Sunday, November 13, 2005

The Dilemma in Sindh

Sindh, a province of 54,400 square miles and a population of 35 million, is relatively quiet today. However, a revival of the regionalist Jiye-Sindh movement can be a nuisance to Pakistan. Sindh is a ethnically heterogenous province today, which explains the failure of an ethnic Sindhi nationalism. This said, the inadvertent marginalization of the Sindhis and Mohajirs can backfire. Sindhis comprise 12% of Pakistan while the Mohajirs constitute 8%. Both dominate the province of Sindh.

Sindh, alone of the regions in Pakistan, has a history of political independence and a developed indigenous language. A Sindhi nationalist would claim that "Sindh is an eternal verity, Pakistan a transient super-imposition". Home to Mohenjo-daro the epicenter of the Indus valley civilization, Sindh marked the beginnings of urbanized civilization in the Indian subcontinent. The Vedas referred to the region as "Sindhu" which was home to Jayadratha of the Mahabharata. Sindh became the richest province of the Persian Achaemenid empire in the 6th century BC. The Arabs occupied it in the 8th century AD and a fusion of cultures developed, the direct precursor of contemporary Sindhi identity. There was then a succession of native dynasties in Sindh i.e. the Soomra, Arghun, Turkhan and Talpurs not to mention rule from Delhi. Sindh has a rich literature where Indic folk romances were reworked to convey a Sufi theme.

The Aga Khan helped the British annex Sindh in 1843. The British reinforced a distinctive Sindhi identity by appointing a committee in 1851 that developed the standardized 52 letter Arabic-Sindhi alphabet. They sponsored a print capitalism which led to a lively Sindhi publishing industry alone in what is now Pakistan. Sindh formed part of the Bombay Presidency but was carved out as a separate province in 1935 with its own elected assembly. It voted to join Pakistan in 1947.

Partition traumatized the province. The largely Hindu professional middle class that had formed 25% of pre-partition Sindh, fled the region. Urdu and Gujarati-speaking Mohajirs arrived in Sindh to take their place leading to demographic changes. The Sindhi-speaking population fell to a mere 55% of the province and Urdu became the lingua franca. This led to a sense of alienation in Sindh whose the indigenous population remained a majority only in the rural areas. There has since been an influx of Punjabis, Pathans and Afghan refugees into Karachi, a sprawling megalopolis. The official use of the Sindhi language declined with independence.

Independent Pakistan invested in irrigation to improve agricultural productivity in a rather arid land. This led to disputes over the allocation of Indus river waters between Punjab and Sindh. Sindhi nationalists alleged that the Tarbela, Mangla, Chashma and Rawal dams favored the Punjab. The irrigated lands in Sindh, moreover, were alienated to retired Punjabi military personnel or to Mohajir entrepreneurs.

Sindh did not pose a challenge to the concept of Pakistan in periods of civilian administration. The Bhuttos, the Junejos, the Legharis, the Jatois and other prominent Sindhis served in government. These elected leaders ensured that the Sindhi language, alone of the indigenous languages of Pakistan, was given some official status. Sindhi is the language of education in rural Sindh and is a provincial language of administration alongside Urdu. The elected heads of Government introduced a quota system to ensure that Sindhis were represented in the provincial government and the education system. Furthermore, the role of the Mohajirs as the standard bearers of Pakistani nationalism countered the concept of an independent Sindhu-desh.

Things were different under military rule. The Punjabi-Pathan dominated armed forces sidelined both the Sindhis and Mohajirs. The transfer of the capital from Karachi to Islamabad and the Punjabization of the bureaucracy added to the alienation. Mohajir-dominated Karachi and Hyderabad were hotbeds of ethnic unrest in the 1990s with many increasingly disenfranchised youth resorting to sporadic violence. Rural Sindh remained a violent agrarian backwater where autocratic feudal land lords were answerable to no one. Law and order deteriorated in the Sindh in the 1990s with the influx of arms and narcotics from Afghanistan, not to mention the military government's sponsorship of religious extremism.

A Sindhi linguistic nationalism is unlikely to succeed given the post-independence demographics in Sindh, not to mention the overwhelming military force that Islamabad has at its disposal. However, a territorial nationalism in Sindh that convenes the rural Sindhi and urban Mohajir on one platform, might still have nuisance value. Pakistan would face an ominous challenge should a broader alliance between the two disaffected ethnic groups develop. A territorial nationalism in Sindh can transform northern Pakistan into a beleaguered landlocked garrison caught between a hostile India and an unpredictable Afghanistan. While this is a remote prospect, Islamabad will need to reach out to the restive Sindhi and Mohajir minorities. The ethnic Sindhis are barely a majority in Sindh today. But inadvertently allied with the Mohajirs, the potential for trouble remains.


nukh said...

jafna, many thanks for another great analysis. however, if your intention is to drop a hint to the powers that be...... I would argue that at this juncture i am not too sure how much india should encourage, outside of swift "retaliatory" action, the further destabilisation of pakistan.
lest it spiral out of control.
a highly destabilised pakistan could prove detrimental to india's economic growth.

doubtinggaurav said...


While I am not sure how far Sindhi's nationalism can be couraged to counter Pakistan.

I think a fragmanted or destabilised Pakistan will be good for all (that includes pakistani people)

nukh said...

DG, I agree that a samller pakistan, i.e.,solo punjabistan would be good for india.
however, this blessed event, which would necessarily entail massive and violent upheaval could prove detrimental [for indian economic growth] at this juncture.

raven said...

Great timing, given that the language controversy in Sindh just raised its head again.

nukh: so India's economic growth is the greatest good that people should be striving for? Interesting philosophy...

indianpatriot said...

Hi nukh,
You seem to speak like so called south asia experts in US State Department. For those people India and Pakistan are 2 powers in South Asia.(By all accounts India has 8 times GDP, militarily many times more powerfull, economically more vibrant).For experts like Stephen Kohen a strong Pakistan is in Indias interests. Absolute bullshit. Punjabi finding Sindhi fighting Baloochi fighting Pathan's will be India's afghansitan, Iran's interests (Also in the interest of Sindhis, Punjabis, Kashmiris and Pathans). It would not be in the interest of Military mulla nexus in Islamabad and their prime backers democracy seeking conservative establishment in Washington and world's largest dictator state China.

libertarian said...

Jaffna, great insight - thanks. The history of Sindh is particularly interesting. As an aside, India just muddled through the "... Punjab, Sindh, Gujarat ..." controversy in the national anthem.

raven, agree with nukh on the primacy of economic growth. Nothing wrong with some raw, unabashed self-interest. I quit my tree-hugging ways when I got slapped (with no exception) each time I offered the other cheek :-)

nukh, dg, jaffna, agree that the secession of Sindh is a highly unlikely event at this time.

indianpatriot, guess you can count me as one of "state department"-like types. Couldn't quite figure out the thrust of your rant though.

The Greatest Hokie Ever !! said...

[Jaffna] - Balkanization of Pakistan might have some minor disturbances, but would lead to overall peace and tranquility. Look at the former Balkan states.

cynical nerd said...

It is clear that inorder to achieve peace and prosperity, the balkanization of the terrorist state of pakistan should be one of the cards. Baloch and sindh will be India friendly. the pathans will be afghan friendly and hence india friendly too. The remaining pakjabistan can be under UN rule for a while a 'Truth And Reconciliation Commission' can prosecute the pak military regime for its crimes.

remember folks, the pak military regime can never stand to see a prosperous india. they cannot continue to justify their rule in their feudal ways while a democratic india pushes more people from poverty to middle class.

libertarian said...

cynical nerd, much as I like your idea of "Truth and Reconciliation" in Punjabistan, it's a non-starter. Reason: the (Punjabistan) army has control of nukes, which they will use as the ultimate threat when they're shoved between a rock and a hard place.

cynical nerd said...


i forgot to add. denuking is the first step in this. btw, did you hear the nervous statements from Pak. army spokesman that all nuclear installations are 200% safe after earthquake! something is fishy.

libertarian said...

cynical nerd:
Agreed. If you can denuke you can defang. Don't pay much attention to what the "establishment" in Pak says - they lack basic credibility and savvy.
Here's another funny one. Asked to comment on the Indian prime minister’s remarks about the possibility of failed states in the region, the spokeswoman said, “We don’t know whom he (the Indian PM) was referring to but surely the reference could not have been to Pakistan.” She said that Pakistan was a strong country and a nuclear power. “It would be highly irresponsible for anyone to suggest that a nuclear state could be a failed state,” she said. - heh heh - "blondes" in the neighborhood :-)


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