In the July 2018 national elections in Pakistan the ethno-linguistic political groups generally known as ‘nationalist’ parties in Pakistan’s political jargon, were trounced and they could not win a significant number of parliamentary seats’ share in Balochistan.
Nationalist parties or ethno-linguistic political outfits representing smaller sub-national groups, Pakthuns, Balochs, Sindhis, Seraikis and the Urdu-speaking Mohajir community have traditionally played a very significant role in the politics of Pakistan right from the independence till very recently. However, for the last few years they have been faced with a difficult situation for the first time in decades and therefore they have not been able to play a big role in the recent general elections.
In the recent history of Pakistan the most important ethno-linguistic political outfit has been the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM). The MQM emerged in the early 1980s. In distant history the most significant such political group was the National Awami Party (NAP) formed in 1957. Another very important ethno-linguistic party of Pakistan was the Awami League formed in the late 1950s to safeguard the rights of Bengalis in the federation of Pakistan. Later the Awami League under former student leader, Sheikh Mujeebur Rahman, successfully struggled for the creation of Bangladesh.
Since the 1970s Pakhtun, Baloch and Sindhi ethno-linguistic groups, admiringly calling themselves ‘nationalist’ parties, have splintered into many outfits with the dissolution of the NAP. Since then different groups have sided with various countrywide parties like the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and since 1988 with the Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) to remain in power at the central and provincial levels. In this regard the example of the Awami National Party (ANP) is quite important. The ANP remained in power for four times since the late 1980s, two times apiece the government of the PPP led by Benazir Bhutto and twice the governments of PML-N led by Nawaz Sharif. During these eras the ANP could not bring any laurels to the Pakhtuns of the K-P, the party’s political constituency. When the residents of K-P gave the ANP a majority in 2008 to fulfill its promise of ridding the province and its people of Taliban-stoked terrorism, again the party completely failed to deliver. Instead of devising a strategy to fight the Taliban the ANP during its rule in the K-P, as part of the coalition of the PPP at the centre and the province, came up with a few projects forthwith establishing several universities. Since then the ANP is facing its worst situation in politics. The relatively good performance of the PTI government in the K-P, the traditional political base of the ANP, has also unnerved the party as well as the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Fazl (JUI-F), which has a significant following in the province.
In rural Sindh sans the Awami Tehreek of Ayaz Palijo, which became part of the anti-PPP, Grand Democratic Alliance no other Sindhi ethno-linguistic political party could be of relevance today. This is largely due to the fact that the PPP, which has remained an important national party of Pakistan for decades, has practically become a Sindhi nationalist party in orientation. Therefore, the PPP could not win any worthwhile parliamentary seats from the Punjab, K-P and Balochistan in the 2018 elections. So Sindhi nationalist parties like Jeay Sindh (various groups) could not be a force to reckon with in the foreseeable future.
Even in urban Sindh, where the ethno-linguistic MQM has dominated the scene for the last three decades, the schisms in the party and the emergence of three factions—MQM-London, MQM-Pakistan and Pak Sar Zameen Party—damage the political base of the party. The space created by the MQM has been capitalised mainly by the PTI.
In Balochistan, except for the Balochistan National Party-Mengal (BNP-M) no other party is relevant today. Still the BNP-M could not win a large number of seats from the province in the last elections. Another ethno-linguistic party the National Party (NP) led by Hasil Bizenjo was not able to leave a strong mark. Similar is the case of Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party of Mehmood Khan Achakzai, which has its political constituency among Pakhtuns of Balochistan. The party has also joined hands with former and now jailed prime minister Nawaz Sharif as a result of which a large number of Achakzai family members remained in power with elder brother Muhammad Khan Achakzai serving as provincial governor of Balochistan. The siding of the PkMAP and NP with the corruption-tainted ex-PM Sharif and their failure to deliver in their political constituency damaged their prospects in the last national elections.
It is quite noteworthy that ethno-linguistic groups by joining forces with the PPP and the PML-N have cared little for the very ideology and rights of the constituency to which they appeal. Rather these groups have used the opportunity to remain in power and enjoy the perks and privileges as well as build their economic fortunes by resorting to either corrupt or illegitimate practices. The main reason has been that as political parties they could not survive because they have had needed large finances to operate the political organisation. This in turn has been due to the reason that these political groups could not develop the organisational base through which it could raise finances by appealing to the members of their respective political constituency. Therefore, the easy way out was to join the ruling party to get a share in the power stakes and through it their economic fortune. In this episode the leadership of ethno-linguistic groups also wanted self-aggrandisement for which the opportunities in power have been aplenty. Most of the ethno-linguistic parties from Pakistan have either been following Marxist-Leninist or Maoist line of thinking and in the heyday of the Soviet Union the latter funded all these parties handsomely.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 9th, 2018.