Sindh buffeted by the resurgence of separatism
Sindh, the holy land of hoary Vedic seers, is passing through a phase of unprecedented turbulence accompanied by unchecked violence and blood letting. The soft and accommodative Sindhis are finding to their dismay that their homeland sanctified by the venerated Sindhu river is being held hostage for spreading devious influence of the radical Taliban and the muscle flexing by the Urdu speaking Mohajirs (migrants from undivided India). Sufi shrines symbolising the syncretic and secular tradition of Sindh are being ruthlessly targeted by the fanatic Taliban cadres without let or hindrance. Indeed, Taliban has claimed the responsibility for many of the deadly bomb and suicide attacks on the tombs and shrines of Sufi mystics in Sindh and other parts of Pakistan. For instance in a shocking incidence reported in early 2014, six people who frequented the shrine of Ayub Shah Bukhari on the outskirts of Karachi, the violence prone commercial hub of Pakistan, were done to death and a note found near their bodies warned people to stop visiting the shrine.
The volatile and charged atmosphere in Sindh was further vitiated by the statement by Altaf Hussain, the maverick chief of Muttahida Qaumi Movement(MQM)—earlier known as Mohajir Qaumi Movement—in early January this year. Without mincing words, Hussain said that if the demands of the Urdu speaking population of Sindh was not acceptable to the ruling Pakistan People’s Party(PPP), then a separate province should be carved out of Sindh to accommodate them. Taking his logic a bit further, Hussain said that the possibility of the demand for a separate state turning quickly into the demand for a separate country for the Urdu speaking population of Sindh cannot be ruled out. It is not for the first time that MQM has fired a salvo for a separate province or homeland for Urdu speaking migrants from India. Hussain had on an earlier occasion made a clarion call for the separation of Karachi from Pakistan much the same way as Singapore got separated from Malaysia that had willingly joined in 1963.
After a well organised movement for an independent country for Balochs began hogging limelight, a strident demand for a separate province for Mohajirs(Mohajir Suba), surfaced in Sindh earlier last year with serious consequences for peace and tranquillity in the province. A little known group named, Mohajir Suba Tehreek was said to be behind defacing the urban centres of the province with graffiti, billboards and banners demanding a Mohajir Suba to be carved out of the southern parts of Sindh.
Mohajirs, who not long back used to consider themselves as “Pakistanis first and Pakistanis last,” are now keen on being recognized as the fifth nationality after Punjabis, Sindhis, Balochs and Pakhtuns, thereby delivering a severe blow to the very concept of Pakistan. However, for the local Sindhi population, already reeling under a sense of insecurity over the comparatively better educated Mohajirs dominating the social and economic life of the urban Sindh, the demand for a separate Mohajir province has proved to be a last straw on camel’s back”. Indeed, the ethos of the migrant Urdu speaking Muslims mainly hailing from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Delhi –in the aftermath of the partition of Indian sub-continent in 1947— who settled in cities and towns of Sindh did not go down well with Sindhis.
Not surprisingly then Sindhis feel that they are being reduced to a powerless entity in their own homeland. As it is, Sindhis today constitute only an insignificant component of the demographic landscape of Karachi, which for many years was the administrative headquarters of Pakistan. The violence, blood letting, sectarian strife, extortion, kidnapping and brutal killings which have become the staple of the daily life of Karachi, the thriving port city of more than 15-million people, is being blamed on the “never care” attitude of Mohajirs. And the growing alienation of native Sindhis, has given strength and legitimacy to the nationalist movement for an independent Sindhu Desh. Sindhi sub-nationalist demands range from greater cultural, economic and political rights within Pakistan to outright secession from Pakistan. Sindh nationalist allege that there is an unseen hand of MQM behind the demand for Mohajir Suba.
One more reason nudging Mohajirs to demand a separate province could be traced to the growing clout of Pakthuns in Karachi who now dominate the transport business of this economic and commercial hub of Pakistan. There are today more Pakhtuns in Karachi than in Peshawar, the provincial capital of Khyber Pakhtunkwa. Already a powder keg waiting to explode, Karachi has witnessed a radical demographic transition in the wake of massive migration of Pakhtuns –fed up with the daily dose of terrorist attack and US drone invasions on their home-turf—to this industrial nerve centre of Pakistan. Pakhtuns, who in public perception are considered sympathetic to the cause of Taliban, have replaced Mohajirs as the largest ethnic group in this vibrant business hub of Pakistan. Mohajirs used to consider Karachi as their “formidable fortress”.
According to Syed, Sindh is an ancient land whose people have always been one of the most pluralistic and secular in outlook. Sindhi nationalists have expressed themselves against the victimization and persecution of Hindus by the cadres of Islamic radical groups. But then the struggle ahead of Sindhi nationalists in so far as realizing their goal of an independent homeland is concerned appears long, arduous and strewn with obstacles. The death knell dealt to the two nation theory following the creation of Bangladesh–which has vindicated the prophecy of Sage Aurobindo, the prophet of Indian nationalism—would definitely inspire the Sindhi nationalists to emerge victorious in their struggle for a sovereign Sindhi homeland.
The Muslim dominated province of China’s northwestern Xinjiang province witnessed another bloody day when the violence broke out on Friday, January 24, 2014 in Xinjiang’s Xinhe county which falls under the jurisdiction of Aksu Prefecture. Beijing notoriously remembers Aksu when in 1980 hundreds of lives were claimed in religious violence. Last year, in April and December, violence erupted in the historical city of Xinjiang. Beijing believes that the violence was part of a trained and managed terrorist activity and was well rehearsed before it was carried out by more than dozens of organised terrorists.
While the Muslim population in this region and its cross-national role has played a critical role in bringing the neighbouring countries and players together on range of social and ethnic issues, the sectarian violence has also affected the trans-national interests of the countries surrounding this geographical terrain. Especially, it has aggravated social disharmony in China. For India, which has suffered through a decades of state-sponsored violence, a proxy war in Kashmir and the rise of assorted religious fundamentalism in other parts of the country, the widening ethnic fault lines in China would be vulnerable for India as well.
Xinjiang is at a critical geographical location providing land routes for China’s future oil imports. The region was seen as China’s emerging economic oasis. On the backdrop of discoveries of natural resources and increasing commercial concentration, Urumqi is set to become China’s Dubai. In the past fifteen-twenty years the province witnessed a heavy inflow of capital and resources which made it new a frontier of development after coastal regions and western development programme.
Beijing always remained sensitive about the ethnic and cultural gap between the majority Han population and the minority Uyghur population. As mentioned in the White Paper, “Regional Autonomy for Ethnic Minorities in China”, the Chinese Central government has drafted a ten-point scheme to support and assist the ethnic Autonomous areas. This includes:
1. Giving Prominence to Speeding up the Development of Ethnic Autonomous Areas.
2. Giving Priority to and Rationally Arranging Infrastructure Projects in Ethnic Autonomous Areas.
3. Strengthening Financial Support for Ethnic Autonomous Areas.
4. Attaching Importance to Ecological Construction and Environmental Protection in Ethnic Autonomous Areas.
5. Adopting Special Measures to Help Ethnic Autonomous Areas Develop Education.
6. Strengthening Assistance to Impoverished Ethnic Minority Areas.
7. Increasing Input into Social Services in Ethnic Autonomous Areas.
8. Assisting Ethnic Autonomous Areas to Open Wider to the Outside World.
9. Pairing off More Developed Areas and Ethnic Autonomous Areas for Aid.
10. Giving Care to Special Needs of Ethnic Minorities in Production and Living.
The changing ethnic algorithms, continuing instability and the unrest prevailing in this part are not ominous for China as well as its surrounding neighbors, including India. Given the nature of problem and the region’s prospects of emerging as the focal resources junction, Chinese leaders look more determined to take these challenges.