Protests would take place in every nook and corner of Sindh if the government does not jettison the Zulfikarabad project, and we were ready to go to jail or to be killed for resisting it, warned Dr Qadir Magsi, chairman of the Sindh Taraqi Pasand party, on Wednesday.
The disruptions that took place during the recent Sindh Cabinet meeting, which ultimately led to Sassui Palijo losing her ministerial portfolio, seems to have roused the anti-Zulfikarabad movement from its slumber. Sindhi nationalists and civil society representatives consider the Zulfikarabad City project to be a conspiracy to reduce the Sindhi population of Thatta district into a minority and to rob Sindhi people from access to the province’s coastal belt.
Dr Magsi was speaking during a press conference, along with Prof Mushtaq Meerani, a water expert, writers Ishtiaq Ansari, Hameed Memon and Yousuf Sindhi, Dr Rajab Memon, Human Right Commission of Pakistan’s Ashuthama Lohano, and Sindh Democratic Forum’s Zulfiqar Halepoto, among others.
Meanwhile, activists of the Jeay Sindh Qaumi Mahaz, Workers Party, Baloch Itehad, Jeay Sindh Muttahida Mahaz and the Jamhoori Watan Party organised a rally in Sanghar district to protest against the project. Protests were also organised in Thatta by the Jeay Sindh Mahaz and JSQM-Arisar. JSM president Riaz Chandio said that the government was prepared to spend billions of rupees on the new city, but was reluctant to allocate a fraction of the amount for healthcare, education and provision of clean drinking water in the province.
The Zulfikarabad city, as it is currently planned, would be spread over 328,000 acres of seafront land, and would stretch from the Keti Bundar to Jati taluka of Thatta district.
According to the Pakistan Fisher Folk Forum, nearly 500 settlements, with an estimated population of about 225,000, would be displaced if the project goes ahead. The PFFF is particularly apprehensive about the impact on the livelihoods of fishermen in the area, as well as the effects on the environment as the oil terminal would be shifted from Karachi to Zulfikarabad.
The civil society leaders at the press conference said that they were not opposed to creation of new cities and industrial estates. “[However], there is some secrecy surrounding this project.
Residents of the area have not been taken into confidence, while the ownership of their land is at stake,” said Abrar Qazi.
The nationalists say that they would only allow the Zulfikarabad project to go ahead if local people were given constitutional guarantees that only Sindhis would be allowed to live and work in the city.
Various notable writers, lawyers, water experts and other rights activists have compared the project to the former army chief Ayub Khan’s “One Unit System,” in in a widely circulated letter. They have alleged that “development cleansing” would take place because of the project, as the local population would be forced to make way for creating new settlements for outsiders.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 7th, 2012.