Oct 03, 2007

Sindh: A Vision of a Secular Non-Military Pakistan

Mr. Munawar Laghari, UNPO Representative for Sindh, explains the Sindhi position regarding Pakistan, advocating secularism, demilitarization, and women’s rights.

Mr. Munawar Laghari, UNPO Representative for Sindh, explains the Sindhi position regarding Pakistan, advocating secularism, demilitarization, and women’s rights.

Below is an article by The Human Rights Tribune:

The Sindhis are a Sufi people from Pakistan. They have come to Geneva to demand ’the 5 D’s’: De-islamisation, de-militarisation, de-nuclearisation, de-mocratisation and the de-centralisation of their country. And women rights.

"If women ruled the world, there would no longer be any problems." This terse statement doesn’t come from the mouth of a militant feminist but from Munawar Laghari, executive director of the World Sindhi Institute (WSI), an organisation based in Washington. “I am not Muslim”, he says “but Sufi”. 99.99% of the Sindhi population is Sufi, but you don’t see that in any official statistics. For the government, we are just Muslim”.

The Sindh, whose headquarters are in the big city of Karachi, is one of four provinces of Pakistan, on the border with India. It has around 40 million inhabitants, some 25% of the population of Pakistan. The Sindhis are a people from the Indus valley, the big river that at the foot of the Himalayas runs into the Arabian sea near Karachi.

Laghari came to the Human Rights Council, at the invitation of the Unrepresented Nations and People’s Organization (UNPO) to criticise Islamabad’s repression of the two southern provinces of Sindh and Balochistan. “More than four thousand people have disappeared, most notably since 11th September 2001.” Who is responsible? He points the finger at the military government and the army, controlled by the Punjabis, the majority ethnic group. “The problem in Pakistan is that it is a military state. We want it to de-militarise and to de-nuclearise, as we don’t need an army, or the nuclear bomb, but hospitals, schools and roads.”

The Sindhis are opposed to the islamisation of society by the government and are calling for a non religious state, clearly separated from the mosques. “It’s not up to the Imams to make law. Besides Sufis don’t need a place of worship to pray, they can pray anywhere”. They are also asking for democracy and the decentralisation of the state which would guarantee them the internal autonomy that was originally foreseen in the 1940 resolution, but never granted. Without forgetting women’s rights: “In the countryside, women don’t wear the veil, otherwise how could they work? And in our religion, if a woman is not happy with her husband, she has the right to go and find another man”, he says.

What then is this strange religion which smells of patchouli and is reminiscent of New Age philosophy? Sufism Sindhi goes back to the time of the Indian emperor, Ashoka (three centuries before Jesus Christ) and takes its inspiration from Islam, Hinduism, Christianity and Jainism. This mystical movement, which has the Pakistani singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan as one of its most well known followers, is quite difficult to understand. “The Sufi, like the dervish, is searching for truth and the annihilation of himself. He strives to get rid of his ego, his greed and lust” explains Laghari with passion.

"Since 1947 the government has accused us of being anti Muslim and anti Pakistani, but that’s not true. We want equal rights, peace, justice and democracy. But our main weapon is non violence and love”, he stressed. And to listen to him, that has always been the case. The proof? At the time of the excavation of Mohenjo Daro, one of the oldest cities in the world, founded three thousand years ago in the Indus valley, no weapons and no temples were discovered. This strange civilisation, which still today guards some of its secrets and which the Sindhis claim for themselves, has never had an army.

But the Sindhis are not only discriminated against because they are Sufis. The Sindh, with the nearby province of Baluchistan, is one of the poorest regions in Pakistan. According to the Asian Development Bank, 53% of the population lives under the poverty line, compared to 29% in the Punjab. It is very rich in natural resources and poorly populated but its resources have been exploited by the military and the ethnic Punjabis in power. “Our only resource is water - the Indus,” explains Laghari, “but the building of various dams on the Indus has had a terrible impact on our environment, our agricultural lands and our means of earning a living.” A large part of the fertile Indus delta has been destroyed and a lack of water has severely reduced agricultural production. Thousands of farming families have been forced to make their living elsewhere. The Sindhis accuse the government of continuing to build dams and canals on the Indus to divert the flow and irrigate the lands of the Punjab. So much so that the World Sindhi Institute has launched a campaign; “Save the Indus, Save Sindh!”