Nov 08, 2006

Sindh: Moot Calls for ‘Return of Democracy’

Conference on Sindh and Balochistan ended with speakers highlighting the political and economic plight of Pakistan’s minority provinces and calling for the return of democratic and accountable rule to the country.

WASHINGTON: A one-day conference on Sindh and Balochistan ended here on Monday with speakers highlighting the political and economic plight of Pakistan’s two minority provinces and calling for the return of democratic and accountable rule to the country.

The World Sindhi Institute’s annual conference at George Washington University was addressed by Frederic Grere of Carnegie Endowment, Steve Coll of Washington Post, Mervin Weinbaum of the Middle East Institute, Husain Haqqani of Boston University, Dr Fehmida Mirza, a PPP MNA from Sindh, and Dr Gul Agha of the University of Illinois.

Grere said that the stability of Pakistan and the direction the country took were important not only for the US but for the region as well. He took issue with the theme of the conference – Militarism and Fascism in Pakistan – saying that the Musharraf regime was not “fascist” and by employing such emotive language, sponsors of the conference could only lose credibility. Referring to Balochistan and the prevailing situation there, he observed that the Pakistani leadership never “learned from the past”, implying that it was making the same old mistakes.

He noted that the government had shut down several Baloch websites. He pointed out that claims by Baloch insurgents were exaggerated, while the government kept stating that the province had returned to normalcy. The conflict, he suggested, was about the alienation that the people of Balochistan felt. They feel that they have been marginalised and the interest of the central authority is not their interest. People, he proposed, should be taken into confidence and given a sense of participation, which they did not have today. He described the behaviour of the federal government in Balochistan as “predatory.”

Dr Fehmida Mirza, who travelled from Pakistan to attend the conference, called the situation in Sindh “utterly beyond repair”. She said it was a pity that for the last 30 years, barring some interludes, democracy in Pakistan had been crushed by the country’s “uniformed self-proclaimed custodians”. She accused the establishment of resorting to threats and intimidation against its opponents and using the coercive arm of the state to browbeat and silence them. The future appeared “dim and dark”, she added. She said President Pervez Musharraf showed “contempt” for civilians, and some of the actions of his regime had been “machiavellian”. She said it seemed that Pakistan was headed for a 1971-like crisis. Pakistani society because of “unmitigated military rule” has become “fragmented and anarchist”. She said Sindh, which was the “cradle of nationalism,” felt alienated and powerless. Its resources and its land had been grabbed by “outsiders”, she alleged. “Indus, the lifeline of the province, is drying up. The Sindhi language has been all but banished from major cities. The threat of the Kalabagh Dam hangs over the province. The Sindhis are being turned into a minority. There are no development funds for the common man’s benefit, while the Sindh governor had been given the power to gift Sindh’s land to anybody he wished. Two islands off the Karachi coast have been sold to a foreign company without the approval of the Sindh Assembly. Landmarks such as the Hindu Gymkhana have been handed over to a theatre company. Sindhi nationalist leaders have been tortured, and some like Safdar Sarki have disappeared. There is only one way: the return of democracy and a government elected by the people.”

Husain Haqqani told the conference that Pakistan was a federal state, and the struggle for democracy would enhance the role of Sindh and Balochistan in the federation. He stressed that the call for federalism was not dead. As for the Kalabagh issue, the Sindhis are not alone in the country in their opposition to the project. He found it a pity that in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, Islam had been emphasized at the cost of the republic. He said that Pakistan was a constitutional state because its people had agreed to and voted for its formation, but it should not become the “coercive state that repeated military interventions have turned it into”. Going back into history, he said while Pakistan inherited 33 percent of the British-Indian army, it received only 17 percent of the resources. He said that Pakistan was “created in a hurry”. The greatest support for its establishment came from provinces that were not destined to become its integral part, he added.

Pakistan’s early rulers had “no roots in the soil” and thus chose to emphasize ideology instead of democracy and participatory government. He said the Pakistani establishment had also turned the state into a “rent-seeking” entity, which was the basis of the ties with the US. Pakistan accepted “financial reward” for the services it rendered to Washington, which was why it did not “receive any respect from its ally”, he said. He urged the Pakistan Army to leave the running of the state to its people and their representatives and revert to its constitutional duty of defending the country.

Prof Gul Agha called for the secession of Sindh and independence, while at one point describing Pakistan as a “massive criminal enterprise”. He saw no likelihood of reform ever coming to pass in Pakistan where, according to him, politicians would always be “subservient to the military”. He also charged that the country’s educational institutions were “radicalizing” those they were supposed to impart education and enlightenment to.