The new South Sindh debate

By: Syed Anwer Mahmood      Published: 08:01 PM, 30 Sep, 2020
The new South Sindh debate
MQM-P holds a rally in Karachi for a new province in Sindh.–File photo

Rolled out by MQM Pakistan, a new debate has begun on creation of South Sindh as a new province carved out of the urban areas of Sindh, mostly Karachi and Hyderabad, if I have understood the MQM-P proposal correctly. And as was expected, there has been an immediate reaction from the PPP government in Sindh that no division of Sindh will ever be allowed.

The PPP reaction is neither new nor surprising. As for MQMP, its demand too is not new but what is new is the name proposed for the proposed new province. It is a deliberate and to an extent a clever proposition that attempts to retain Sindh except that there would be two instead of one Sindh. My consistent position on the subject has been that if there is an overwhelming belief amongst Pakistanis that we need more provinces out of the existing ones for better governance and reach out, why and how can it be applied only to Punjab, KP and perhaps Balochistan and not to Sindh? In the past we had the well known Saraiki Sooba Mahaz and not long ago the Hazara Sooba Movement.

In Punjab, all parties including PPP have been making creation of a South Punjab province an important feature of their electioneering plank. And rightly so. It is another matter that once in office each one has put the promise on the back burner, retaining the centralised executive control and all that “flows” from it. That apart, the concept of smaller provinces for better service delivery to the people is not disputable. That being so, why should Sindh be different from others. In fact, the PPP defends its controversial action of dividing Karachi into seven districts as based on the city having become ungovernable as one unit(district).When confronted with the same argument for Sindh as a province it immediately becomes a no no.

In other words, what is good for the goose is not good for the gander. There are many grievances that the permanent Karachi residents have against their provincial government. I use the word permanent for those who live there and bury their dead there. And the overwhelming majority of them are poor and aggrieved, deprived and harassed. A large number of them are also unemployed. That MQM contributed significantly to this state of affairs is well established. But should that be a reason to deny them what they deserved then but did not get. They still deserve that but do not appear to be getting it and are unlikely to get it under the existing administrative arrangement. The Sindh government(read PPP) has provincialised every civic agency in the city ,be it water or sanitisation, roads or sewerage or even garbage disposal. Karachi is the only mega city, perhaps in the world, where every household has to buy drinking water. Piped water is a dream even in the city’s posh localities. Why? Because it fetches billions of rupees every month to the rulers via the water mafia. The government jobs are either sold or are doled out to the favourites, all from the rural Sindh who only collect salaries, generally ghost employees. With most of the city a complete wreck and the vast majority living a life of utter frustration, the MQMP has thrown in an old card with a new name. It is surely a political move but one that will resonate well with the Karachi walas. Resonate well not because it is coming from MQM but because it is echoing their deprivations and the unfair deal that they have been getting at the hands of a party that they have never elected. Yet, based on the majority it gets from rural Sindh it lords over them from the corridors of power in Karachi. I have used the words “lords over” because the PPP, given its completely rural background and power base, just cannot relate to the problems and aspirations of urban Sindh.

Sadly, the party that is now attempting to speak on behalf of Karachi is the one that destroyed the city and all that it stood for until the mid 1980s.Education and skill were the strongest assets of Karachi walas. They were deprived of both in the three decades that the party dominated the politics of Karachi. And as for the so called division of Sindh we should not forget that it is PPP that divided Sindh into rural and urban by inserting a provision in the 1973 constitution which sub divided the federal jobs quota for Sindh into rural and urban, a provision exclusive to Sindh although the argument that rural Sindh needed to catch up with urban Sindh was equally relevant to rural and urban Punjab and what is now KP. The issue of Karachi is too deep and complicated to be resolved through one package or the other although such packages are much needed for the city. The deprivation or sense of deprivation of the Karachites will remain until the main issue of ownership is addressed. And that issue is of empowerment of the people and their representatives. Karachi needs an autonomous fully empowered, self revenue generating elected government that has both responsibility and authority. Whether that comes in the form of a province called South Sindh or a truly constitutionally mandated self governed Karachi, both Sindh and Pakistan will be the gainers.

And the sooner the better because as a country Pakistan cannot afford to be sitting on powder kegs. The Parliament, the apex judiciary, the executive and, whether some like it or not, the “establishment” must focus on this all important issue today for tomorrow may be too late. And PPP must remember the time when it had a majority from Karachi and work on regaining that goodwill extending a healing touch to the Karachites.