By Zia Ur Rehman

June 7, 2020

The recent banning of the Jeay Sindh Qaumi Mahaz-Aresar (JSQM-A) – along with two underground militant outfits is part of a quiet and persistent crackdown on the Sindhi nationalist groups by the law enforcement agencies to curb their allegedly violent activities targeting both Pakistani and Chinese interests in the province.

On May 7, the Interior Ministry banned the JSQM-A, Sindhdesh Liberation Army, and Sindhudesh Revolutionary Army, arguing that “there are reasonable grounds to believe that the organisations are engaged in terrorism” in Sindh province.

The JSQM-A is one among various factions of Jeay Sindh Tehreek (JST), a self-proclaimed “non-violent movement” founded by legendary GM Syed. Since the demise of Syed, who pioneered the Sindhi secessionist movement in 1972, the JST has split into various factions. The most prominent among them are (late) Bashir Qureshi-founded JSQM, (late) Abdul Wahid Aresar-founded JSQM-A and Shafi Burfat-led Jeay Sindh Muttahida Mahaz (JSMM).

The SLA is an underground militant outfit linked with JSMM, the only nationalist group to have announced it planned armed struggle. In 2013, the Interior Ministry banned the JSMM for their involvement in province-wide violence and placed Burfat, who lives in Europe in self-exile, on its list of wanted people.

A few years back, Syed Asghar Shah, an SLA leader hailing from Jamshoro district, abandoned the SLA after developing differences with Burfat over funds and leadership, and formed his own outfit, the SRA.

In the beginning, both militant outfits were carrying out attacks on law enforcement personnel, railway tracks, gas pipelines, and electricity pylons as well as undertaking targeted killing on the basis of ethnicity, according to a security official who is privy to the ongoing crackdown on the groups. “But since the start of China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC)-linked development projects, the group started attacking the Chinese nationals using roadside improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in the province.” Luckily, no Chinese national has died in the attacks in the province so far.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan had asked the government to “distinguish between political parties and terrorist outfits before imposing a ban on any of them.”

Initially, the law enforcement agencies’ key targets were the JSMM, the SLA, and the SRA, which use youth and university students in subversive activities against the interests of both the Pakistani state and the Chinese, said the security official, requesting anonymity. “Later, on the basis of intelligence reports, a wider dragnet was thrown over militants using the banners of Sindhi nationalist groups, such as the JSQM-A and JSQM.”

Security officials also allege that recently banned groups were linked with proscribed separatist outfits, including the Baloch Liberation Army and the Baloch Liberation Front, operating in Balochistan.

In the most recent subversive act, SRA militants in late February injured a police officer in a Karachi suburb.

However, the JSQM-A and rights groups cry foul and insist that the political party was unjustly linked to the Sindhi militant outfits and banned. “Our party opposes outsiders’ control over the province’s natural resources through non-violent and political struggle,” says Aslam Khairpuri, the JSQM-A head.

In the past, the governments banned a few political parties, including the National Awami Party through a legal process. “The NAP was banned in 1975 through a Supreme Court procedures that continued more than a year and the party was also given the opportunity to defend itself,” said Afrasiab Khattak, a noted political leader who was associated with the NAP. “The banning of the JSQM-A was unjust, illegal, and unconstitutional.”

Sohail Sangi, a political analyst, says that in the past, too, the state had used ‘conspiracy’ cases in the Supreme Court to justify bans of political groups.

But in the JSQM-A case, that did not happen. The JSQM-A leaders claimed that the government did not correspond or inform them about a formal banning.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan has asked the government to “distinguish between political parties and terrorist outfits before imposing a ban on any of them” and said that imposing bans on political dissenters, such as the JSQM-A, is against the spirit of the country’s constitution and democracy.

In the ongoing crackdown, law enforcement agencies have also allegedly picked up activists belonging to Sindhi nationalist groups whose whereabouts are still unknown. Some of them have been released on the condition of publicly renouncing their links to Sindhi separatist groups, nationalist and rights groups say.

Political analysts say the traditional Sindhi political, particularly secessionist, groups are now fading away and no longer attract the Sindh youth.

Sangi says the new young Sindh leaders – coming from educated middle-class – campaign for their rights within the country’s constitution and legal framework and using modern tools, such as social media.

“After the passage of the 18th Amendment, most of the nationalist youths in Sindh realized that they could achieve their rights through peaceful campaigns. Therefore, they are no longer attracted by the traditional Sindhi groups,” says Sangi.