FeaturedNationalVOLUME 17 ISSUE # 13

Renewed demands for urban province in Sindh

As all the opposition political parties in Singh province are vehemently resisting the recently passed Local Government Act by the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) has renewed its old demand of creating a new province by clubbing together Karachi and Hyderabad along with some other cities. The resistance by the opposition to the Revised Sindh Local Government Act 2021 is fully justified as the law has nearly overridden the powers of municipal governments with all powers deposited in the provincial government. In this situation, the would-be local governments in different districts and lower tiers of the province would have no value and will only be there ceremoniously.

From the ruling PPP standpoint, a local government system where the municipal governments do not have any real authority or power suit the party strategy to keep the entire province tightly under its belt. In particular urban areas of Sindh, like Karachi and Hyderabad, the PPP does not have a very strong political base and it has largely been ruling the province for 14 long years on the basis of its near-dominance of rural or Sindhi-speaking areas. Urban areas of Sindh are dominated by Urdu-speaking migrant (muhajir) communities, mostly represented by the MQM and other factions. However, at the moment the ruling party in the Centre, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), has the largest representation in the parliament from urban Sindh and the MQM is its coalition partner. In the unfolding situation and political crisis in Sindh, MQM’s factions have renewed their demand for the creation of a South Sindh province. Keeping in view the dictatorial style of governance of the PPP in Sindh, the creation of a new South Sindh province is quite justified. However, there are a lot of issues with the proposal.

It is important to note that the MQM had formally demanded the creation of a new urban-based province in Sindh in 2014, which touched a sensitive chord in the politics of the country. The MQM, which has been a dominant quasi-political entity of urban Sindh, has been deeply desirous of making a demand for creating a new province. The demand for the creation of a new province was made in 2014, on the floor of the Sindh provincial assembly by MQM lawmaker Kamran Akhtar arguing that there should be a separate province for Urdu-speaking people of Sindh.

The MQM has been demanding for a new province comprising main urban centres of Sindh, including the metropolitan city of Karachi, Hyderabad, Sukkur and Nawabshah among other places for quite some time now on different public forums. The MQM’s basis of demanding an urban province for Urdu-speaking people of Sindh is that the latter have been highly discriminated against in jobs, finances and service delivery despite contributing excessively to the provincial exchequer. Therefore, the only way to put an end to alleged discrimination of the Urdu-speaking population of Sindh is to create for them a separate province. But another main political party of Sindh, largely representing rural areas, the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), has been extremely averse to the idea of dividing Sindh into two or more provinces.

Making new provinces may not be a bad idea if improving governance and social services delivery to the people is the purpose. However, the MQM’s demand is simply to have for itself an area, where it has a dictatorial control as in the existing provincial set-up it cannot attain this objective. It is important to note that the MQM has not been able to ever get the slot of the chief minister of Sindh as the PPP or other parties, like the Pakistan Muslim League (Q), have been occupying the top slot on the basis of their numeric strength. By not electing a chief minister from urban Sindh has been a great injustice by the PPP. However, the argument of the MQM for having a province for the Urdu-speaking people is erroneous in the sense as the latter, who migrated from India after the creation of two states―Pakistan and India―are not the only ethnic community that lives in cities of Sindh. The Pushtun community from far-off Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, former ex-FATA and upper Balochistan has nearly four million members only in Karachi. Likewise, Punjabis also have a big population in the port city. So making of a new urban-based province in Sindh and its expected domination by the MQM would mean an unending conflict among the Pashtuns, Punjabis and local Sindhis in urban centres of Sindh resulting in large-scale violence and killings as it involves the livelihood of millions of people. Therefore, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, which is currently the strongest political party of Pakistan, has also rejected the proposal, like the PPP.

Despite the impracticality of its demand, the MQM seems to have made it keeping in view the highly fluid political situation in the country when there are talk and demands of introduction of a presidential system as the extant political system has failed to deliver. The MQM, by demanding a new province in Sindh, would try its utmost to push the PPP to trouble. In this regard, it is also reminding the key opposition Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) President and former Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif of his own demand of making a new province in Karachi. Shehbaz Sharif had made the demand when the PPP was ruling the country and Sindh (the party forte) from 2008-2013. Shehbaz’s demand was more a tit-for-tat response to the PPP which had demanded a new province in Punjab, the powerhouse of the PML-N. The MQM would now ask the PML-N to support the demand of establishing a new province in Sindh. As a strategy, the MQM is also uniting all political forces and in this regard has already held an All Parties Conference (APC). If the PPP continues to rule the province in a dictatorial manner, even parties, like the PTI and Jamaat-e-Islami, would join hands to demand the creation of a South Sindh province.

The debate in the country for more provinces is not a new one. There have been demands from different political parties and quarters of carving out a new province of Hazara in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Seraiki and Potohar provinces in Punjab and a Pashtun province in Balochistan. The PPP, during its last stint in power, had promised to create a Seraiki province.

Creating new provinces is the demand of time and, therefore, there is a general consensus among most political parties of the country in this regard. However, the manner in which the MQM demands the division of Sindh is hardly acceptable to anyone. The MQM has been supporting Hazra Sooba Tehreek in KP and the Seraiki movement for a separate province in Punjab in a bid to attain their support for its own demand of a province for Urdu-speaking people of Sindh. However, Hazara province supporters may put their weight behind the MQM but proponents of the Seraiki province would not back the MQM.

But as far as new provinces are concerned the consensus among the main political parties of the country is indeed a healthy political development as the need for new provinces has been felt for a long time. It has been mainly to improve administration as well as equitably distribute national resources among various ethnic groups, communities and regions. With huge federation units, the administration can never be expected to deliver the much-needed social services. Moreover, as the provinces have become the monopolies or duopolies of majority ethnic communities, the rest of ethnic and regional groups in the provinces always feel disempowered and economically and politically marginalized. Yet another important reason for raising demands of creating more provinces in Pakistan has been the virtual domination of Punjab in the parliament at the altar of the rest of the federating units.

Thus, making new provinces is important but this should be very carefully done and in this regard efficient administration must be the aim.