Sindh – the custodian of the oldest Indus civilization and generously endowed with historically recognized frontiers, a long coastal line and Seaports, material and human resources of sweet waters, agricultural, gas and oil and now proven billions of tons of coal, hardworking and resilient population and cultural ethos – played the crucial role in the creation of Pakistan and helped it overcome the administrative and political difficulties it confronted as an infant state. Notwithstanding the fact that it is the second largest federating unit of the country with all the constituents to prosper, Sindh has remained poorly governed, badly exploited and extensively subdued territory of the country.
This situation has continued to haunt the province from the initial years of our independence. The resources of a territory or a country are equally a boon or a bane for the people or the nation inhabiting it. Precious resources attract attention of exploiters triggering a persistent contest among the players across the chessboard. A game of wits, intrigues, stakes, inducements and pressures comes into play. This game could be played profitably and to the advantage of the nation only by a patriotic and national spirit, a strong sense of collective good, wisdom, prudence, political and diplomatic acumen and intelligent and robust conduct of talks among the players. This scenario is, more or less, compatible with empirical observations and withstands the scrutiny of history.
The moot question is whether Sindh did not have such intelligent and skillful politicians and leaders who could have presented and defended its case at the national level. Sindh had many a leader who fought the most difficulty wars of its independent territorial existence in both the distant and recent phases of history. Then, what went wrong before and after the partition of the Sub-continent which proved an Achilles’ heels for Sindh to set on the path to good governance and intelligent management of its resources for human and material development. We need not to delve into the past history of the province or to present complex scholarly arguments other than a simple reference to a few historical misfortunes and the evolution therefrom of the political and social culture in Sindh which has not encountered a serious challenge for change all along these long years.
After witnessing the heroic fight of Sindhis in the last battle to save their land from the bloody claws of the British Empire in 1842, the British Imperialists carefully planned to impede the resurgence of national spirit of Sindh to challenge their occupation, and annexed it with the Bombay Presidency and, as was their wont, began creating a wedge between the two segments of the population of Sindh – the majority Muslims and the minority Hindus. They deliberately patronized the latter bringing them forth in the provincial administration and encouraging them in trade and commerce. The Muslim majority population suffered an imbalance divided into landed gentry and landless peasantry.
The landed gentry were always beholden to the Hindu money lenders for their extravagant expenses and tried to be on the right side of power wielding Hindu and British officers. The middle class – always a harbinger of social and political change – consisted of a few Muslim and the majority Hindu officials and the enterprising community of businessmen and traders. The merger of Sindh into Bombay presidency gave a boost to the trading and business class. The agricultural community suffered enormously as the waters of the River Indus Basin were disproportionately and dishonestly taken by the Punjab, and the Bombay Presidency having no stakes in the agriculture of a far flung territory, took the least interest in raising the water issue in right quarters. This was the first historic misfortune Sindh suffered after its defeat by Imperial forces. Punjab was seriously challenged for its audacious raids on Indus waters after the separation of Sindh from the Bombay Presidency in 1936.
Sindh received and housed the federal government in its capital city of Karachi along with a huge number of refugees from various regions of India. The federal authorities wanted more refugees in Sindh to the resistance of the provincial administration under Muhammad Ayub Khuhro. The communal riots ensued in Karachi having more population of Sikhs and Hindus than Sindhi Muslims. These riots were countenanced, if not encouraged, by the central leadership in power to the annoyance of Qaid-e-Azam. The provincial administration of Khuhro was dismissed and more pliable Sindhi leaders were brought in. From 1947 to the merger of Sindh into the infamous One-Unit four provincial administrations were sacked. The communal riots created a scare in the non-Muslim community forcing them to migrate to India. This divested Sindh of its middle and educated class and convinced the landed gentry to seek the patronage of the new power wielding class. This was the second historic blow to Sindh having lost its enterprising and wealthy trading class to India and landed gentry to an ever growing political alliance with the establishment of the new country.
The merger of the provinces of this part of Pakistan into One-Unit turned them as powerless territories, helplessly beholden to the West Pakistan authorities dominated by the bigger province for resources, socio-economic development and power and pelf. The landed gentry fully benefited from this situation acquiring patronage, wealth and political power. The common population of Sindh as of other two constituent territories of Balochistan and the erstwhile NWFP remained economically marginalized and socially and politically depressed. This hindered the evolution of Sindh into a political society.
This political phenomenon was developed into a sophisticated patron-client political system by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. He rallied all the old political hands from the feudal and landed gentry, pirs and sajadah nashins into his political party and exploited the sentiments of the people of Sindh against One-Unit, long years of injustice and deprivation at the hands of power seekers, exploiters of peasantry and labour and the inhuman administration, though all those targeted by him in his public speeches, were standing on his right and left. On having come into power, he appointed sons, daughters, nephews and nieces of these landlords against powerful administrative and political positions giving a tremendous boost to their influence, power and stranglehold on the powerless masses. His sins against Sindh were washed away by his defiant resistance to Martial Law rule and his execution on trumped up charges of murder. The masses remember the last act of a leader. So is Bhutto remembered for his last act by the masses.
This lot of feudal and landed gentry has been winning elections by hook or by crook, and ruling the province for the last 50 years – no matter on which side of the political divide they stand. They have indulged in maladministration and misgovernance, corruption and undermining of the political and administrative institutions. In the past one decade, Mr. Asif Ali Zardari has created a new class of thugs in the political and administrative structures, divested of all moral scruples and ever willing to subject themselves to utter loyalty to him and indulge in a systematic plunder of the resources of the province to the peril of the people faced with untold miseries of poverty, disease, ignorance, helplessly suffering from threatening epidemics of Hepatitis B and C, HIV and tuberculosis. His ascendancy to the PPP leadership and power is the third misfortune that has hard hit Sindh.
The unholy alliance of the landed gentry with the establishment has continued unabated from the creation of the one-unit to this day. The wadera on the either side of political aisle is the selfish solicitor of power and the seeker of his selfish interests. He gets the officers of his choice in his constituency and uses them for his whimsical purposes and benefits from their support in elections. The nationalists and nativists from the middle and educated class have tried hard to dent this ever strengthening bond between the landed gentry and the establishment but to no avail. The establishment does not seem ready to abandon tried and tested horses and bet on new hands. The wadera is more amenable to manipulation and always ready to barter away the interests of his land for his power and pelf.
The Wadera has perfected his skill of luring the voter by raising many a bogey. He is indirectly hindering the growth of the educated middle class and the promotion of new political culture. Sindh would continue to suffer socially, economically and politically unless this unholy bond between its feudal and landed gentry and the establishment is broken. The nationalist and nativists divided into several groups will have to come on one platform for the sake of their land. Man is a political animal and to say that ‘I am apolitical’ is the biggest sin against one’s land and people. The apolitical lot is actually devoid of patriotic spirit and shamelessly feels no pain at the loot and plunder of their land. They are disinterested bystanders watching the spectacle and waiting in wings to have their pound of flash. Societies have fallen and disappeared from the world map because of such bootleggers. The nationalists will have to instill a sense of patriotism in this disinterested crowd which actually strengthens the Wadera’s stranglehold indirectly and helps this patron-client political system to prosper.
The corruption is galore. The population continues to suffer. Hospitals are overcrowded and devoid of qualified doctors, trained medics, diagnostic facilities, hygiene and medicines. Quacks are minting money. Children are dying of malnutrition. Education is going from bad to worse. The entire provincial administration has turned into an inhuman and soul-less machinery. Over 80% of the population does not have access to clean drinking water. What else should befall Sindh to shake us out of their slumber.
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