What’s wrong with Sindh governments?


Babar Ayaz

The induction of the new Sindh government is now complete, hopefully. By any standard, a large cabinet was sworn in to aid the new and yunger chief minister, Murad Ali Shah, who has replaced the octogenarian “man for all seasons,” Qaim Ali Shah. Stanford-educated Murad is 30 years younger than his predecessor. These two personal qualities have raised the hope that being younger he may provide energetic leadership to the province, and as a foreign qualified person the governance would be more structured than before.
But there are also doubts that as long shadows of the “trinity” — the father, the son and the sister — lurk on the Sindh government, onl a cosmetic change should be expected in spite of the vigour shown by the new chief minister in his first few days. That is one of the main misfortunes of Sindh since the inception of the country.
Let’s peep back in the history of Sindh to understand why governments have been ineffective in the province that has suffered immensely. Of the 69 years of Pakistan’s existence, provincial governments have existed only for 34 years. In these 34 years Sindh has had 21 governments, meaning they survived at an average of one and a half year each. The very first government of Sindh led by Ayub Khuhro was dismissed in eight months. His fault was that he was unhappy with the central government’s decision to annex Karachi as the federal capital city. This decision resulted in robbing the best city of the province and shifting of the provincial capital to Hyderabad. Being the only port city Karachi had the great potential to grow in the new state of Pakistan. Seeds of discord among the locals and migrants were thus sown. By 1951, five governments had changed, followed by the governor rule that was imposed in December 1953.
In the next two years two governments were changed before the provinces were abolished, and One Unit was established to create an artifcial parity with East Pakistan. This was an unjust move to deprive the people of East Pakistan of their majority status, and to take away the rights of the smaller provinces (Sindh and North-Western Frontier Province) in West Pakistan to rule themselves. Balochistan was not even given the status of a province at that time.
After a long interlude of over 17 years, and at the cost of losing half the country, provinces were re-established in 1972, following a long, consistent movement against One Unit in East Pakistan and the smaller provinces of the Western wing.
In 1972, Pakistan People’s Party’s (PPP) government was established in the province led by Mumtaz Ali Bhutto, the talented cousin of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. But within one and a half year, Zulfiqar felt that his cousin was a man of his own mind who would not take orders from the centre. Therefore, he was replaced with an amiable Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi, who lasted till the 1977 July military coup.
After seven years of military rule, General Zia-ul-Haq held elections in 1985 on a non-party basis. Two governments were removed by 1988 when after General Zia’s mysterious killing, in what appeared to be an internal coup, elections were held to restore democracy in the country.
In the next 28 years, but not without long interruptions by governor rules, 15 governments including the incumbent have ruled the Sindh province. The PPP has had the longest rule over the province, and former chief minister Qaim Ali Shah had the longest term in all the three stints put together.
Two factors emerge from this narration showing why the success of Sindh governments have failed to deliver: first, the life of the elected in provincial governments has been at an average less than two years; second, none of these governments had a free hand as the central government always liked to keep the remote control of the province in its hand.
And that’s not all. Even when there has been the PPP government in the centre, in the province the PPP’s leadership wanted a weak chief minister and an obedient provincial government. We have seen in the recent past that the PPP’s leadership was meddling in the day-to-day affairs of the government, and even the cases of appointments and promotions was not in the hands of the ministers and the chief minister.
The province of Sindh has also many other complexities that make it difficult to govern. It has at least three major power centres besides the elected government: army and Rangers, PPP leadership, and Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) leadership in the urban centres. The urban-rural divide, unfortunately, is also an ethnic divide. In the absence of a strong local government there is a perpetual power struggle for control over the urban areas. At the one end, there is the provincial government, which is predominantly elected from the rural areas, and at the other there is the middle class, mohajir urban leadership. This has made the province very difficult to rule.
Most of the rural areas are represented by big, quasi-feudal families of Sindh. The present composition of the new provincial cabinet is a good example of these families’ control on the politics of the province. The composition of the cabinet is not on the basis of what is required to manage different departments of the provincial government, but it is to satisfy all big landlords of rural Sindh, keeping an eye on the 2018 elections. Once these feudal lords become ministers they treat their respective departments like their own fiefdom. Most ministers also use this opportunity to benefit their personal financial positions, and tragically, they are quite blatant about it. A major drawback of the PPP in Sindh has been that it doesn’t have much following in the urban areas. It is almost like abdicating the urban Sindh by the PPP to the MQM, which is also evident from the composition of the provincial cabinet.
In this backdrop, not much hope should be pinned on the new chief minister and his team for bringing a change in the fortune of the province. But all said and done, if he succeeds in improving the abysmal management of the province, nobody is going to stop him from doing that. And if he is successful in this very mundane task, I would vote for him in the next elections.