by Zia Ur Rehman

July 5-11, 2013

Ties between Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and leaders of Sindh’s three key nationalist parties have been on the decline after Sharif announced the federal cabinet, analysts say.

Sharif had formed an anti-PPP electoral alliance with the three leading nationalist parties of Sindh – Ayaz Latif Palijo’s Qaumi Awami Tehrik (QAT), Jalal Mehmood Shah’s Sindh United Party (SUP) and Dr Qadir Magsi’s Sindh Taraqqi Pasand Party (STP). The nationalist parties of Sindh had traditionally stayed away from electoral politics, but after the outcome of the 2008 elections, the three parties announced in March 2010 to take part in the next polls as the Sindh Progressive Nationalist Alliance (SPNA).

Sharif succeeded in allying with the three key Sindhi nationalist parties as well as with the rightwing Jamaat-e-Islami, JUI-F, Sunni Tehrik, PML-F and the National People’s Party. PML-F chief Pir Pagara was made the convener of the alliance. Sharif also persuaded Mumtaz Bhutto to merge his nationalist group Sindh National Front (SNF) with the PML-N and separately signed a seven-point electoral agreement with the SUP, which is headed by Jalal Mehmood Shah, grandson of prominent Sindhi leader GM Syed.

“The PML-N’s goal was to defeat the PPP in Sindh,” said Imdad Soomro, a political analyst who studies Sindhi politics. “Sindhi people were frustrated with the PPP government especially after it passed the controversial local governments law under pressure by the MQM,” he said. “They were also unhappy with bad governance and corruption.” The nationalist parties were very confident they would benefit from the sentiment.

“The PML-N’s goal was to defeat the PPP in Sindh”

Political analysts say the alliance of Sindhi nationalist parties with the PML-N was supported and criticized at the same time. “In the 1990s, Sharif was considered a Punjabi industrialist and a follower of dictator Ziaul Haq, but the perception has completely changed since then,” said a leader of the SUP during the election campaign. “Now, Sindhis are accepting the PML-N because of Sharif’s frequent visits to Sindh, especially to the flood-hit areas, and his interaction with the Sindhi civil society and nationalist parties.” Critics of the alliance said the Sindhi nationalists had always been against Punjab in their political discourse and could not suddenly become friends with the PML-N.

PPP leaders called the ten-party alliance a conspiracy against their party. Parliamentarian Sharmila Faruqi said the PML-N had not presence or support in Sindh. She said it had used the Sindhi nationalist parties to hurt the PPP’s vote bank.

But the impact was not significant enough. The PPP swept the province in the elections. “In Sindh, elections are always fought between pro-Bhutto and anti-Bhutto groups. The people of the province believe that the PPP is the only party that can safeguard their rights,” said Faruqi. “It was not the first time that various political forces united against the PPP in Sindh.”

The PML-N won a majority in the elections and formed a government in the center, but Sharif largely ignored the Sindhi nationalist leaders when forming his cabinet. “Shah, Magsi and Palijo were not even seen in the oath-taking ceremony of the prime minister and the federal cabinet in Islamabad,” said Imdad Soomro. “But Pir Pagara, Arbab Ghulam Rahim, Dr Rahila Gul Magsi and Imtiaz Shiekh – all former allies of Pervez Musharraf – were present in the ceremonies.”

The Sindhi leaders have not expressed these concerns openly but their workers are critical of Sharif’s behavior. “In the past, the PPP always relied on the cooperation of Sindhi nationalists to gain power, but after coming into power, they forgot the nationalists. This time, the nationalists supported the PML-N and its seems they did the same,” an STP worker said.

The outcome of the elections also hurt the Sindhi nationalist parties. STP’s entire cabinet, led by senior vice chairman Haider Shahani, joined the PPP. Shah Muhammad Shah, vice chairman of SUP, joined the PML-N. The STP announced it was parting ways with the ten-party alliance and the SPNA. “We admit our mistakes. We wasted our time in such politics,” Magsi said in late May.

The PML-N has given key parliamentary posts and 19 of the 25 total ministries to politicians from Punjab. Two Sindhi leaders – Pir Sadaruddin Shah Raashidi of the PML-F and Ghulam Murtaza Jatoi of the NPP, which has merged in the PML-N – have been made federal ministers. “That indicates that the PML-N is a Punjab-based party,” said Amir Bhanbhro, chief of the Sindh National Party. “Despite winning a countrywide majority, it has failed to become a federal party”.