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Friday, August 12, 2011

The uniqueness of Sindh


Just when the sector commanders had been put on the back-foot, and the MQM was vociferating in a manner not seen since 1995 (Gen Babar’s operation), who should come to their rescue but President Zardari’s personal emissary, Montecello University’s most celebrated doctoral figure, Dr Babar Awan.

He has brilliantly appeased the MQM by restoring Gen Musharraf’s loaded local government system – first just to Karachi and Hyderabad and then, when interior Sindh rose up with one cry against this hasty move, to the whole of Sindh. The MQM can hardly believe its luck – perhaps it hadn’t counted on so swift a Zardari capitulation – but anger in interior Sindh is on the rise.

Dr Zulfiqar Mirza’s outbursts had angered the MQM but secured the PPP’s vote bank in rural Sindh. Dr Awan’s gymnastics have pleased the MQM but poured fuel over the burning embers of Sindhi anger. From one extreme the PPP has swung to the other.

The choice of Dr Awan as PPP plenipotentiary was bizarre. How was he qualified to negotiate on behalf of Sindhi interests? The PPP is now on the back-foot. All the certificates of cleverness earned by Zardari for his supposed political sharpness have gone with the wind.

Dr Awan has proved adept at stalling and frustrating the Supreme Court. From the PPP’s point of view, he should have confined himself to that doctrine of necessity instead of floundering in the waters of Sindh.

In an ideal world, the PML-N should have been quick to exploit this opening. Alas, if wishes could be horses. It showed itself eager, a bit too eager, to embrace the MQM when the latter fell out with Zardari. But this proved embarrassing when the MQM’s falling-out proved to be less than definitive. Small wonder, it has yet to get its thoughts in order on the anger on the rise in backwater Sindh.

All of us could do with some clarity on a crucial issue: while the logic of smaller provinces applies to Punjab, because it is too huge and unwieldy, it does not, and cannot, apply to Sindh. Babar Awan and the PPP came perilously close to the idea of Sindh division when they proposed one dispensation for Karachi and Hyderabad – the restoration of Musharraf’s local body system – and another for the interior, revival of the commissionerate system. Sindh interior instantly saw red and the PPP had to back down immediately, in the space of a mere 24 hours. But the alarm had been sounded and Sindhi concerns have yet to be addressed or placated.

Carving a southern or Seraiki province out of Punjab will not endanger Punjab identity. Indeed, it will facilitate the task of governance and give a sense of belonging to the people of southern Punjab who feel left out of the orbit of Punjab affairs. But anything even remotely connected to the notion of Sindh division is almost an invitation to dangerous conflict in this most sensitive of provinces.

We should not forget the history of 1947 migration. If we leave Bengal out of the equation, there were two great waves of migration in northern India at the time of Partition: one from East Punjab to West Punjab, and vice versa; the other from Delhi, Lucknow and Bhopal in the north, and Hyderabad Deccan in the south, to Karachi. These migrations were dissimilar in character.

While Punjab suffered the most in terms of looting, plunder, killings and mass rape, when the dust settled and passions had time to cool, the process of assimilation was relatively quick because East and West Punjabis, minor differences of course apart, came from the same cultural stock. With minor variations of dialect, they spoke the same language and shared the same history.

This was not so with the southern migration to Karachi and Hyderabad. Karachi was a cosmopolitan city even then – a mini-Bombay, so to speak – but it was the capital of Sindh, the culture and language of whose native inhabitants was radically different from that of the people who were coming to it from India.

Karachi soon became the centre not of Sindhi culture but of the culture of displaced Dehi, of Delhi as it had been before the tumult of Partition. Delhi today is a Punjabi city. Its old composite, Muslim-dominated culture, the culture from which arose the poetry of Mir and Ghalib, is a thing of the past, lost to the upheavals of time and history. No conqueror, not Taimur and not Nadir Shah, could destroy Delhi, or transform its character, as decisively as Partition did. Those who seek the old Delhi, authors like William Dalrymple, have to come to Karachi to catch a whiff of the past.

Pakistan would be the poorer without this infusion of Delhi, Lucknow and Hyderabad Deccan culture. True, there was a downside to it as well, in that the new migrants, culturally advanced and on the whole more educated than the natives of the parts which constitute Pakistan, brought with their culture also their own prejudices. Insecurity and fear were part of their migrational baggage and these were infused into the thinking of the new state. But in cultural terms the arid wastes of Pakistan were enriched by that influx of talent and learning.

Punjabis being Punjabis, no new centre of culture arose in Punjab. But in Karachi we saw the birth of a transplanted culture, its soul carrying the imprint of loss and nostalgia, the usual hallmarks of any migration.

The downside comes from this very circumstance. Sixty four years after Partition we continue to live in the past, beset by old insecurities even though the times have changed and the old certitudes which gave birth to those insecurities no longer survive.

Sindhis are entitled to be a bit upset by all these changes. After all, they too are the inheritors of a great civilisation. Moenjodaro is the oldest pre-historic site discovered anywhere in India. There are other mighty life-giving rivers in the sub-continent: the sacred Ganges, the winding Brahmaputra. But only the Indus, sacred river of Sindh, gives its name to India. Hindus migrating to India from Sindh in 1947 take great pride in their Sindh ancestry.

Sindhi anger, nay Sindhi anguish, is centred on a primal concern. Why must the transposing of cultures be at their expense? And there is a fear lurking in their hearts, the fear of the Red Indian and the aborigine, of becoming strangers in their own homeland. This is a concern which must not be scoffed at. The rest of us, and this includes the successors to the civilisation of Delhi, should avoid words or gestures that smack even remotely of designs against the unity and integrity of Sindh.

From the immortal land of the five rivers, now only three left with us, thanks to the vagaries of history, more provinces can be carved out and no harm will come to it. But let no Punjabi leader or politician say that if Punjab is to be divided the same logic should apply to other provinces. This is wrong thinking. The same logic does not apply to Sindh, it does not apply to Balochistan. It is relevant only to Punjab and Punjab will be doing itself and the nation a service if it takes the lead in this respect, illuminating the path that others can follow.

A word may also be in order about another fixation of the Punjabi mind: Kalabagh dam. If Kalabagh dam is right then there is nothing wrong with the dams India is building on the rivers Chenab and Jhelum. If we are objecting to run-of-the-mill dams in Kashmir, dams whose water is not stored but is allowed to run, how can we support a storage dam on the Indus at Kalabagh? The logic just does not hold.

History cannot be undone. We have to live by its consequences. But Sindh of all regions of Pakistan requires a balance and moderation in the conduct of its affairs. Any hint of an unnatural hegemony of one part over the other is an invitation to anger and despair.

By Ayaz Amir,
Email: winlust@yahoo.com