Monday, May 25, 2009

Ethno-Nationalist Parties in Sindh React to IDPs Arrival

Editorial: Reaction to IDPs in Sindh
Daily Times, May 25, 2009

Just as the army was engaged in battle with the Taliban inside Mingora in Swat, the internally displaced persons (IDPs) from the region were facing hostile reaction in Sindh. At the call of the MQM, the Jeay Sindh Qaumi Mahaz and other “nationalist” forces, the province of Sindh experienced a virtual shutdown on Saturday in response. Outside Karachi, the strike was more or less peaceful, except in Hyderabad where there was heavy firing reported from many localities; a coaster and a car were set ablaze in Tandojam, and an agriculture department jeep was torched in Qasimabad. Scores of JSQM activists were arrested in Khairpur, Nawabshah and Mirpurkhas for forcing shopkeepers to close their shops.

In Karachi, the stronghold of the MQM, matters were different. During a near-total shutdown, a woman was killed when the rioters set a bus on fire while she was still inside. Three people were killed despite increased deployment of both police and Rangers, and young men on motorcycles torched at least 15 vehicles in the city, including several buses, two water tankers and a motorcycle. The reaction from the ANP, which defends the rights of the IDPs to take shelter anywhere in Pakistan, is a threat once again to resign from the Sindh cabinet. As usual, Mr Imran Khan has “slammed” the government’s decision to deny the Swat IDPs entry into Sindh even as the Sindh government denies it has banned entry to them.

The PPP federal information minister says the government is simply registering the IDPs before letting them into Sindh, and that takes time at the provincial border posts. The interior minister, Mr Rehman Malik, however, is clearly sticking to a policy of keeping the IDPs from scattering all over Pakistan. He says anyone leaving the NWFP and seeking refuge outside it will not get government aid. But the prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gilani, says the IDPs have the right to go anywhere in Pakistan, keeping in mind the Constitution of Pakistan which gives this right to them. Despite this, someone has gone to court in Karachi against anyone opposing the IDPs’ rights in this connection. But the picture is not as black and white as it appears.

Registration of IDPs was shown on TV as it was being done on the Sindh border. It is not an easy process for those who conduct it and for those who are subjected to it. The point made in favour of registration is that government aid will start flowing on this condition. But what if the IDPs say they don’t want any government aid? (This is what some of them actually said.) The other reason, however, is more worrisome, and that is that the government wants to make sure no Taliban terrorists are going in along with them. It is worrisome because one is not sure how the government plans to stop a Taliban onslaught in Karachi by this act of registration. There are already enough Taliban in Karachi to do the job and many of them are caught virtually everyday confessing that they have been “sent” by the Taliban high command to cause havoc in the city.

The reaction from the MQM is well known, but the new “solidarity” with their old foe on the party of the “nationalists” tells us that the fear of another migratory wave in Sindh is being felt despite all the sympathy expressed for the Swat IDPs at the national level. In this situation, the PPP too is likely to be defensive in not wanting to lose Sindhi votes to the nationalists. The riposte from these Sindhi parties is: that they too feel for them but why not settle them in Punjab? We are thus back to the old argument. The refugee will go where he has a community of co-ethnics to look after him. He will go in the direction where there are jobs on offer. And Karachi is a job magnet, not only for Pakistanis, but for the whole of Asia. The biggest irony, however, is that the IDPs are running away from the atrocities of their co-ethnic Taliban; and where they are going there are many co-ethnics who are ready to do the bidding of the Taliban.

But the war we are fighting today must be fought to the end. All the related difficulties can be dealt with, but not the consequences of abandoning it and going back to the status quo ante of gradually yielding ground to terrorism.

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