Is the nationalism card no longer working in Sindh? | Pakistan Today

Is the nationalism card no longer working in Sindh?

  • Old players going strong?

The rise of Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf in recent years has seemed to upset the established order in the political scenery of much of the country. No longer is Punjab considered a hub of the PML-N and KPK of ANP/JI, since PTI has introduced its own stakes in each of the given regions. However, despite trying, the party seems to have let slip the southern province of Sindh from its hands so far. Would this be the year to impose the PTI’s stamp on the province? To test the political temperature of the province, most look to one city alone: the metropolis of Karachi. And that’s where we, too, will head.

The rise of the PTI hasn’t quite ensured the prevalence of justice in the country – as its name would suggest – but it has seemed to steer most political parties away from regional, ethnic, and linguistic politics: PPP can barely be seen flashing the Sindhi card, PML-N the Punjabi card, ANP the Pashtoon card, and MQM, of course, the Mohajir card. And nowhere is this development visible clearer than in Karachi, the Pakistani center of multi-ethnicity.

The political quintessence of the city, MQM, has long been blamed of making votes off of linguistic, nationalistic and ethnocentric politics, playing to the weakness of the only Pakistani community without a land of their own to claim: the Urdu-Speaking Mohajirs. It is true that the party started off as Mohajir Qaumi Movement, however it’s been a while since the Mohajir has been dropped in favour of “Muttahida” – 21 years to be exact.

Skeptics, nevertheless, continued to believe that MQM garnered votes on the Mohajir card, until, perhaps, recently. Steering clear of nationalism, MQM, like other parties of the city, seems to have decided to embrace patriotism as in the past couple of years, Karachi seems to have suddenly turned very “Pakistani”.

The party has decided to field one of its strongest horses – Dr Arif Alvi – in the toughest constituency of the city, NA-247, where his opponents will be Farooq Sattar, Mustafa Kamal and Jibran Nasir

All of its major political players all of a sudden have “Pakistan” in their name: PAKISTAN People’s Party, PAKISTAN Tehrik-i-Insaf, PAK Sarzameen Party, and, most recently, Muttahida Qaumi Movement –PAKISTAN. Have all of its major political parties swapped their Sindhi, Pashtoon, Balochi, Punjabi, and Mohajir cards for the Pakistan card? If yes, then know it that most of these prominent political parties are looking to play very defensively in this critical area, especially Karachi-centric MQM and PSP.

Over the years that followed Zia’s demise, MQM has perhaps grown too accustomed to the idea of having Karachi to itself; so much so that it considers even its seasoned opponents – PPP and JI – an undeserving nuisance. However, following that fateful August 22 two years ago, and all the drama that has followed, has dealt MQM a blow that has forced it into a very uncomfortable and uncertain corner, forcing it to find itself in un-chartered territory: their domination in Karachi is no longer a “given”.

Come July, it would be most interesting to see how all the splintered factions of MQM would gather themselves and present its candidates for the national and provincial elections – if they even choose to contest the elections.

The new kid on the block, PSP of ex-MQM faithful Mustafa Kamal, is another contestant looking to base its success on – and in – Karachi. Considering the fact that it only recently decided to contest the elections on its own, instead of in an alliance, shows that the party has thus far lacked confidence with regards to the upcoming vote. This delay in taking a definitive decision comes in stark contrast to the party founder’s tall claims of bagging more votes in Karachi than any other party in the last 70 years.

However, the lack of confidence is natural: PSP simply does not have a lineup comparable to its opponents. How many seats can it possibly hope to win with Anis Kaimkhani, Raza Haroon, Anis Advocate, and, most recently, Fauzia Kasuri?

Compare this line-up to PPP’s recently announced: Bilawal Bhutto Zardari (Larkana-I and Karachi South-I), Asif Ali Zardari (Shaheed Benazirabad-I, formerly Nawabshah) former Chief Minister of Sindh, Syed Murad Ali Shah, former Mayor of Nawabshah, former President of PPP’s Women’s Wing and Asif Ali Zardari’s sister, Faryal Talpur, and former speaker of the Sindh assembly, Shehla Raza, to name a few.

It is hard to dispute the fact that PPP’s presence can be felt very strongly in both rural and urban Sindh, making it very much “Sindh’s own”: not Karachi’s, not Hyderabad, but Sindh’s. So much so that arch-rival MQM’s leader Farooq Sattar recently admitted to the throttle hold of the party on the cabinet of the southern province.

So even if the party finds itself in its own quandary up north – with senior members of the party, brothers Anwar and Salim Saifullah, as well as Khanzada Khan choosing not to contest the elections on a PPP ticket in northern Punjab, and Abdul Qayyum Jatoi and Hamid Saeed Kazmi choosing to do the same down in southern Punjab – the newly unsheathed “sword” looks set to work swiftly as ever in its stronghold of Sindh. Perhaps, the party doesn’t have to say it in so many words but, in truth and in action, PPP still is playing its Sindh card, and it is thus far functioning quite seamlessly.

Last, but not the least, bringing us to a full circle: PTI is also steadily becoming a force to be reckoned with in Sindh. The contestants it has fielded for the Sindh Assembly may not be a good indicator of its growing strength in the provincial capital – it has chosen to announce candidates in just three constituencies of the mega city – however the popular sentiment is quickly growing in favour of the party as the city’s educated foundation finds the party’s anti-corruption “tabdeeli” slogan very appealing. Importantly, the party has decided to field one of its strongest horses – Dr Arif Alvi – in the toughest constituency of the city, NA-247, where his opponents will be Farooq Sattar, Mustafa Kamal and Jibran Nasir. It’s the Constituency of Death of the upcoming elections, in football speak.

Would the one who takes NA-247 take the city? Perhaps. But would the one who takes rural Sindh take the province? More certainly. And that’s where PPP takes the lead from its opponents.