, Haider Bux Jatoi.
To cut a long story short, with the MQM going mainstream, and subsequently going on to become a fixture in government, there is little by way of a “relationship” between the MQM and Sindhi nationalists to speak of. For the nationalists, though, the MQM’s move to become part of the status quo spoke volumes about how much, or how little, they could trust the MQM. Veteran MQM activists share similar sentiments of betrayal, arguing that Sindhi nationalists had first assured them of parity but then responded violently when they tried to rename Haider Chowk as Shuhada (Martyrs) Chowk. For the MQM, this was seen as a realisation that they could not piggyback on Sindhi nationalist forces to gain popularity; rather, it was to be their own struggle.
But all this is past. Or should be.
Sindhi nationalism has two strands: one that wants to engage with the state through the process of electoral politics; the other is a separatist strand, of which the largest group is the Jeay Sindh Qaumi Mahaaz (JSQM) led by Bashir Qureshi. The former, including the STP of Qadir Magsi and the Awami Tehrik (AT) of Latif Palijo, are currently looking for larger anchors to become voices in the mainstream. Mian Nawaz Sharif has been trying to become that anchor for the mainstream, and most recently, contact has also been made by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf. For this second strand to succeed, they need to perpetuate an anti-MQM line as well as an anti-PPP line. At the level of Sindh, this would give the PPP-MQM alliance some real opposition. At the level of the Centre, it would aid either Nawaz Sharif or Imran Khan to gain legitimacy in Sindh.
An anti-MQM line is a historical one. But the MQM’s steadfast support of the PPP and in particular, of President Asif Ali Zardari, in all the recent crises has meant that the anathema status given to the MQM has lowered to a certain degree. Both the PPP and the MQM have a larger experience in dealing with the establishment, and the move to create new provinces is aimed at altering the imbalance of the federation – something which reinforces the establishment’s entrenched position in politics. This process of realignment needs time to mature, and if it does, will entail stronger provinces and a comparatively stronger Pakistan. Because of this reason alone, there is a key question for the nationalists to answer: is their move to strike against the proposed 20th Amendment akin to playing to the tune of the Pakistani establishment?
There are democratic mechanisms in place to stop the division of Sindh, but in the larger context of the realignment of power sharing, siding so violently with one option reinforces the perception that some Sindhi nationalists have been working in cahoots with the establishment – an allegation that stems from within the nationalist movement in Sindh. Ultimately, both the MQM public meeting and the nationalists’ strike was one about posturing: pro-Sindh, pro-Pakistan for the MQM; anti-MQM and anti-PPP for the nationalists. Unfortunately for the nationalists, the PPP and the MQM are not interested in being relegated to becoming provincial forces just yet.
On an unrelated note, don’t you think Dr Zulfiqar Mirza has been out of the picture for too long?

The writer is a Karachi-based journalist. Connect with him on Twitter @ASYusuf