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Sindh’s betrayal

Why is peaceful Sindh discontented and being taken over by illiberal forces? Because both the MQM and PPP have lost the battle in the province

Sindh’s betrayal
Betrayed by their own government.

The MQM is at its best again — playing the victim and heaping accusations against its political opponents.

The party has always posed as rescuer of women, minorities and liberal thought against the Islamist parties and their intolerant, fundamentalist, backward practices. The MQM also claims true ownership of the liberal field against that of the PPP, which it accuses of corruption and feudalistic, dynastic abandonment of the people.

Some call the MQM a party of fascistic reactionaries. Others, more generously, call it a party of middle-class opportunism. Regardless of the triangulated history of ideological governance of Sindh and Karachi, the bottom line is that the past 30 years have witnessed nothing less than an administrative, governmental and ideological betrayal of the people of the province.

Condescending liberals had to eat a burnt humble pie after the Zardari-led PPP crashed with ignominy in the 2013 national elections. The party is effectively buried outside of Sindh, and cremated in Punjab. On the eve of the last election, some serious minded opinion-writers and intellectuals attempted to salvage Zardari’s legacy by spinning his cunning maneuvers of self-survival, into some heroic management of the establishment and its machinations against democracy. These are the same ghettoized liberals who bond over twitter and whatsapp, and are virtual friends with Bilawal and the generation that is waiting in the wings for their right to govern Sindh.

It is beyond disappointing to hear these Oxbridge PPP apologists and sons and daughters of Sindh’s soil reduce debate to the defeatist notion of who-else-will-you-vote-for, or the progressive drawing room aunties who swoon nostalgically over how piyaara-looking Bilawal is — just like his late mother.

The lack of political reflexivity and honesty is enough to make one vote for ASWJ’s Rah-e-Haq party. Its electoral symbol may not be the sickle and hammer but an iron is a good enough working class, feminised and radical image, if you want to spin something to your ideological preference.

Oh wait… the PPP tried that and allied with ASWJ in the local bodies elections in 2015, and still lost.

Meanwhile, the sectarian party has been independently electorally successful in Karachi.

The MQM’s liberalism is fake. Also, the party uses liberal tactics as a decoy to mask its own inherent fascism. The PPP’s liberalism is so anemic that it remains restricted to nostalgic memorabilia and celebration of death anniversaries, and recalling the achievements of some imagined glorious past.

Is illiberal efficiency better than liberal negligence? How does one explain to the old guard that sentimentality in politics and culture is a dying commodity? Diversity in Karachi cannot be managed by armed terror or even by the totalitarian liberalism of the MQM. ‘Operations’ are not the silver bullet that will end crime, and start delivering welfare. The endless futility of governance under the previous chief minister is an example of the PPP existential style of rule — being and nothingness.

Sindh’s attempts to solve administrative issues are educational. The Sindh government doesn’t fix itself — it starts doing something… anything. Like jihadist groups, it reshuffles departments under different authorities. The solution to the uncollected tonnes of garbage rotting like mini-smokey mountains across Karachi is to start burning these in order to meet the 100-day cleanliness target. Eye-sores are being replaced with the release of cancer-causing toxins and carcinogens. There is more chikungunya-infested sewage stagnating in parks and school grounds across Malir and Korangi than children playing in them. The false starts of removing encroachments in an unplanned city is not just inhumane but is a pretense because the political economy of these are embedded deep through a nexus involving shopkeepers, police beaters and the administrative gate-keepers.

It is easy to hate Punjab governance and their one-man, one-window, mega-project, crony capitalist style of governance but the inconvenient truth is that the PML-N has stolen the thunder from the liberals and their imaginations put together. It is important to recount and protest policy lapses, violations, missed opportunities and inequities across Punjab.

Unfortunately, though, political measure is comparative, and a combination of the perceived and real. The other parties have lost the battle on both counts.

While the Punjab government has upscaled the look, feel and delivery of macro-economic policies, it has also strengthened safety-nets successfully, through programmes such as the BISP and an epic increase in its recent social sector budget devoted to education and health. The conservatives of the PML-N have feminised their government and bureaucracy with women (the right and wrong kind) in key and decision-making positions. The Punjab commission for women is one of the most active and meaningful bodies that lends political mileage to the government but is also working towards a rights-based mandate.

How embarrassing that the BISP, the brainchild of the PPP, has been rescued and catapulted to new heights under the leadership of a woman who could have been the poster girl of Sindh. What irony that the minister of finance of the Punjab is a woman with Sindhi roots but the ruling liberal party in Sindh has just the one, token woman advisor or special assistant in its cabinet and no minister for the department of women’s development.

What a pity that the only province to not appoint a provincial commission for the status of women is the land of sufis, progressive writers, and liberal thinkers. This symbolically crucial and potentially effective institution could serve against anti-women narratives and address the alarming rise of honour crimes, maternal mortality, women’s labour rights and assist in economic and material progress. But the wilful neglect to appoint a commission in Sindh is simply shameful.

The PPP women’s leadership is guilty of allowing this vacuum, since all they seem to be good at is applauding Bilawal Bhutto’s speeches in the background rather than advocating for women’s institutional improvement. There is nothing, not a thing, to celebrate or showcase on women’s or human rights beyond some laws which were not resisted in the way that they are in other provinces. The apologists in Sindh complain in private but shy away from publically calling out such collective failure. What could be a worse disservice than duplicity?

The MQM’s liberalism is fake — partially because like their Lal Masjid nemesis, they cannot claim democratic progressiveness or peaceful welfare intent while armed to the teeth and dependent on threats and violence. Also, the party uses liberal tactics as a decoy to mask its own inherent fascism.

The PPP’s liberalism is so anemic that it remains restricted to nostalgic memorabilia and celebration of death anniversaries, and recalling the achievements of some imagined glorious past. It has missed so many opportunities that in 2018 a huge cake should be ordered to mark the death anniversary of its own liberal possibilities.

Then we wonder… why is peaceful Sindh discontented and being taken over by illiberal forces? It’s because Sindh has been betrayed by its own government.

Afiya Shehrbano Zia

aafiya sheharbano
The writer is the author of 'Faith and Feminism in Pakistan; Religious Agency or Secular Autonomy.

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