Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Daily Times Editorial May 24, 2012

Fire and blood in Sindh The unprovoked and deliberate attack on a peaceful rally called by the Awami Tehreek (AT) in Karachi on Tuesday against the Mohajir sooba (province) campaign resulted in 11 people being killed and dozens wounded. In addition, vehicles, shops and homes were set on fire. To add further grief, when the rally participants staged a sit-in to protest the attack, the gunmen returned and fired at the crowd again. The AT’s rally had been joined by the banned People’s Amn Committee and other Sindhi nationalist groups. The law enforcement agencies, which reportedly disappeared mysteriously from their duty of protecting the rally just before the attack began, arrived in strength after the attack and fired indiscriminately at the crowd, adding insult to injury. Far from restoring order, the law enforcers exacerbated the tragedy, fuelling greater anger amongst the survivors. The question of the role of the law enforcement agencies in this incident must be investigated and responsibility for the debacle fixed. What is strange about the whole affair is that if the ruling PPP was aware of the possibility of trouble at the rally, as their spokespeople are now claiming, why did they not take adequate security measures to prevent the loss of life and property? The AT and other Sindhi nationalist groups in response called for a strike on Wednesday which, according to reports by the time these lines were being written, was almost complete in interior Sindh and at least partially successful in Karachi. The strike has been supported by the PML-N and PTI, which also condemned the killings. That led Federal Interior Minister Rehman Malik to claim that Nawaz Sharif was conspiring with the Sindhi nationalists against the PPP. Reports say Maula Buksh Chandio had words with Rehman Malik in a cabinet meeting on the issue of what Chandio called his inappropriate statement. Chandio argued the PPP would have to return to its Sindhi constituency for votes in the next election and that the nationalists were their brothers. The exchange reflects the internal tensions in the PPP, with the federal and Sindh governments inclined to adopt a stance that smacks of either collaboration with or at the very least turning a blind eye to those responsible for the massacre. The finger of suspicion in this case too is pointed at the MQM, which also stands accused of being the moving spirit behind the Mohajir province campaign. The incident recalls the massacre of May 12, 2007 in Karachi, on the occasion of Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry’s visit to the city, when processions coming to the airport to receive him were attacked and many lost their lives. Unfortunately that incident still begs investigation and closure. Arguably, if the perpetrators are the same set of forces, they must have been emboldened by being able to get away with the 2007 attack. To add to the seething anger in interior Sindh, the discovery of the dumped body of Muzaffar Bhutto, Secretary General of the Jeay Sindh Muttahida Mahaz, who had been missing since three months, has fired up the nationalists. After the controversy surrounding the death (allegedly by poisoning) of the Jeay Sindh Qaumi Mahaz leader Bashir Qureshi not long ago, this kill and dump incident (reminiscent of what has been going on since long in Balochistan), is sure to arouse militant sentiment amongst the Sindhi nationalists. The latter are now openly accusing the PPP, with which they are rivals in wooing the same Sindhi constituency, of collaboration with the MQM against them. True or not, the accusation is indicative of tings to come. Unless the Karachi incident and the death of Muzaffar Bhutto (and Bashir Qureshi before him) are satisfactorily investigated and the perpetrators of these crimes brought to justice, Sindh faces the horrifying prospect of ethnic bloodshed in the days ahead. Given its strategic position in terms of having the main port and industrial commercial centre of the country on its shore, if Sindh explodes into ethnic conflict, the country’s struggling economy could be reduced to a cadaver. The PPP in particular has to distance itself from any hint of collaboration with any forces bent upon provoking conflict in Sindh, whether in the form of the demand for the division of Sindh or what appears now to be a concerted campaign of repression against the Sindhi nationalists. Balochistan offers a salutary lesson in how repression only makes political conflicts worse. Let not Sindh go down the same road.

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