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Minorities At Risk Project: Home    

Assessment for Sindhis in Pakistan

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Pakistan Facts
Area:    803,943 sq. km.
Capital:    Islamabad
Total Population:    159,196,336,000 (source: CIA World Factbook, 2004, est.)

Risk Assessment | Analytic Summary | References



Risk Assessment

Sindhis are unlikely to take their political opposition to the level of rebellion, although radical organizations like the Jeay Sindh and the Sindh National Party have been accused of low levels of violence in the past. However, Sindhi protest is more likely, although the return of Sindhi-led civilian rule mitigates that risk significantly.. While inter-ethnic violence in the Sindh province has been a real problem in the past, intercommunal cooperation has grown since 2000, with fragile coalitions forming between Sindhis and Mohajirs, Baluchis and Pashtuns. With these ethnic groups banding together in protest against the Musharraf government, the risk for intercommunal violence is fairly low. However, it is still too soon to tell if these cross-ethnic alliances will endure with the return to civilian rule. Political stability in Sindh will depend on the continuance and growth of this alliance. The strengthening of this alliance could also facilitate meeting the sometimes desperate resource needs of both indigenous and immigrant populations in Sindh.

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Analytic Summary

Sindhis are the original inhabitants of the lower Indus River basin, including what is now the Sindh province, located in the southeastern corner of Pakistan, where they are still heavily concentrated (GROUPCON =3). The country’s most diverse state, Sindh is also the home of Mohajirs, Baluchs, Pashtuns and Punjabis. Traditionally Hindus, some Sindhis converted to Islam under the Moghul Empire. Upon partition in 1947, many remaining Hindu Sindhi emigrated to India, while Urdu-speaking Indian Muslims, called Mohajirs, took their place, concentrating in urban areas in the Sindhi province. Influxes of Punjabis from Pakistan’s overcrowded northeast, Baluchis from the underdeveloped west, and Afghan and Pakistani Pashtuns from the northern territories have also crowded into Sindh, threatening Sindhi control of their own region.

Unlike other non-Punjabi groups, Sindhis have led two national governments, under Z.A. Bhutto and his daughter Benazir Bhutto, through the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). The execution of Z.A. Bhutto in 1979 by the Punjabi general Ziaul Haq further exacerbated tension between the two ethnic groups and led to a political situation that has counter-posed Sindhi-led civilian movements against a Punjabi-led military establishment for control of the Pakistan government bureaucracy. The corruption trials of Benazir Bhutto and her husband, instigated by the Punjabi Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in the 1990s, have led to further disintegration of ethnic relations; in 2002, the registration of cases involving Ms. Benazir Bhutto continued to complicate relations. Sharif also began mass arrests of Sindh politicians in 1999, a situation that ended only with the military coup of Musharraf.

Sindhi protest has closely mirrored the rise and fall of PPP-led governments, peaking during times of military (i.e. Punjabi) rule (PROT94-PROT97 = 3; PROT98 = 4). While the Musharraf coup was initially welcomed by opposition groups, including Sindhi political parties, those groups quickly became disillusioned by Musharraf’s promises to restore democracy. The honeymoon had ended by early 2000, and Sindhi protest has increased since then (PROT01-06 = 3). Some examples of protest include a 2001 protest against the building of a canal in the Sindh province and a 2003 hunger strike against the closures of a dozen Sindhi newspapers. While Sindhis are not responsible for all the protests in the Sindhi province, police in the Sindhi province reported that in the first 5 months of 2002, 1457 agitational activities took place in the province, 15 percent of which were by the Sindhis (The Pakistan Newswire, June 11, 2002). Between April and May 2006, Sindhi organizations organized several protest rallies against the state’s demolition of Sindhi villages in Karachi and Hyderabad (PROT06 = 3).

Sindhis are fragmented in their political organization as well as religiously. Some Sindhis are Hindu, although the large majority are Muslim (BELIEF = 0). Despite this, Sindhis still share a strong identity. Among Muslim Sindhis, many practice a Sufi Islam, which rejects the politicization of religion. Hence, most Sindhi political organizations have a distinctly secular outlook. Sindhi political organization began at partition. However, Sindhi political organizations did not rise to national prominence until the first general elections in 1970, which the PPP dominated in (West) Pakistan. Sindhi political aspirations are expressed primarily through the PPP, which has opted for conventional electoral politics and nonviolence (GOJPA06 = 2). With continued Punjabi military rule and deeply flawed electoral politics at the local and national level (which returned in 2001 after being suspended), Sindhis, Mohajirs, Pashtuns and Baluchis formed a fragile coalition, demanding such things as a more equitable distribution of resources, more economic opportunities and more legitimate democratic institutions and processes.

Resentment of the influx of other ethnic groups in their home province underlies much political action of Sindhis. Sindhis have also had their voting rights somewhat restricted since the government failed to release the 1998 census figures and most likely has underestimated the population of the Sindh province (POLDIS06 = 3). The leaders of the PPP prefer autonomy with widespread powers for the Sindh province. More radical Sindhi groups, including the Jeay Sindh Qaumi Mahaz and the Sindh National Party, emerged in the 1980s, agitating for Sindh independence (POLGR04-06 = 4).

While many Sindhis are middle class (which has provided much of the political base for the PPP), most are rural poor. In recent years, economic discrimination against Sindhis has worsened, particularly in the industrial sector and government employment. Consequently, Sindhi poverty rates are approximately twice the national average (ECDIS06 = 2). Sindhis have demanded the enactment of laws to protect the rights of the Sindhi worker , though such demands have not been expressed in recent years. Group members encounter no significant cultural restrictions, although Sindhi-language schools have faced substantial societal discrimination (CULPO206 = 1). The promotion of Sindhi language in schools and universities is very important (CULGR04-06 = 2). While intercommunal violence between Mohajirs (as represented by the MQM) and Sindhis led to the death of thousands during the 1980s and early 1990s, peaking in 1995, there have been no clear instances of violence since 2001. However, in 2004, Jeay Sindh Qaumi Mahaz leader Gul Bhatti was shot to death by two unidentified gunmen. In 2007, Benazir Bhutto was assassinated in a suicide attack on her car involving an explosion and gunfire. A Sindhi-led civilian government was elected in 2008, which should lead to an improvement in the political status of Sindhis.

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References

Cohen, Stephen Philip. 2004. The Idea of Pakistan. Washington DC: Brookings Institute Press.

Lexis/Nexis. Various news reports. 2001-2006.

Library of Congress. "Country Profile: Pakistan."

Shah, Sayed Mehtab Ali. 1997. "Ethnic tensions in Sindh and their possible solution." Contemporary South Asia 6(3).

U.S. Department of State. Country Reports on Human Rights Practices. 2001-2006.

Verkaaik, Oskar. 2004. Migrants and Militants: Fun and Urban Violence in Pakistan. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

World Sindhi Institute. Various reports. www.worldsindhi.org.

Ziring, Lawrence. 1993. "Benazir Bhutto: A Political Portrait." Asian Affairs. 18:3.

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Information current as of December 31, 2006