Category Archives: Ethnicity

I’m just playing, my lord!

By Riaz Missen

Once, a child was digging a hole in the sand. A passerby asked him as to why he was doing such a labor. “It is for the one who will dig a hole for me,” was the reply. “If no one digs a hole for you ……,” the stranger enquired. The child smiled and said: “I am just playing, my lord”

But the children neither have the energy nor do they have interest in digging the sand too deep. Such games are associated with the youngsters living near beaches. Many times it is great fun; other times tides of the sea cause accidents, as well.

In this wonderland of Pakistan, the premier dug a hole in the sand of Punjab this March by showing the intention to reintroduce the ‘Saraiki province’ riddle in country’s politics. He, in his share innocence, disturbed not only Takht-e-Lahore but also sent shocking waves to the other provincial capitals as well. Reaction to the idea of creating more provinces can be gauged by the situation in Karachi where ethnic tensions have pushed the city on the verge of anarchy.

While the premier remains faithful to the two-nation theor, he showed a determination to challenge the four-nation idea (by adding Sariki to it) that has, rightly or wrongly, gained enough grounds since 1969, when Yahya Khan nursed the rebirth of the existing administrative units.

Creating provinces is the job of the federation. The countries around Pakistan have taken such steps without creating any ripple in the politics. India’s example is there. This neighbor has multiplied the number of its federating units by four. The Punjab it had at the time of partition has been divided into three provinces. Iran and Afghanistan with lesser population have more provinces than Pakistan. Then what the whole fuss is about?

Actually, the very act of recreating four provinces is still to be rationalized. The legitimacy of the decision of a dictator to add the princely states to the then NWFP, Punjab and Sindh has to be scrutinized in details. Why Baluchistan States Union was welded with the Baluchistan Commissionerate, is a question that has to be answered. Such mysteries need to be understood in the backdrop of the proposal of GM Sayyed to merge Rahimyar Khan district into Sindh. Too, there is question as to why general elections were not held after the dismemberment of the country. Why the country did not went to polls after signing the Constitution?

Yahya Khan certainly pleased four ethnic groups that were active in politics by adding princely states to the territories they claimed. This step laid the foundation of the four-nation theory which is still operative in the country. The so-called consensus constitution (1973) also accommodated the concerns of the religious right by retaining the Objectives Resolution as its preamble blocking the way of the country claiming a secular and pluralist identity.

The question as to why the present administrative units were created is still to be answered. Had Yahya Khan such brains to understand the consequence of the action he was taking? Certainly, he did not. Pakistan, due to ethnicity gaining grounds, has not been able to have a kind of nationalism that the neighboring powers practice. The people take pride in their ethnicity, based on linguistic affiliations, rather. Some important development projects have been postponed due to the reason that some provinces oppose them. Crime, extremism and corruption are other evils that the bigness of the provinces has bred.

Coming to the hurdles in the way of Saraiki province, the first and foremost is that it is not easy to amend the constitution. Provincialism does not allow the governments to sign their death warrants. The kind of support Saraiki nationalists extend to the Sindhis and Blauchis, their counterparts are too ineffective to make their dreams come true. Yes, it is a big leap forward that the PPP has, for the first time, endorsed the idea of a Saraiki province, but it has no say in Punjab affairs and does not command absolute majority in the Parliament.

Every talk about creating more provinces in the country, especially in Punjab, has caused ethnic tensions in Karachi — as the case is right now. So PPP is inherently not the right party to take forward the idea of dividing Punjab. The Baluchistan assembly has cast away any proposal of dividing it given the demand of the ANP to attach Pushtoon districts and regions to the KPK as a condition to include DI Khan in the proposed Saraiki province.

Probably the PPP has realized that the idea of Saraiki province is impractical. Gilani met Shahbaz Sharif in Lahore, after returning from Saudi Arabia (where he performed Umrah). So when he visited Multan recently to inaugurate newly constructed bypass, he did not mention Saraiki province at all. Rather, he talked about South Punjab — the idea which the PML-Q supports.

PM’s U-turn on Saraiki province may disturb the nationalists of the Southern Punjab but he knows very well about their strength — not a single gathering has taken place in favor of his statement in Jalalpur Pirwala. The politics is art of the possible. There is no use of digging holes in the sand. So the premier may go ahead with his amended idea. He may even look toward the more practical one — the Multan province.

Pakistan may search its identity in Cholistan

Pakistan’s identity not complete without reference to the civilisation that once developed and thrived on the banks of Hakra River

By Riaz Missen
January 21, 2008

The Saraiki department at the Islamia University of Bahawalpur is planning to launch M. Phil program that will definitely end up in Ph. D. A prominent poet-scholar Dr. Nasrullah Khan Nasir heads it. His journey to this prestigious post started in the late 1970’s when he became part of the movement against the merger of Bahawalpur State into Punjab.

The movement for Bahawalpur province was suppressed. The memory of military action against the protestors is still alive. A local daily carried out a special number. Akbar Malik has been awarded doctoral degree by History department on the subject. The merger divided the new and old settlers into two groups — the settlers supported the move while locals opposed it. Dr. Mussawar Bokhari believes that Saraiki nationalism draws strength from the anti-Punjab movement in Bahawalpur.

For the intelligentsia of Bahawalpur, if one cause was lost another had begun. Multanis, who were the first to console these dejected soules over the loss of their state, ‘advised’ them to join a movement to create a province out of Punjab while Saraiki, not the Sutlej should set the boundaries. They were not in favor of a militant struggle, as some ‘freedom fighters’ of Bahawalpur once planned. Rather, they would have to disperse and become part of the new system to make their voice stronger.

About four decades down the road, Bahawalpuri intelligentsia is well entrenched in the system. The people, who had dared Punjab’s wrath to retain their identity, are serving many state institutions in respectable positions. They don’t hide their intentions. They insist that Saraiki is the biggest language of Pakistan and preservation of the culture and identity of the people associated with this language is responsibility of the state.

Some believe that the restoration of Bahawalpur province is a dead idea and it is not in the capacity of the people of this region to carve out a province out of Punjab. Multanis have definitely to take the lead for the creation of new province keeping in mind that Saraiki identity is not complete without taking into consideration the history of  Bahawalpur  and the importance of the Hakra-Valley Civilisation that once flourished in the area now called Cholistan.

“Ganveri Wala (southwest of Derawar Fort) falls in the center of the two cities, Harappa and Mohenjo Daro, associated with the Indus Valley civilization,” says Dr. Nasrullah Khan Nasir adding that it is the area where Hindu sacred books were written. Referring to the findings of the prominent archaeologist, Dr. Rafiq Mughul, Dr. Nasir insists that the center of the civilization associated with Indus Valley rested on the banks of Hakra.

Dr. Nasrullah is truly an academic figure now. His main field is research and he is doing the right job by occupying right chair. When he does not agree with his counterparts in Central Punjab and Sindh on the matter of linguistic and cultural identity, he seems to be insisting that Bahawalpur region contains the secret of Pakistan’s past. No consciously built identity, not only of Saraiki but also of the state of Pakistan, will be complete and credible without a reference to the Hakra civilization.

The leading figure of the movement for the restoration of Bahawalpur province has practically abandoned the idea to get rid of Lahore’s domination. Seth Ubaid-ur-Rahaman who had played a leading role in this movement is only able to live with his memories. So is the case with Malik Qamar, the high court lawyer. When the comrades of the movement for the restoration of Bahawalpur province have turned to bigger ideas, the people from lower-middle class fill the ranks of the organization. Neither the statements of the leadership of the organization are given importance by press nor any practical plan to achieve its ends has come to the open. Electoral politics is still a remote possibility for it.

Though the movement for the restoration of Bahawalpur is weak, the question is still alive. The Saraiki nationalists have strong reason to reject the idea. The population balance among the Saraiki and Punjabi settlers is almost  equal. The consistent marshall laws have strengthened the hands of the settlers in terms of jobs and land and limited water resources. So, having a province will definitely result into the domination of the Punjabi settlers.

“It is out of question now. We stand for a bigger province on the basis of our claim of being Saraiki, like other ‘nations’ i.e. Punjabis, Sindhi, Balochs and Pukhtoons,” Ismail Dahir, member of Saraiki National Party (SNP) and practicing lawyer of Rahim Yar Khan says. To him a province comprising at least three divisions of Punjab i.e. Multan, DG Khan and Bahawalpur and DI Khan of NWFP, can help secure Saraiki identity and culture for the generations to come.

Shahzad Irfan’s father had been among the founders of Pakistan Saraiki Party (PSP) under the leadership of Barrister Taj Muhammad Langah, who had developed differences with Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto vis-à-vis questions related with Saraiki identity. He is not so active on political front. Archeology is his passion now. Shahzad insists on a distinct if not different identity of Bahawalpur. “ Regionalism not nationalism will provide the way out,” he says.

Somewhere in his mind rests the doubt whether Bahawalpur can reach its destination — ending rule of Punjab — with the help of Multan. Reverting to the position of 1970, the time when One Unit was abolished is more practical idea rather than waging a struggle for the Saraiki province. “Bahawalpur’s question is as bigger as the question of Kashmir’s accession to either of the state, India and Pakistan,” he insists.

“Supreme Court of Pakistan can settle this question,” Shahzad Irfan says insisting that the merging of Bahawalpur into Punjab is illegal as per the provision of the One Unit Plan. He does not fail to identify the hand of the feudals of Punjab and Sindh in the degeneration of a princely state into just a division of Punjab province.

“We lost Sutlej, our lifeline, due to the Indus Basin Treaty but no political party is ready to take up our case as the region gets its water table down to the alarming levels,” he worries. “Nobody bothers when Punjab sacrifices Bahawalpur’s share of canal water to the benefit of the Sindhi farmers in the name of provincial harmony,” he adds.

Once Peoples Party raised hopes among Saraiki nationalists by addressing their linguistic concern. The Islamia University of Bahawalpur got a Saraiki department during 1990s as a result. Bahaudin Zikria University has also got a research center. Saraiki is being taught at college level. But the whole process has consumed a decade and a PTV station in Multan still remains a dream.

The twists and turns of history have proved that no political party in Pakistan can come up to the aspiration of the Saraiki people given the fascination of the elite with big provinces. Many initiatives of the Centre vis-à-vis economic development and national cohesion are in limbo due to entrenched positions the four dominant ethnic groups have taken vis-à-vis each other. And Bahawalpur’s case is even more complex. It can’t wait now. Identity is not a problem — thanks to Dr. Rafiq Mughul. The drying up of Sutlej River is the most pressing problem and growing rate of unemployment and failing agriculture the others.
It is true that there exists tension between the settlers, mainly having links with Central Punjab, and the agricultural belt running alongside the Sutlej River. The competition on jobs and land resources has entered into the political arena as well. The Jats and Arains look towards Lahore while the rest to everywhere. The traditional elite that has switched their loyalties between Karachi and Lahore is under immense pressure from the youth of the old communities to find a way out.

The situation is about to take an ugly turn as the traditional elite have become sensitive to security of their domain that has become under threat now. The conflict between Chaudharys of Gujrat and Makhdoom of Rahmiyar Khan is an example whereby the later became irritated at the former’s getting allotted land in Cholistan and seeing goodbye to their murids, who were tilling the land since centuries. The competition on Rescue 1122 posts in Bahawalpur is the recent development that has caused resentment among locals due to heavy-handed tactics of Tahir Bashir Cheema.

The way out is probably there. The new and old settlers will have to join hands. The land grabbing in the area will have to be stopped to save water for the old population. Livestock and tourism will yield more than bringing the desert under cultivation. The conservation of the Hakra belt is as essential as the optimal utilization of the water resources.

There needs to be a consensus on the issue of Sutlej River, which has been unjustifiably taken over by India through Indus Basin Treaty. It is essential to preserve the ecosystem on which the future of the region heavily depends. The water table is slipping down very fast. If Sutlej does not resume its strength, exodus of population from the agri belt will be the only result. Such a development has already taken place due to drying up of once a mighty river, Hakra.

About the domination of Lahore over Bahawalpur, it is true that Ranjit Singh had once aspired for it. The region was saved only due to the intervention of the English. What was not possible at that time became real after the creation of Pakistan. It is also true that the settlers favored the merger of the princely state into Punjab to the very much disappointment of the old population. The reckless allotment of lands has taken the share of water available to it besides reducing grazing space for the livestock of the indigenous tribes.

As far as the differences between new and old settlers are concerned, the stalemate persists since the merger of Bahawalpur State into Punjab. Where the militant groups of Central Punjab have found clients among new population, nationalism is getting stronger among the old. The worrisome aspect of the whole situation is that there is still no dialogue between the two groups.

The question whether the act of merger was legal is still there and it needs to be resolved as soon as possible. Punjab is the largest province of Pakistan. Dropping little bit weight will make it look smarter. Its image will certainly improve among the smaller provinces of the country

The growth of Saraiki nationalism has naturally raised concerns among settlers. They have responded with strengthening links with religious organizations. Militancy is on the rise in this part of the population. Restoring Bahawalpur province will certainly bring down nationalistic sentiments as well religious militancy in the area. The democratic process will soon bring forth Bahawalpur’s pluralist character, as was the case before the partition.

Ethnic wounds lay open in Karachi

The right wing politics in Pakistan is one or the other way ethnic in its outcomes. Jamat-e-Islami supported Zia-ul-Haq dictatorial rule for the reason that its amir, Mian Tufail, belonged to East Punjab as did Zia. He also enjoyed berathari link with him — both were Araens. Jamat-e-Islami of today is the bitter opponent of General Pervez Musharraf because its present Amir is Pushtoon and he is naturally opposed to the President-General’s policies against Taliban supposedly fighting on the side of Al-Qaeda (Taliban are predominantly Pushtoons).

By Riaz Missen 

If the people of Pakistan tend to be ethnic in their political attitudes and orientations, it should not be surprising for the academia and the decision-makers at home and abroad. After all the country is not  homogenous c in racial, cultural and linguistic terms. Though identities overlap but they are claimed and asserted, even with violent undertones.

 Pakistan is the land that has been subject to invasion from West and Central Asia. Alexander the Great travelled to conquer this land from Greek to fulfil his dream to see the other end of the earth where ‘sun rises right on the heads of the people’. Persian, Arab, Afghan and Turk kings did invade the land and used it as a base camp to make their advances on ‘pagan’ India.

The landscape is not the same from Himalayas down to the Arabian Sea. Different environmental conditions make people adjust with nature giving birth to different cultural traditions. Too, Pakistan is the land of rivers that have been acting as barriers among various communities residing in their floodplains.  The economy has been simple, so were their ways of life. Multan and Sindh have been the most prominent ‘countries’ that used to become provinces when some powerful empire emerged in their surrounding regions. Kashmir has also remained politically organised in history. As soon as the neighbouring empires declined, various local kingdoms, other than mentioned above, surfaced in the valley.

Sindh was successfully invaded and captured by Ummayads on the pretext that its ruler was non-Muslim. They invaded Multan for another reason: Qaramtas had taken hold of Multan and were considered relatively liberal than the orthodox Sunni Islam. And, the practice was repeated again and again while the reason remained the same. The country was devastated to the effect that the invaders changed their route to enter into India. But this traditionally evolved state remained mostly under the Afghan influence till its occupation by Sikhs, followed by the British.

Today’s Balochistan has never been an integral part of the kingdoms that rose for time and again in the Indus Valley. Rather it has been either under Iranian influence or served as a buffer zone between Iran and India. These were the British who snatched this area from Iran. Same is the case with the NWFP which has been mostly considered part of Afghanistan except in times when some powerful Indian empire annexed these areas. Mostly, the Indus River has been making the upside boundary of India. Sutlej has acted as its second line of defence.

 A prominent linguist, Dr Tariq Rahman, has counted fifty plus languages in Pakistan. He has duly identified this factor as providing basis for ethno-nationalism in Pakistan. How these forces are vocal as well as effective in politics can be gauged by the fact that the country has been once disintegrated when Bengalis demanded a separate homeland and fought valiantly for their cause. Bangladesh was carved out of Pakistan after a violent struggle of the ethno-nationalists of East Pakistan. The existence of ethnic feelings in Pakistan is also evident from the formation of Pakistan Oppressed Nations Movement, popularly called Ponam, as well as the ongoing Baloch insurgency.

The right wing politics in Pakistan is one or the other way ethnic in its outcomes. Jamat-e-Islami supported Zia-ul-Haq dictatorial rule for the reason that its amir, Mian Tufail, belonged to East Punjab as did Zia. He also enjoyed berathari link with him — both were Araens. Jamat-e-Islami of today is the bitter opponent of General Pervez Musharraf because its present Amir is Pushtoon and he is naturally opposed to the President-General’s policies against Taliban supposedly fighting on the side of Al-Qaeda (Taliban are predominantly Pushtoons).

 The Karachi killings of May 12 are being projected by the opposition parties as a symbolic gesture of the Urdu speaking community of Pakistan vis-à-vis rest of the population of the country. The MQM, representing the interest of the Urdu speaking population of Sindh and dominating the politics of the province, allegedly resorted to violence in reaction to opposition’s attempt to make a big show of the Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry’s visit to Karachi as part of his campaign he is waging, with the help of the opposition parties, to protest against Musharraf’s move to make him dysfunctional through filing reference against him in the apex court of the country.

The non-Urdu members of the ruling camp have voiced their concerns over Karachi killings and there is move within the camp not to let Musharraf prolong his rule. Analysts believe the Punjab’s politicians are successfully diverting hatred against their province towards the Urdu-speaking community supporting General Pervez Musharraf. It is the fact the President-General has duly recognised by complaining that the ruling party is not supporting him as he would have expected.

That Punjab leadership is making the MQM a scapegoat to end long-held hatred of the smaller ‘nations’ of the country, the future scenario is difficult to conceive right now. There are unconfirmed reports that a sizeable number of PML-Q leaders have contacted PML-N that they are ready to join it after they get a positive signal. PPP-P has also made such claims recently. MMA is the ardent supporter of opposition’s move against the MQM to reoccupy the political space it lost in Karachi during last general elections and the last local body polls. The Punjab leadership has floated the idea to support the old demand of smaller provinces for more space to manage their affairs vis-à-vis the federation.

 It is worth mentioning that MQM has been involved in conscious efforts to transform its identity into a national party rather than that representing the interest of the Urdu-speaking minority. Going by its constitution, its name is roughly United National Movement while it stands for protecting the interests of the middle and lower classes of the country in a feudal society. Too, its leadership vows to protect the rights of oppressed nations of Pakistan. Notably, the MQM stands for re-writing of the constitution and redrawing provincial boundaries to this effect. It has supported the nationalists of the country, particularly Sindh and the party has recorded its protest over the killing of Akbar Bugti by the security forces as well as the plans to construct Kalabagh dam in line with the Ponam parties. The MQM was successfully getting ground outside Sindh as well but the situation has drastically changed after the May 12 incidents.

A lot has come clear to the leadership of the MQM but its dilemma ship is exemplary: it can’t abandon Musharraf ; it can’t also risk to standby him after all Musharraf has to go sooner and later and the repercussions will only be borne this party. The future of the MQM can be well gauged by the statement of Pir Pagaro, the leader of his own faction of Pakistan Muslim League. “MQM is pitted against the whole of Pakistan,” he commented while the opposition was calling strike against this party after unfortunate incidents in Karachi. Given the experience of Benazir era during which mass murder of MQM workers was carried out by security forces, the scenario following Musharraf’s removal seems bleak for this party. Probably, Pakistan is the country where history will keep repeating itself.

If MQM fails to escape the trap laid down supposedly by the indigenous ethnic groups of the society, the right wing parties will emerge as the main beneficiary. Ethnicity not religious militancy will come to the fore as one of the major issue of Pakistani politics. As well evident by some reports of foreign media, ethnic violence will change the view of the foreign powers that are now obsessed with the question of religious extremism in Pakistan.