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Local Government Ordinance 2012: A Move Towards The Division Of Sindh?

Posted on November 30, 2012 in GlobeScope

By Batool Zahid:

Sindh is one of the four provinces present in Pakistan and has been home to the Sindhi people. Its history dates back to the time when Alexander the Great crossed Sindh and was being ruled by the Hindus. In 712 A.D, Muhammad Bin Qasim, an Arab warrior conquered this region and set a firm foot–bringing Islam in the sub-continent. It lost its independence to British rule in 1843, while when Pakistan gained freedom from colonial rule in 1947, it voted to join the former. Sindhi is the official language of the province, but contains many communities like Punjabis, Seraikis, Baluchis, Pashtuns and the Urdu-speaking Mohajirs. There are some tribes which claim to be descendents of Arabs and Persians as well.

The ethno-political equation in Sindh is such that Karachi being the largest city of the province is dominated by the Urdu-speaking population, majority of whom came from India after partition. They are largely represented by Muttahida Quomi Movement (MQM). Then there are Pashtuns from Khyber Pakhtun Khwa (KPK) represented by Awami National Party (ANP), whilst the Sindhi-speaking and other inhabitants have a mixed affiliation composed of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Muslim League factions. Parts of the province other than the urban Karachi and Hyderabad are mainly under the influence of the ruling PPP, while the nationalistic parties such as Awami Tehreek and Jeay Sindh Qoumi Mahaz (JSQM) also enjoy support of a few people.

Amid protests, Sindh Peoples Local Government Ordinance (SPLGO) was passed on October 1, 2012 by the Sindh Assembly, thereby introducing a new local bodies system in the province. This was result of a coalition between MQM and PPP–they not only came into a mutual agreement but also formed an electoral alliance for the next elections. This passage has raised a lot of disapproval, especially amongst nationalist circles.

The bill provides and regulates the local affairs of towns and local councils in Sindh and is in actuality of dual nature.

Some of the main pointers are that the ordinance will over-ride all previous local laws; Councils will work under the provincial government, will adhere to federal and provincial laws and will not exercise impediments against the executive authority of government. The decentralized control of the offices, operation and management set up under this ordinance will be under the Metropolitan Corporations and District Councils. Unions have been eliminated with Metropolitan Corporations in their place comprising only districts of Karachi, Hyderabad, Sukkur, Mirpurkhas and Larkana.

The Police Order of 2002 has also been restored. We have a mayor, a deputy mayor and an opposition leader — with mayor having the power to hold, transfer or acquire any property or enter into contract. The job of the mayor would be to provide a vision for development and its execution, take charge and plan budget and prepare for relief work during natural disasters.

The term Chief Officer will be used in place of District Coordination Officer in five districts. In the other 18 districts of Sindh, a Commissionerate system will be implemented and the mayor will have control and will be able to pass an order, rule or a government policy on matters of revenue and finances. In addition, the mayor’s approval will be needed on other imperative decisions and policies on top.

There have been immense discussions on the pros and cons of this ordinance. The new order which was passed has strengthened the relations between the two parties–PPP and MQM, which were strained for quite some time. This process made both the parties a hybrid version and the outcome showed a democratic agreement between the two parties in a mature way. This has in a way made the Urdu-speaking community happy as they see their representatives on higher posts.

Since the day this legislation has been passed, interior Sindh has seen a sudden rise in target killings which are said to be done by Sindhu Desh Liberation Army (SDLA) who has a perception that indigenous Sindhis are being deprived of their political power by outsiders. The latest attacks were targeted toward Faryal Talpur (sister of President Zardari)’s rally in Khairpur along with bombs planted near residential units of PPP leaders such as Nafeesa Shah, Ayaz Soomro and Nisar Khuhro. Members of nationalist groups like PML-F, ANP, and JSQM have carried out massive protests and strikes against the ordinance, labelling it as a “The Black Law”.

There are quite a lot of voices against this order. To name a few; there are conditions regarding pro-poor development and a rift between the Urdu-speaking and Sindhi-speaking people and has divided Sindh administratively, which might fan a civil war. Some of the clauses are discriminatory in nature, thus widening the gap between the rural and the urban Sindh and in turn, bringing the people from different ethnicities in rivalry. This ordinance does not seem to be in favour of any district: urban or rural, and divides the people of Sindh economically, ethnically and linguistically and lastly, politically. It has not only disempowered, but also disenfranchised the Sindhi speaking people in their own province, portraying a dual administration. It unfairly gives infinite rights to MQM to control the urban class and eradicate, marginalise other ethnic groups, especially from urban Sindh.

As per critics, this bill is a conspiracy to divide Sindh. Political groups are already disorganized at a micro-level in Pakistan; there have been historical constraints in terms of the avenues for collective action, and the elite political settlements become the primary tools for structural and administrative reforms. Political elites in parties find solutions and settle for lesser gains, which are examined and determined by perception of who would lose the most in the disagreement, by external pressures and structural factors. The divide is so drastic that it will literally allow the two main parties of the province to rule Sindh, forever!

I believe that such devolution of power will in turn lead to anarchy. The law is already showing dualism which will lead to a complete division of Sindh, in terms of both ethnicity and governance. Forming a local government is not an issue, but people from Sindh have their concerns which are still unanswered.

Illustration by Auroba Tariq