LONDON: A defeatist aura lurked over a talk by Awami National Party (ANP) Senator Shahi Syed at the School of Oriental and African Studies this week, which was hosted by the Pakistan Society.
Syed, also the chief of the ANP in Sindh, seemed to have lost hope, evident in the manner in which he spoke about Pakistan. He opened his talk by looking at the progress made by Muslim countries such as Malaysia and Bangladesh who gained independence after Pakistan.
Syed’s talk was primarily on the changing demographics and ethnic violence in Karachi. At the talk, Syed addressed issues surrounding identity and unity amongst Pakistanis as well as corruption.
He constantly referred to his background and experience in Karachi during the talk. He revealed that at one point, the ethnic violence in Karachi made for such a security risk that he shut down his mill that employed approximately 400 people. Syed also criticised ANP allies, as well as the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), for not doing enough to prevent ethnic violence in Karachi.
The ANP senator stated categorically that the party’s only quarrel was with terrorists and people who actively aimed to harm civilians. He said that the ANP was not against an ethnic group or “people who wore western clothing” but with terrorists. The senator also called for a gun-free zone from Hyderabad to Thatta to Karachi.
He criticised the Kalashnikov culture in Karachi as well as the rest of the country. According to Syed, guns are not required for progress. Business, he said, would boom in Karachi if the gun culture ended.
This would also lead to an end to ethnic violence in Karachi. The other solution was development.
The ANP leader supported developing Karachi and its surrounding areas into a business zone and thought that this would in itself end ethnic divisions. The senator stated that this was mainly the short term solution for the problem. In the long run, it was only education that enabled people to progress through accessible opportunities. This would end the hatred that fuelled the ethnic violence in Karachi.
Syed said that the ANP and the Pakistan Peoples Party had set up schools. He criticised Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) chief Altaf Hussain, claiming that if he “loved Karachi and its people he would provide them education that would enable them to gain opportunities”.
The audience was also briefed on the nature of the ethnic violence in Karachi. There was an echo of the talks on ending violence between Israelis and Palestinians, given that one of the demands was the same. Each side is unwilling to talk unless they are given a guarantee of peace. This was evident when Syed stated that he was willing to talk to Altaf Hussain provided that he offered an assurance of peace. He declined to comment further on the MQM chief.
The senator concluded the talk on the same defeatist note he had started on. He claimed that introducing reforms to improve the situation in Pakistan, particularly Karachi, was almost impossible if different ethnic groups and their political parties did not work together. He cited that a lot of political figures such as Zulfiqar Mirza and Imran Khan were fervent about reforms.
Syed also criticised how politics in Pakistan works. He said “authentic democracy” did not exist in the country and that political families reigned supreme. He said due process that is needed to allow democracy as well as democratic institutions to progress was hindered by the cyclical army coups. The senator said that the army was one of the main reasons hindering progress along with home-grown as well as ‘imported’ terrorism.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 19th, 2012.