“Are you from the Pakistani army or the Sindh army?” – This Quote from the New York Times Shook Us

Last week, we wrote an article titled The 2010 Flood in Pakistan Similar Disasters, Similar Consequences? The point of this article was to compare today’s flood with the deadliest cyclone on record that hit East Pakistan in 1970.  It is a matter of fact that the mishandling of that 1970 disaster by the Panjabi-Pakistani regime prompted a struggle for secession of Bangladesh from Pakistan. We wondered whether a similar mishandling of today’s flood by today’s Panjabi-Pakistani regime might create the environment for a secessionist movement by the Pashtuns.

This week we ask whether we were too narrow in our analysis. A recent Op-Ed article by Ali Sethi, Pakistan, Drowning in Neglect , in the New York Times has made us reconsider. Page 3 of this article describes a confrontation between a Policeman from the province in Sindh  and a major of the Panjabi-Pakistani Army. Read the quote:

  • It was turning into a fight between the provinces,” said the policeman darkly. “But then, I asked the major, ‘Are you from the Pakistani army or the Sindh army?’ And that shook him. He understood what I was saying. He apologized and withdrew the excavators.”

We cannot overemphasize the importance of the words. A policeman, from the province of Sindh, asked a Major, from the province of Panjab, whether he was of Pakistan or Sindh? In other words, the policeman used the word Pakistan, ostensibly his country’s name, to mean the dominant province of Panjab and he called his own province as Sindh.And this policeman from Sindh had the guts to confront a major from the all powerful Panjabi-Pakistani Army over rights of his province.

A couple of years ago, another NYT article quoted a Pashtun Taleban guy telling the NYT reporter in Peshawar that “the Pakistanis know what we have for lunch“. He was referring to the close supervision of the Taleban movement by the Panjabi-Pakistani Army. This time, it was a Pashtun who used the word Pakistan to refer to the dominant province of Panjab.

This is the reality of the regime that calls itself Pak-i-Stan, the land of the Pure, a polyglot regime created artificially by lumping four different ethnic people in to a land under the banner of a homeland of the Muslims in the Indian Subcontinent. We first wrote about this reality on August 9, 2008 in our article Why are they called “Stans” and why is “Pak-i-Stan” unique?

In that article, we wrote:

  • Today, Pakistan consists of four distinct ethnic groups. However, the Army and the country’s administrative establishment is dominated by the Panjabi Muslim community. None of the other three ethnic groups are happy or content with this domination.

The map below shows the geographical breakdown of the four ethnic groups:

(Pink – Baluchi, YellowSindhi, Grey – Panjabi, Green – Pashtun)

The Pashtun have been the most vocal in their struggle against the dominant Panjabi-Pakistani regime. Our basic stance has been that the conflict in Af-Pak is at its core a Pashtun Nationalist Movement. One leadership of this movement is led by the secular Awami National Party. This party won the last election decisively but it has no real power. The second leadership of this movement is the Pashtun Taleban.

The Panjabi-Pakistani Army knows this very well and so all their anti-terror attacks have been on the Taleban who are fighting the Panjabi-Pakistani Army. In contrast, they have never touched the Taleban commanders who are fighting the American forces in Afghanistan.

The Baluchis and the Sindhis have always resented the Panjabi-Pakistani regime. But their resources are limited and the public outrage has been relatively muted. But according to the New York Times article, the flood, the neglect and the visible favoritism towards Panjab by the Panjabi-Pakistani regime seems to be making people more angry and less tolerant. The policeman quoted in the NYT article might be just one face of this deep anger.

The anger and ethnic tensions in Sindh have been described in this week’s Wall Street Journal article Crush of Refugees Inflames Karachi by Tom Wright. Read this article and see how many times Wright uses the word “Sindhi Nationalist“.

The city of Karachi used to be a commercial capital of the entire regime and the pride of Sindh. Today, it is a city of 18 million people beset with ethnic rivalries. It is still run by Mohajirs, or the immigrants from India who came in 1947. They quickly seized power and drove out the peaceful Sindhi community. Then Karachi saw a large migration of Pashtuns from the Pashtunistan area near the line of control with Afghanistan.

Karachi has seen violent battles with the Mohajirs and the battle-hardened Pashtuns. Now, Mr. Wright points out that hundreds of thousands of Sindhis are seeking shelter in Karachi. “The wave of Sindhi flood migrants may be harder to counter“, writes Tom Wright, “Sindhis are Karachi’s indigenous ethnic group.”

He quotes Safdar Sarki, president of Jeay Sindh Tehrik, a Sindh nationalist party, as saying “If one million Sindhis came here, the demography would be changed. These people are trying to get rid of Sindhis and dominate Karachi to show that Karachi belongs to them. It’s totally immoral.

To complicate matters, President Asif Ali Zardari is an ethnic Sindhi and as such he is disliked by the predominantly Panjabi-Pakistani regime. Any attempt to oust him by the Panjabi-Pakistani regime might backfire and provide another visible grievance for the Sindhi Nationalists.

As we said above, our article of last week might have been too narrow in its outlook. This time, the regime called the Land-of-the-Pure might see more than one nationalistic movement, the Pashtun struggle, a new Sindhi movement and the quiet simmering Baluch revolt.

For some reason known to itself, the Obama Administration has made the stability of the Panjabi-Pakistani regime its core objective in Af-Pak. The massive floods that have devastated the land have exposed the artificial construction of this regime and given life to deep seated nationalist movements. The simple one-variable calculus of the Obama Administration just became multi-variable. And as any college student knows, multi-variate calculus is a very different game.

Send your feedback to [email protected]