SINDHI ETHNO-NATIONALISM IN PAKISTAN

The recent high-profile kidnapping of a police chief in Pakistan by Pakistan Rangers has signaled deepening of the chasm between the ethnic groups in Pakistan plunging the country into a civil war like situation. The politico-military cabal is bracing for further opposition protests aimed at ousting Prime Minister Imran Khan. The Rangers raided the house of Mushtaq Ahmed Mahar, the Inspector General of Police in Southern Sindh, kidnapped him and forced him to sign an order to arrest an opposition leader, Safdar Awan, Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar, a spokesman for Bilawal Bhutto Zardari whose PPP is in government in Sindh.

The process of nation building in the greatly pluralistic society of Pakistan has remained a challenge as diverse ethnic, religious and linguistic groups have been sought to be integrated within a viable state structure which at the point of inception in 1947 was an artificial creation with no strategic glue binding them together. It is crucial for a state to co-opt different ethnic groups into the political structure of the state by empowering them with decision making. Pakistan seems to ignore history at its own peril and the specter of 1971 does hang over it ominously. The phenomenon of ethno-nationalism in Pakistan has remained in focus for many years and its growing impact aligned with Islamic terrorism has made this a hot topic not only in the region but around the globe. Most ethnic groups in Pakistan feel they are treated differently from others. This is particularly the case for people in Balochistan, where there has been a long-running nationalist insurgency. Jehanzeb Jamaldini of the Balochistan National Party, which campaigns for greater autonomy, says it would have been better for Pakistan to have recognized different ethnic groups as “four or five different nations” within a federation. Instead there is a feeling among many in Pakistan that one ethnic group, Punjabis, dominate the rest of the country.

While Balochistan is the hotbed for ethno-nationalism and organizations like BLA, BRA and BLF, are rooting for autonomy or independence, Sindhi ethno-nationalism has begun to assert itself as well. On 30th July, 2016 the city of Larkana was rocked by a bomb attack targeting a paramilitary forces’ vehicle. This was preceded by an attack in Karachi; a failed attempt on the life of a Chinese engineer, his bodyguard and his driver on 30th May 2016. The attack was claimed by an unheard outfit calling itself Sindhudesh Revolutionary Army (SRA)[1]. A pamphlet signed by the Sindhudesh Revolutionary Army, an ethnic Sindhi separatist group, was found at the site, police said. “The world’s most plunderous nation has set its eye on Sindh,” the pamphlet said, according to a photograph of it seen by Reuters. “They want to attack Sindh and enslave its people.” The group was apparently referring to the CPEC. The SRA is the second known Sindhi nationalist group to use violence. The first was the Sindhudesh Liberation Army (SLA) which became publicly known during 2010 after it claimed responsibility for the bomb blast on railway tracks near Hyderabad. Since May 2012, the group has emerged and attacked on branches of the National Bank of Pakistan (NBP) in different districts of Sindh. The group is currently headed by Chief Commander Darya Khan. It has been asserted that the Jeay Sindh Muttahida Mahaz (JSQM), a political separatist party, has a deep link with the SRA. JSQM Chairman Shafi Muhammad Burfat is allegedly operating the SLA from Kabul.

Fig-1 : Sindhudesh Revolutionary Army Crest

It would be safe to assert that ethno-nationalism along with inter and intra sect fault lines within Islam are emerging as the greatest threat to Pakistan. The reason behind this is not only dissatisfaction or hostility to the main ideology of Pakistan but the realm of security specifically human security. Human security holds that people-centered, multi-disciplinary understanding of security, involving number of research fields including development studies, international relations, strategic studies, and human rights. The United Nations Development Program’s (UNDP) 1994 Human Development Report is considered a milestone publication in the field of human security with its argument that insuring “freedom from want” and “freedom from fear” for all persons is the best path to tackle the problem of global insecurity.

Ethnic minorities in Pakistan include Sindhis (14.1 per cent), Pashtuns or Pakhtuns (15.42 per cent, 2006 Census of Afghans in Pakistan), Mohajirs (7.57 per cent), Baluchis (3.57 per cent)[2]. All the militant threats emanate from regions afflicted with a deplorable human condition. Basically, human security states that a plethora of threats in various domains such as economics, health and environment affecting the individual and not the state should be the primary cause of concern for governments. If one examines the various ethno-nationalist revolts in Pakistan’s history one can ascertain that all had roots in human security. The map below depicts the variance of HDI in various provinces of Pakistan and reinforces the primacy of Punjab and castigation of other provinces. It is interesting to note that while Punjab moved from a low medium to a high medium level of development, Balochistan has been unable to transition, and has remained on the outskirts of development. The case for Sindh has been very gradual and gains have not been enormous.

Fig-2[3]:HDI Index of Districts of Pakistan

The failure to provide adequate protection to ethnic, linguistic and religious minorities in Pakistan is an unfortunate aspect of the country’s chequered legal and political history. In this regard two particularly worrying trends have emerged: first, the suppression of the rights of ethnic minorities such as Baluchis, Pashtuns, Mohajirs and Sindhis, all of whom have had their demands for greater autonomy met with severe government repression. Second, the freedoms of religious minorities, such as Hindus, Christians and Ahmadis, have contracted as a result of harsh legislation around the issue of religious offences or blasphemy rules. Ever since its creation, Pakistan has had to face serious problems in relation to its ethnic and linguistic minorities. The rather artificial nature of the national boundaries, large-scale discrimination against Bengalis and persecution of Hindus were all evident prior to the secession of East Pakistan. The ethnic and sectarian violence in the urban parts of Sindh, most prominently in Karachi, has been particularly disturbing, resulting in thousands of casualties. The actions of the law enforcement agencies, in particular the extra-judicial killings of opponents of the present government, is a matter of serious international concern as repeated human rights abuses have been reported, many targeting civilians, with hundreds forcibly disappeared by the military and a brutal crackdown on NGOs and activists operating in the region.

On independence, Pakistan made Urdu the national language, denying Sindhi its traditional status in Sindh. In 1972 Sindhi efforts to regain official status for their language resulted, in ethnic disturbances provoked by the ruling elite, the Punjabis. The presence of large Mohajir population in Sindh and demand for a separate homeland and accompanying violence along with the internally displaced population of Pashtuns in Sindh has further threatened the locus standi of Sindhis in their own province. Sindhis also see themselves as threatened by the continued rural influx of Punjabis, many of them military personnel, who, they claim, obtain ancestral Sindhi lands unlawfully. Numerous Sindhi activists and intellectuals are reportedly in prison, some detained without trial, many tortured and denied legal or medical aid. Sindhis also consider that they are deprived of their share of irrigation water and that the province’s fossil fuels are being exploited by outsiders for commercial gain, while many Sindhis suffer unemployment and poverty. The opposition to the construction of Kala Bagh dam (1999–2006) reflects Sindhi concerns.

Sindhis accuse Mohajir and Pashtun militants of numerous killings and other outrages, which gave Pakistan Government the reason to allow a free hand to the Pakistan Rangers in what came to be known as Karachi Targeted Operations (KTO) which has brought the province to the edge of the precipice. The Rangers was first called in Karachi, by late Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto after three PSF members were gunned down at Karachi University in 1989. The Article 147 was invoked and they were deployed in aid of civil power. Years have passed and the Rangers have remained as the Pakistan Army’s vector of imposing its will on the province. The Rangers, defend their operation though, they still believe that had they been given powers of prosecution, separate police stations, and also allowed to appoint special prosecutors, results could be more effective. Special powers to the Rangers under ATA have been given in the light of a presentation given at the central apex committee meeting attended by the PM and the COAS in 2015[4]. Under the powers granted through ATA as well as under Protection of Pakistan Act, the Rangers was allowed to detain suspects for 90 days and also investigate before handing them over to police. The high handedness of the Central Government propped by Pakistan Army has spurred this ethno-nationalistic strain in Sindh.

Ethnicity based contestations in Pakistan have not only been increased in recent years but have also captured the imagination of broad spectrum of stake holders. Pakistan should focus more on aspects of human security in order to not only combat ethno-nationalism but other forms as well. It is a widespread assertion that terrorism thrives in places where human security is compromised and the same is true for the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. Within as multi-ethnic a state as Pakistan, federalism helps prevent national fracturing. Some might look at Pakistan and see a country divided along ethnic lines. This stems more from a mis-practice of federalism than the system of government itself. Pakistan has historically de-emphasized unitary governance. Similarly, it has approached ethnic conflicts through a narrow security and military lens, hindering the practice of federalism in its true spirit. As a political system properly instituted, federalism promotes and legitimizes each of Pakistan’s many represented ethnic groups.

[1] https://www.newsintervention.com/sindhudesh-revolutionary-army-eliminates-pak-ranger-in-karachi/ accessed on 22 October 2020.

[2] World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples, https://minorityrights.org/minorities/sindhis-and-mohajirs/ accessed on 22 Oct 2020.

[3] https://www.undp.org/content/dam/pakistan/docs/HDR/HDI%20Report_2017.pdf accessed on 22 October 2020.

[4] Mazhar Abbas, Karachi Operation: An analysis; https://www.thenews.com.pk/print/180499-Karachi-Operation accessed on 22 Oct 2020.

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