By Zia Ur Rehman

April 06-12, 2012

On March 23, when the entire country was celebrating the 72nd anniversary of the Pakistan Resolution, Jeay Sindh Qaumi Mahaz (JSQM) – a Sindhi nationalist party led by Bashir Khan Qureshi – staged a rally in Karachi for ‘the independence of Sindh’.

A similar call for Sindh’s independence was made by another ethnic party – the Jeay Sindh Tehrik (JST) headed by Dr Safdar Sarki – at a similar rally held at the same venue on March 15.

Although leaders at the two rallies demanded freedom for Sindh, political analysts say they were meant to show the strength of these parties in Karachi.

“In general, ethnic parties are becoming very popular in Sindh,” said Imdad Soomro, a senior Sindhi journalist. “The important thing is that the number of people who attend such rallies is increasing exponentially in Karachi.”

Ethnic parties are becoming popular in the entire Sindh province, but the number of people who attend their rallies in Karachi has increased exponentially

“It is not only because of the failure of the Pakistan People’s Party-led government to address the issues of Sindhis,” he added. “The groups have gained strength after they began to oppose demands for a separate Mohajir province in Sindh.”

The demand of a Mohajir province has been made time and again in the past, but it had so far not been seen as a serious threat by the Sindhi ethnic groups.

Although the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, a party seen as representing Mohajirs, has denied supporting the demand in the past, a two-page pamphlet distributed by mourners at the March 31 funeral of MQM activists killed in the recent political violence in Karachi called for a new Mohajir province.

Before that, the Mohajir Sooba Tehreek, a little known group, held a rally at the Karachi Press Club on March 6. It sent out emails to news organizations and wrote slogans on the city’s walls.

On March 9, the Sindh Assembly unanimously passed a resolution condemning the campaign for the Mohajir province and asked the government to find out who was behind it.

Days later, five members of the provincial assembly who had been particularly critical of the campaign received threatening letters from a previously unknown ‘Mohajir Sooba Liberation Army’. All of the legislators belonged to the PPP and one of them was a provincial minister.

MQM leaders, especially its chief Altaf Hussain, have repeatedly stated that they have nothing to do with the campaign and do not want the division of Sindh. “The abhorrent wall chalking demanding a Mohajir province is not the issue of Urdu speaking people,” said Syed Jalal Mehmood Shah, chief of Sindh United Party and grandson of prominent political leader GM Syed. “It is a matter of the PPP and MQM trying to blackmail each other.”

Ayaz Latif Palijo, head of the Awami Tehrik, accused the MQM of wanting to separate Karachi from the rest of the province at the behest of the US. “The city occupies a strategic position on the Arabian Sea and serves as the gateway to Afghanistan and Russia,” he said. “After handing over of Hong Kong to China and closing of Bandar Abbass port by the Iranian regime, the United States is eyeing the Karachi port for access to the natural resources of Afghanistan and Central Asia and for controlling the region.”

In a video message on March 29, Altaf Hussain criticized Sindhi ethnic leaders for making provocative statements against Mohajirs and warned them of the consequences.

Some Sindhi ethnic groups fear large-scale migration of internally displaced people from the northwest into Karachi had disturbed the ethnic balance of the city.

“Sindh has become an international orphanage where refugees not only from within the country but also from the neighboring countries including India, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Burma are coming to settle. Because of that, Sindhis are on the verge of turning into a minority in their own province,” said Afzal Chandio, a participant of the March 23 JSQM rally.

In 1947, Sindhis were 60% of Karachi’s population, but are now no more than seven percent. “At that time of partition, a majority of the migrants settled in Sindh and that has changed the demography of the province. Resultantly, the land which did not see any riots during partition is in the grip of violence,” said Chandio, who is also a student leader at Sindh University.

Sindhi student organizations complain students from rural Sindh are not admitted to Karachi’s main academic institutions, especially Karachi University. PPP MPA Humaira Alvani told the Sindh Assembly on February 22 that admissions were denied to Sindhi students because KU only admits students who either belong to Karachi or have studied in the city before.

Sindhi parties have concentrated their political activities in Karachi’s Sindhi dominated areas. Karachi Sindhi Shehri Ittehad, a city-level political alliance, was formed on March 31. “Sindhis are the indigenous people of the city and it is high time Sindhi leaders come out and focus on Karachi,” said Ali Hassan Chandio, who heads Sindh National Movement. A large number of Sindhis whose permanent address was in Karachi were missing from the city’s voter lists, he complained. Other leaders complain Sindhis are politically underrepresented, or have been deliberately kept backwards by the MQM-run city government.

The recent floods in the province and lack of employment opportunities have compelled a large number of rural Sindhis to move to Karachi, and that has changed the political reality in the city.

Sindhi ethnic parties have also announced they will contest the next elections from all over Sindh from the platform of Sindh Progressive Nationalist Alliance. Palijo said the aim was to send middleclass grassroots leaders to the parliament.

Since the parties generally represent the middle class, analysts say the decision would affect the coming elections.

“They have no representation in the parliament because they didn’t believe in parliamentary politics in the past,” Soomro said, “but the entire province comes to a standstill when they call a strike.”