By Ayesha Siddiqa
December 10, 2014
As Imran Khan and the PTI vociferously protest the death of their worker in Faisalabad, many mothers elsewhere in the country must be sitting lamenting their sons and wondering who will lock down the country and force the state to answer why their sons will not return. While we all got used to missing persons and tortured bodies in Balochistan, it’s odd to find Sindh becoming part of the same tragic cycle.
Death and dead bodies are not new to Sindh. Every decade since the 1980s, the province has bled for one reason or the other. But this current spate of killings seems to be a new pattern. It is almost as if Sindhi nationalism is being woken up. Interestingly, the six dead bodies found recently did not belong to violent nationalists. In fact, five out of the six were men who had moved on in life. Notwithstanding old associations with the JSMM, these people were not actively involved in any ‘anti-state’ activity or even in party politics.
In any case, one thought that from the state’s perspective, Sindh was not Balochistan. The province had been through this phase during the 1980s when people challenged the military regime and were killed for it. Like Balochistan, Sindh was politically vibrant. The Sindhi media and intelligentsia was politically active and educated people about issues in its own language. Fast-forward to the 2000s, things were manipulated and changed. Despite the media still being active, it has begun to behave and sound more like the media in the rest of the country. What the state couldn’t purchase or silence was bought over by influential dons.
One also thought that the state was using two other tools to repair relations with Sindh. First, approximately 80,000 men were inducted into the army during the Musharraf period that naturally increased effectiveness of old and new cantonments and cadet colleges in different places in the province. In fact, one came across Sindhi expatriates and intellectuals, who would argue in favour of their people joining the civil and military bureaucracy. Many scions of influential families joined the security establishment in different positions to enhance their power and influence. Second, the province was gradually but systematically infested with militant organisations, madrasas and other infrastructure. In any case, the JUI-F and the JUI-S were expanding their influence, which was obvious from the votes that the late Khalid Soomro got in Larkana contesting the 1990 elections against Benazir Bhutto. Given the absence of a forceful narrative to counter the gradually melting feudalism (that turned into neo-feudalism), the new middle class in Sindh was getting attracted to religious discourse. Certain religious organisations got lots of opportunities to bring back traditional support for them in Sindh back to life in a newer form.
So, one really wonders why it was felt that there was a need to light a fire in Sindh. Such killings can only provoke anger and resentment, especially amongst the youth who are abandoned both by the state and the political governments. The stories of poor governance, corruption and neglect of the people are far too gory for anyone to claim that the PPP and its leadership are not to blame. As a political party, the PPP is both a perpetrator and victim of the wave of violence. It is responsible for not crying out loud against what is happening in the province it claims to control.
The collusion between its key leaders and the security apparatus denoted by joint exploitation of resources makes its behaviour questionable. Yet, it is a party that will find itself in a deeper mess if the violence doesn’t stop. It would be even more tragic if it has to become party to the greater intrusion of the security apparatus that will step in under the pretext of securing the place against ‘violent nationalism’. Recently, the chairman of the Sindhi Taraqi Pasand Party, Qadir Magsi, rightly warned the JSMM against an armed struggle as it could result in greater losses and deaths of Sindhi youth. Moreover, violence will eventually open doors even wider for both the military and religious militants to expand their existing influence. Then, things will get so muddled that no one will seem to have a recipe other than perhaps, the Chinese. But in the process, the tranquillity and serenity of the place will disappear forever. The Sufi tradition, multiculturalism and tolerance, which are already drifting away, will become things of the past. Even nationalists wouldn’t realise when they start seeking help of militants because there is no other help available. It is quite likely that, like in Balochistan where al Qaeda seems to have taken up the cause of Baloch nationalism, forces of extremism will determine Sindh’s politics.
While we try to solve the mystery of why Sindh is being sinned against, it is important to note that all moderate political forces are disappearing. This is also a reference to the recent killing of the JUI-F’s Dr Soomro. Although the partnership between the PPP and the JUI-F during the last six years played a critical role in strengthening the latter and bringing in militant elements into Sindh, which mostly came under the religious party’s umbrella, Dr Soomro was a political man who cared for Sindhi nationalism as well. Even if he hadn’t died, he would find himself less effective in the face of the evolving politics of Sindh. Some people even argue that his death may be linked with his nationalistic perspective rather than anything else. Not to forget that the JUI-F has an interesting legacy and historically had a leadership that opposed the official nationalist narrative. This was also a party where the politics of the left and right merged together. The death of leaders like Dr Soomro indicate a transition towards a different kind of leadership or the rising influence of new militant groups in Sindh, which are more aligned with Islamabad’s nationalist perspective. A new hybrid-theocratic society is in the process of being born.
Sindh has had a legacy of great history and traditions. While we can all think of demons that can be held responsible for the current mayhem, there is no time to waste if we want to stop the bleeding. The state must be held accountable and made to stop this bloodshed.
Ayesha Siddiqa is an independent social scientist and author of Military Inc.