Sindhi nationalists vs the MQM

On the call of the Sindhi nationalists, a province-wide strike was observed in protest against the 20th Amendment bill tabled by the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) in the National Assembly. The Sindhi nationalists consider it ‘unconstitutional’ as it violates Article 239 (4) of the constitution. We have noted in the past in this very space that, “The constitution’s Article 239 (4) lays down that no bill to amend the constitution that would have the effect of altering the limits of a province can be presented to the president for assent unless it has been passed by the provincial assembly of that province by a two-thirds majority. It then also requires a two-thirds majority in both houses of parliament in order to pass muster. The conceptual and ground complications of creating or redrawing provinces are forbidding enough. The legislative route could be even more tricky and difficult” (‘The issue of new provinces’, Daily Times, January 5, 2012).

The MQM has a presence in the urban centres of Sindh, especially where the Urdu-speaking people are settled. As part of the MQM’s general ambition to expand and rise in the province, it is now trying to flex its muscles in interior Sindh. Even though the 20th Amendment is related to the division of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab, the Sindhi nationalists believe that the move is eventually aimed at the division of Sindh in future. During the MQM’s rally in Sukkur the other day, the Sindhi nationalists came under fire. MQM chief Altaf Hussain said that the success of his party’s rally in Sukkur would be the last nail in the coffin of the Sindhi nationalists who were dividing the people of Sindh (the irony should not be lost on anyone). In Punjab, the ruling party — the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) — did not allow the MQM to make inroads in its ‘fiefdom’. As far as Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is concerned, the ethnic tensions in Karachi between the Pashtun and Urdu-speaking people have created rifts between the Awami National Party (ANP) and the MQM. Both the ANP and the PML-N have made their reservations quite clear on this issue that has been brought up by the MQM even though it hardly has any stakes in either Punjab or Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. On the other hand, the Sindhi nationalists are of the opinion that once this door is opened, more and more provinces will be carved out on an ethnic basis, especially in Sindh. While in principle there is nothing wrong with carving out new provinces and it is the democratic right of the people to demand it, the National Assembly and the Senate cannot do it without the support of the relevant provincial assemblies.

The MQM is not known to make such demands without a political motive. Thus, the Sindhi nationalists might not be wrong in their assumption. Sindh is a large province but the ethnic Sindhis have been marginalised over the decades due to the emergence of the MQM. Sindh’s largest cities, especially Karachi, are dominated by the MQM. General (retd) Musharraf’s devolution plan helped the MQM to a great extent in consolidating its stronghold in urban Sindh. If the province were divided as per the wishes of the MQM, it would weaken the already estranged ethnic Sindhis. This is something the Centre must consider well before acceding to the MQM’s ‘strategy of indirect approach’ through opening the door to carving out new provinces from the old, a move that will be more divisive as it does not enjoy the demonstrated support of the people of the affected or to be affected provinces.

(my editorial in Daily Times)

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