Sindh’s changing political matrix

Sindh, among all the provinces, has become the centre of contestation as it seems to be slipping away from the PPP.

Rasul Bakhsh Rais December 17, 2012

The politics of Pakistan under the last military ruler, General (retd) Pervez Musharraf, saw the breakdown of the two major national parties, the PPP and the PML. Their fragmentation was the goal of his deliberate policy — to divide and rule and make personal political gains. National political parties with a following in all provinces had gained enough ground before the general struck at the political system. During the past four years, they have had to rebuild themselves but the times and challenges they face have made their task very difficult. What we are now witnessing is the politics of alignments in every province that is driven by the logic of the electoral process and by the harsh reality that no single party may be able to emerge with a clear majority. This is my assessment today, but the dynamics of elections and the power relations under the interim government may change that.

Sindh, among all the provinces, has become the centre of contestation as it seems to be slipping away from the PPP. The PPP leaders — ruling from above and at a distance from ordinary Sindhis — have failed to gauge a slow but steady alienation of the party from the Bhutto clan. The party leadership has taken popular support and a sort of emotional attachment with the clan and its martyrs for granted. Politics is never a fixed social activity and it doesn’t remain frozen in time. This is quite clear if we read and reflect on the history of Pakistan and how many of its powerful players have come and gone. The wheel of history will keep turning and new movements, groups, leaders, slogans and alignments will keep emerging with the turn of major events.

Besides symbolic politics of emotions and ‘sacrifices’, the PPP built its support base through the network of influential dynastic political families. This has been its coalition building strategy since the party moved away from its progressive ideology under Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. It moved away from the national progressive front of intellectuals, students, artists and masses to the dynastic politics. Unlike in other provinces, it embraced Sindhi nationalism that linked it quite effectively with the Sindhi youth, middle class and intellectuals. With this alignment, along with a nationalist posture on issues of major concern to Sindh, the PPP was able to keep nationalist groups on the political margins.

The last four years have changed many things for the PPP in Sindh that its leadership — which has been living in the past and banking on big money in the next general elections — is unable to grasp. Nationalist parties, though fragmented, have mobilised the same constituencies that the PPP had courted for the last three decades. The Sindhi middle class, the youth and the intellectuals have moved towards the nationalist parties. With Sindhi politics, however, like that of other provinces, being essentially dynastic, the nationalists can make an impact in some areas but not in the entire province. Nonetheless, they have achieved remarkable organisational capacity and learnt how to mobilise Sindh on certain issues. The PPP’s power politics in Sindh and the Sindh Peoples Local Government Ordinance have come as welcome gifts for the Sindhi nationalists. They have very effectively used Sindhi alienation and a sustained narrative of grievances — partly real and partly imagined — to their advantage.

They now have two new powerful allies: the new Pir Pagara — with a Sindh-wide organisation and social support — and the PML-N. The other two also realise that only a grand political alliance among the nationalists — the PML-Functional, the National Peoples Party and PML-N, all three with good numbers of dynastic political families in their fold — will work against the PPP. If they hold together, Sindh may not be the same anymore for the PPP.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 18th, 2012.


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Ghazi Sindhi | 8 years ago | Reply

I am an urban Sindhi who has only observed the politics of the country and of Sindh through the media. Being a Sindhi, I want the interests and rights of Sindh to be safeguarded and furthered in the overall scenario of the Pakistani politics. For that matter, I would prefer that Sindh breaks the shackles of any irrationally emotional attachment to any political party both in the rural and urban areas. We have majority in rural areas chanting slogans "zinda hay XYZ.zinda hai" and we have majority in urban areas mostly literate people chanting "manzil naheen rahnuma chahiye"--the slogans are a pathetic commentary on the political psyche of our voters equating the illiterate with the illiterate public. It won't bother me at all if even a Punjabi or a Pathan becomes the Chief Minister of Sindh provided he ensures meritocracy, efficiency, and safeguards the legitimate interests of Sindh. What appears heartening is that national parties are gaining some ground in the arena of political field in Sindh. The distrust among the provinces is mainly because of the non-existence of national parties in all the provinces. The more this shortcoming is overcome, the better it is for the removal of misunderstandings among the people of Pakistan.

Sindhi_Pakistani | 8 years ago | Reply

This is one of the spot on, finest and factual assessment of current Sindh. People of Sindh had big expectations in PPP but current govt gave nothing but poor governance, nepotism, corruption, poor socio-economic policies, inflation, worst law and order, rise in ethnic and sectarian gap, poor rehabilitation of millions of people post floods in Sindh, worst of all, notorious Sindh Local Govt bill SPLG. This has generated resentments in masses and PPP is immune to understand the real feel. With constant forefront struggle of progressive Sindhi nationalist parties and PMLF, there is hope for better change in next election and Sindh is changing to defeat PPP who has failed Sindh. Youth of Sindh wants prosper Sindh and progressive Pakistan,

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