Sindh Can’t Be Forced To Bear The Refugee Burden
As Taliban take over Kabul, Pakistan is preparing for the spillover, with the status of the incoming refugees being heavily debated. On one hand is racist vitriol guised in patriotism, on the other, some want Pakistan to bear the brunt of the mess it helped create. Karachi, always the recipient of waves of refugees, is once again the flashpoint.
Already, violence between Afghans and local population in Sindh is being recorded daily. Despite some legitimacy in Sindh’s concerns, the state-sponsored discourse against the Afghans, upholding bigoted stereotypes of ‘terrorists’ or ‘drug dealers’, is condemnable. Even so, I would separate Sindh from the rest of Pakistan, because of 74 years’ worth of demographical changes, posing existential threat to the indigenous population here.
While the hyper-nationalists express anti-Pashtun bigotry, the traditional discourse of liberal left is epitomised by the argument that the establishment alone is responsible for the Afghan plight, and that Sindhis and Baloch should exist within a monolithic Pakistani identity. The left’s approach, no matter how humane, borrows its optics from the West to universalise the refugee question. Hence, anyone who opposes the influx is equated with Trump, Le Pen, or the AfD.
The so-called third world has its own set of problems. The refugee influx in the centres of capitalism is the result of cheap labour requirement or overseas wars. There, progressive voices oppose anti-immigration discourse and empathise with refugees.
Pakistan, meanwhile, itself is a postcolonial formation, created as a jumble of nationalities, some of which have been reduced to the periphery, forced into the dungeons of history. Here, refugee influx has been consciously used to alter demography, as exemplified by Bengal.
The Pakistani establishment eats its cake and has it too. First it engages in the proxy wars, and then uses the refugees to fulfill its imperial ambitions by altering the demography of peripheries.
This is a classic case of settler colonialism. This is why Fanon, the voice of oppressed nations across the world, said, “the economic base is at the same time the super structure of colonial societies”. Unlike Europe, where capitalism preceded the nation-state, the colonised people experienced capitalism through the colonial state.
Long before Pakistan, the British colonial machinery settled a large number of people in Sindh to contain local uprisings. First in 1890, with the construction of Jamrao Canal, thousands of acres were given to Bugtis and different Punjab tribes. Sarah Ansari`s PhD thesis ‘Sufi Saints and State Power’ and ‘Lambrick Papers’ reveal that on the east bank of river Indus, in three districts Sanghar, Mirpurkhas and Nawabshah, foreigners were settled to contain two phases of historical resistance by Hurs.
After the creation of Karachi port and city, the British facilitated the settlement of merchants from different parts of India, especially Gujarat, to sideline the ‘troublemaking Sindhi Hindu merchant’. French historian Claude Markovitz tells the story of Sindhi merchants who transferred their assets abroad due to discriminatory policies of the colonial regime.
Despite all this, the population in Karachi, and Sindh, was predominantly Sindhi before Partition, after which the demography was altered at an unimaginable pace. In 1947, Sindhi Hindus constituted 51% and indigenous Sindhi and Balochi speaking people 70% of Karachi`s population, but in 1951 Sindhi Hindus were reduced to 2% and indigenous Sindhi speaking people to 10% of Karachi’s population.
Was the migration of millions of people into Karachi, just one year after partition, owing to cheap labour?
Were hundreds of thousands of acres of land in Sindh, irrigated through the construction Kotri and Guddu barrages, and given to the predominantly Punjabi civil and military officers, because of any imperial war?
This is not to say that Burmese, Bengalis and especially Afghan refugees aren’t victims of war, or that Pakistani state’s designs are not responsible for their tragedy. But Sindh itself is under postcolonial design of the Pakistani state, which has altered the province’s demography and forced it to bear the brunt of proxy wars.
As per statistics, 56% of Afghan refugees are in Sindh. Besides, hundreds of thousands of Burmese and Biharis are also settled here.
I denounce the state’s engagement in any imperial or proxy wars and at the same time call upon her to acknowledge people of Sindh as rightful owners of their land. All outsiders should be banned from casting vote or buying property, and be regulated through work permits. All refugees should be sent back to their homeland with dignity, or as per international law, settled in refugee camps. The people of Sindh want constitutional protection like the one accorded to Indian Occupied Kashmir under Article 35-A, the renouncement of which was mourned by the Pakistani liberal left.
Multinational harmony inside a federation can only be achieved through, to borrow the Gramscian phrase, “partial negation”. As I criticise the ruling class of Sindh, so should the progressive voices from KP accept the responsibility of the Pashtun leaders. They have been collaborating with the establishment state since the 60s, and have been complicit in Afghan wars.
Progressive Pashtuns and Punjabis should detach themselves from the ambitions of their ruling class and accept that Sindh belongs to the people of Sindh. It is this solidarity that will build multinational unity in Pakistan.