Pakistan is at a crossroads, its federal structure severely threatened by provincial independence movements fueled by ethnic tensions, structural political failures and the allocation of tax revenues.
Pakistan is on the brink again after 1971. Intensive decade-long secessionist warfare is underway in Balochistan, and a mass movement, accompanied by low-scale insurgency, has arisen in Sindh, which cast the shadow of popular uprising in March 2012, when hundreds of thousands took to the streets in the provincial capital Karachi, demanding independence for Sindh.
Immediately after that “freedom march” in Karachi, its organizer, and popular freedom movement leader Bashir Qureshi,died under mysterious circumstances. It is widely believed in Sindh that he was poisoned by the security agencies of Pakistan. This concern of the Sindhi people has been validated by the medical investigations report carried out by a medical board formed by the Sindh Health Department and confirmed by the then-home minister of Sindh, Manzoor Wasan, in an interview by a Sindhi daily, Awami Awaz, in Karachi.
Get our free emails
Qureshi’s demise was followed by the murder of another resistance movement leader, Muzaffar Bhutto, who was forcedly disappeared in 2011 at the hands of security agencies, according to the various international and Pakistani human rights bodies. Another brutal act was previously reported in April 2011, when three freedom movement leaders were burned alive by the security agencies in the Sanghar district of Sindh, according to a fact-finding report of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.
Several hundred people are still illegally detained or disappeared across the province.
The popular uprising in Sindh is meaningful because the province contributes a large share to Pakistan’s economy and is the second largest province, home to over 50.54 million people. Moreover, it is the only state that voluntarily became part of Pakistan by adopting the Pakistan Resolution in the Sindh Legislative Assembly in 1946. M.A. Jinnah, founder of the country, was an ethnic Sindhi and died due to health-care negligence by the country’s second line leadership; three ethnic Sindhi prime ministers of Pakistan were illegally dismissed from office by the military during their five terms of government, and two of them were killed in Punjab province. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was executed under General Zia al Haq’s martial law, which is commonly termed judicial murder in Pakistan, and his daughter Benazir Bhutto was assassinated in the backyard of the military’s General Headquarters in Rawlapindi during General Musharaf’s rule in 2007. It is academically well documented by Stephen P. Cohen in his book The Pakistan Army that the armed forces in Pakistan contain an overwhelming ethnic Punjabi majority.
Economic and Fiscal Exploitation
Sindh has contributed a significant 32.7 percent historical average to Pakistan’s GDP; meanwhile, the province’s own GDP per capita is $1,400. Fifteen percent of Sindh’s GDP is lost due to environmental degradation caused mostly by Punjab’s water rights violations as well as by faulty drainage schemes carrying industrial and agricultural waste through Sindh from the higher elevation province of Punjab.
According to the Pakistan Energy Book 2007, an estimated 1,000,415 MMcf (million cubic feet) of natural gas is produced in Sindh, which accounts for 70.77 percent of Pakistan’s total gas production; Sindh produces 13.87 million barrels of oil, which is 56.36 percent of Pakistan’s total oil production. Oil extracted from Sindh had an annual value of $1.75 billion, out of which the province’s financial receipts were 12.5 percent, and the employment share was below 1 percent for ethnic Sindhis. In June 2011, the elected parliament in Pakistan, through the 18th constitutional amendment, transferred authority over the country’s natural resources to the provinces that improved the financial share in their own resources, however the amendment has not yet been implemented, and the authority to negotiate exploration of coal reservoirs in Sindh has been unlawfully handed over to the federal government. It is worth mentioning that unearthed coal reserves in Sindh total 175 billion tons.
Pakistan first explored its natural gas reservoirs in Balochistan during the 1950s, but the province could only utilize those resources for its own residents after 1986, when an armed forces cantonment was established in Quetta, capital of the province. In the past 65 years, only 7 percent of this resource has been utilized by the residents of the Balochistan. Until 2008, Sindh consumed 45 percent of its gas production, while Punjab consumed 930 percent of its total gas production. Despite their highest shares of the natural resources of Pakistan, Sindh and Balochistan are kept out of the development mainstream. This is validated by the Millennium Development Goals Report of 2005 issued by the government of Pakistan, which mentions that the oil-, gas- and coal-rich districts of Sindh and Baluchistan had poor indicators of human development. An estimated 76 percent of Pakistan’s known oil reserves are located in Sindh, but extremely centralized economic and fiscal federalism has given birth to the conflict between the province and the center.
The National Finance Commission (NFC) is the federal fiscal structure, where revenue collected by the provinces is pooled and distributed to the federal and provincial governments every five years. Such a periodic revenue distribution is called an “NFC Award” in Pakistan and has been practiced since 1971. In 1991, provinces received 20 percent and the center 80 percent of the country’s total tax revenue, a proportion reformed in 1997, with 37 percent for the provinces and 63 percent for the center. In 1997, Sindh contributed 65 percent, Punjab 25 percent, Khyber Pakhtunkhuwa 7 percent and Balochistan 3 percent of the country’s tax revenues; however Sindh received 9 percent of the redistributed revenues, Punjab 25 percent, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa 6 percent and Balochistan received 2 percent , while the rest went to the central government. Until 1997, the resource distribution was made on the basis of population, which gave an ultimate edge to the Punjab – which accounts for 60 percent of the country’s total population.
The most recent NFC Award of 2010 was further reformed promising a 57.5 percent share of revenues to the provinces and a 42.5 percent share to the center in 2011. Other factors of distribution given weight along with population were also included. For example, now population accounts for 82 percent of the weighting; poverty, 10.3 percent; revenue generation, 5 percent; and inverse population density, 2.7 percent. Sindh is the greatest loser in this reform, as despite being the major revenue generator, Sindh receives 24.5 percent; meanwhile Punjab receives 51.7 percent as its receipts remain unchallenged because of population; Khyber Pakhtunkhuwa and Balochistan remained reasonable well-taken care of, receiving 14.6 percent and 9.11 percent, respectively, out of the total share of the provinces.
Punjab has a dual economic and fiscal edge – the 82 percent share in the fiscal distribution among the provinces and another major share through the federal civil and military departments – gained primarily from the ethnic Punjabi majority. According to the 2012-13 budget, 18.4 percent of Pakistan’s budget is allocated for the defense, which is higher than any of the civilian budget rubrics for the country, especially because, when combined with overall security expenditures, including the defense, interior and strategic departments, it willamount to at least an estimated 30 percent of the country’s total budget. The ethnic composition of the key security organs – including the ministry of defense, ministry of foreign affairs and interior ministry, along with the armed forces, second-tier armed institutions and law enforcing agencies – is overwhelmingly Punjabi, which ultimately means that the economic flow derived from federal government employment opportunities, procurement and other expenditures is also directed toward Punjab.
Politics of Underdevelopment
According toa poverty assessment in Sindh by Asian Development Bank (ADB) in 2008, due to a growing population and a rise in literacy and migration, nearly 600,000 additional people will be entering the job market each year in Sindh. This is in contrast to the long-term annual job creation rate of 350,000 in the province.
Agro-based industry could provide some relief, but poor law-and-order conditions and weak infrastructure have been a barrier. Industry in Sindh is mainly concentrated in Karachi, except for a handful of units in Hyderabad, Kotri and Sukkur. Until 2008, about 11,500 industrial units were located in Karachi, the capital of Sindh, employing 2.5 million people, but the share of ethnic Sindhi people remained less than 10 percent. That compares poorly to the strength of 45 technical institutions of Sindh in 2008, which registered 18,000 students, out of which 40 percent were from outside Karachi.
Though Karachi is the capital, the admission of students from the rest of the province into the public academic institutions is prohibited due to the legislation passed by the Mutahida Qaumi Movement (MQM)-led government in Sindh during the military rule of general Pervez Musharaf. Constitutionally, the chief minister is the province authority over the higher education institutions, but in Sindh, the governor of the province is the decision maker. A governor in Pakistan is a ceremonious representative of the federation in the provinces. The current governor, who has held the post the last 11 years, belongs to (MQM), a Karachi-based ethnic outfit.
Basically, human resource development initiatives providing equal opportunity are required to create a socio-economic balance between urban and rural areas as well as between Sindh and Punjab.
Sindh has become a microcosm of the climate change. An erratic flow of the Indus River, which brings mega floods once in a while after many years of drought, disastrously aggravates poverty, unemployment and job insecurity.
The Indus flood of 2010 and rain floods of 2011 have intensified the vulnerability of a majority in Sindh. According to the Sindh government, the flood of 2010 wreaked havoc with Sindh by displacing 7.254 million people from 11,992 villages, inundating ripened crops on 24.821 million acres of land and destroying 876,000 houses. The losses for Sindh amount to $1.44 billion in agriculture, $0.12 billion in livestock, $1.42 billion in housing, $380 million in road infrastructure, 550 million in irrigation infrastructure, $41.5 million in health infrastructure, $32.5 million in educational infrastructure, $420 million in urban infrastructure and $100.6 million in the government building damages. Meanwhile, during the rain floods of 2011, around 8.9 million people were displaced, 152 million houses damaged and 6.77 million acres crops devastated. The losses from the 2011 floods were higher than those from the flood of 2010.
The major political struggles in Sindh after 1988 have focused on water shortages in Sindh and some mega irrigation projects like the Kalabagh Dam. The river water shortage has left its adverse effects on the ecological order of Sindh, agriculture, rural economy and culture.
The Indus Delta faces degradation threats. During the past two decades, the sea intrusion has resulted in tidal erosion and salt water despoilation of about 2.2 million acres of land in the Badin and Thatta districts in coastal Sindh, while mangrove forest cover has decreased from about 228,812 hectares to 73,001 hectares. Mangroves provide fuel wood to 1.2 million people, forage to 16,000 camels, and other products to 28,570 households and they shelter inland areas from coastal flooding.
Mangroves act as a shield against active tidal erosion in the area and support thousands of botanical, aquatic and wildlife species and provide a nursery for most of the 44 commercial fish and shrimp species in the deltaic area. All these benefits are dependent on the survival of the mangrove forest, which in turn needs freshwater flow in the estuaries. Unfortunately, the active delta is now only 10 percent of its original area. Sindh requires a minimum of 35 MAF (million acre feet) of water a year for its ecological sustenance and agricultural pursuits. The economic loss due to the Indus Delta devastation is estimated around $120 million annually, which does not include the unquantifiable value of environmental aspects such as biodiversity, habitat and coastal protection.
The peopling of Sindh began with the birth of Pakistan in 1947. It has now become a multiethnic and linguistic province due to migrations from within Pakistan and outside, altering the demographic fabric of its urban hubs. The census in Pakistan has not taken place since 1998. If demographic estimates are carried out today on the basis of 1998 census by including urban-rural and inter-provincial population shifts as well as external migration patterns in the context of broader ethno-linguist groups’ context, the result would be: Sindhis 68 percent; Muhajirs (refugees) 19 percent and rest 17 percent. Muhajirs is a broader category in Sindh that includes Urdu-speaking refugees from India who migrated during the partition of the subcontinent in 1947 and non-Urdu and non-Sindhi Biharis, Gujratis, Rajasthanis, Bengalis and others who migrated from India, Bangladesh and elsewhere in South Asia after 1947. Similarly, in Karachi city, indigenous Sindhi and Sindhi of Balochi, Gujarati and Rajasthani origin comprise around 50 percent of the population; the Urdu-speaking of Indian origin and ethno-linguist Biharis of Bangladeshi origin are below 25 percent and the rest are 25 percent.
The existing political arrangements have threatened the demographic security and sovereignty of Sindhi people in their historic land due to nonexistence of legal and legislative frameworks. Neither the provincial legislature nor the government in Pakistan has first generation migrants or refugees as parliamentarians and ministers. It is in Sindh alone where first generation Punjabi and Pashtun migrants and refugees are both part of parliament and of the cabinet of the provincial government. The movement for demographic security in Sindh is as old as Pakistan itself, but the federation is unwilling to carry such legislation. Besides, federalism in Pakistan essentially enshrines Punjabi dominance, by which the federal legislative parliament contains an overwhelming majority of ethnic Punjabis, rather than a mix of Sindhis, Baloch and Pashtuns. Together, the later three do not form the obligatory two-thirds majority to legislate.
What is to be done?
Pakistan is again at a crossroads, as the reasons that led to the breakup of the country in 1971 exist today with more intensity for the oppressed provinces of Sindh, Balochistan and Pakhtunkhuwa. Essentially, the country requires major reforms of federalism that offer demographic, ethnic, economic, and fiscal as well as development security – and the consequent abolition of the ethnic hegemony of Punjab and its allies.
Until federal reforms, combining proportionate representation and the participation of various provinces is ensured in all forms of statecraft, the freedom movement in Sindh will not only be well-justified, but also the only way out for the poor and marginalized 50 million people of this richest province of Pakistan.