Pakistan: Fragile Sindh Order – Analysis
By Tushar Ranjan Mohanty*
On January 17, 2022, a massive protest was organised at and around the grave of Sindhi nationalist leader Ghulam Murtaza Syed in Sann Town of Jamshoro District. In the protest organised by political activists and people of Sindh to commemorate the 118th birth anniversary of Murtaza Syed, the protestors raised pro-freedom and anti-China slogans. The activists of Jeay Sindh Muttahida Mahaz (JSMM), one of the several groups leading the Sindh ‘freedom movement,’ asked the United Nations to fulfil their demand for freedom from Pakistan, and carried banners such as “United Nations – Pakistan is a terrorist state,” “Sindhi Nation wants freedom of Sindhudesh” and “No China, Go China”. China has moved to take control of the Karachi Coastal Comprehensive Development Zone under the China Pakistan Economic Corridor framework.
Significantly, soon after the creation of Pakistan in 1947, the demand for a separate country was raised by the people of Sindh. The movement gained momentum in 1967 due to the imposition of Urdu on the people of this region. Syed Pir Ali Muhammad Rashid provided the leadership to this movement. Later, in 1972, inspired by the Bangla language movement, there was an agitation by Sindhi language speakers to create a separate country named Sindhudesh.
Though pro-freedom rallies in Sindh have been a regular feature since 1972, they have gained momentum of late. The ‘freedom movement’ in Sindh is led by groups such as JSMM, Jeay Sindh Qaumi Mahaz (JSQM), Jeay Sindh Students’ Federation (JSSF) and Sindh National Movement Party (SNMP).
The ‘freedom movement’ has also received support from armed groups operating in Sindh and Balochistan, where similar demands are being raised by the local populations. The prominent groups include Sindhudesh Revolutionary Army (SRA), Sindhudesh Liberation Army (SLA), Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA), Baloch Republican Army (BRA), Balochistan Liberation Front (BLF) and Baloch Republican Guards (BRG). Notably, on July 25, 2020, to counter state atrocities, Sindhi and Baloch nationalist groups decided to join hands. On that day, the Baloch Raji Ajoi Sangar (BRAS) – a conglomerate of four Baloch ethno-nationalist militant groups – announced an operational alliance with SRA. The four Baloch ethno-nationalist militant groups included BLA (Bashirzeb Baloch faction), BRA (Gulzar Imam faction), BLF, BRG. The common objective of creating this united front against Pakistan was declared to be the ‘liberation’ of Balochistan and Sindh.
These militant groups, to ensure the success of the ‘freedom movement’, have engaged repeatedly in violence in Sindh. According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), Sindh recorded 28 fatalities (19 civilians, three Security Force, SF personnel and six militants) in 2021, as compared to 52 fatalities (21 civilians, 20 SF personnel and 11 militants) in 2020, relating to militant action. Though overall fatalities registered a 46.15 per cent decline, fatalities in the civilian category have more or less remained the same in both the years, demonstrating persistent threats to the civilian population.
Indeed, in a major incident on August 14, 2021, at least 13 persons were killed and several were injured after a mini truck exploded at Mawach Goth in Karachi City. This was the worst attack targeting civilians recorded in the Province since February 16, 2017, when at least 76 people were killed by a suicide bomber who attacked the crowded Sufi shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar in Sehwan Sharif town in Sehwan District.
Civilians remain vulnerable because the SFs, after suffering reverses on the ground in 2020 when the SF:militant kill ratio was in favour of the militants at 1.81:1, became cautious in their anti-terrorist drive. Six terrorists were killed in 2021 as against 11 in 2020. Similarly, 67 terrorists were arrested in 2021 as against 74 in 2020. The last time the SF:militant kill ratio favoured the militants was in 2010, at 2.57:1.
The Provincial capital, Karachi, meanwhile, recorded the highest fatalities in 2021, with 22 killings, followed by Sukkur, three; Khairpur, two; and one in Qambar Shahdad Kot. Sindh has a total of 29 Districts. Karachi recorded 38 fatalities in 2020.
Further, the menace of street crime persists in Karachi. According to the statistics compiled from various sources, including the Citizens-Police Liaison Committee (CPLC), during the year 2021, 15 kidnappings for ransom, 23 extortion cases, 442 homicides and two bank robberies (March and November 2021) were reported, compared to two kidnappings for ransom, 22 extortion cases, 377 homicides and one bank robbery during 2020. [Kidnappings for ransom and extortion tend to be grossly under-reported, as victims and their families come to private settlements with the perpetrators].
Meanwhile, of the 22 militancy-linked killings (19 civilians and three SF personnel) by the militants recorded in the province in 2021, two were attributable to specific groups. While the Baloch separatist BLA claimed one SF killing, the Sindhi separatist SRA claimed the killing of one non-Sindhi Politician of Punjabi ethnicity. Though no one has claimed the August 14 attack, reports suggest the involvement of SRA in the case. Omar Shahid Hamid, Deputy Inspector General of the Counter-Terrorism Department, observed that such groups were suspected because of the timing of the attack. Pakistan celebrates its independence on August 14.
In 2020, out of 21 civilian fatalities recorded in Sindh, the BLA was responsible for 10, while 11 fatalities remained unattributed. Out of 20 SF fatalities recorded in 2020, SRA was responsible for 12, and BLA for one, while seven fatalities remained unattributed.
Evidently, the ban imposed by the Federal Government on May 7, 2020, on Sindhi nationalist groups – SRA, SLA and Jeay Sindh Qaumi Mahaz–Arisar (JSQM-A), the militant wing of JSMM – have failed to deter these groups. In addition to incidents of killing, these groups have also been found to be involved in some other prominent attacks:
May 13: SRA orchestrated an explosion on a railway track near Bhuria Road in Naushahro Feroze District. Though no causality was reported, four feet of the railway track were destroyed, due to which the movement of trains were stopped for the day. According to SRA ‘spokesman’ Sodho Sindhi, the attack targeted an “Eid Special Train” carrying Pakistani military officials from Karachi to Rawalpindi, Punjab. Sodho Sindhi declared that SRA would continue its resistance struggle against colonization and colonial projects in Sindh till independence was achieved.
November 27: SRA cadres killed a Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) politician, identified as Rana Sakhawat Rajput, from Punjab in the Lalu Rain area of Qambar Shahdad Kot District. SRA ‘spokesperson’ Sodho Sindhi claimed that Rana Sakhawat Rajput was the main local facilitator for the Pakistani intelligence network in the area and that “Rajput was found involved in the abductions and martyrdoms of many Sindhi nationalist workers including Jeay Sindh Qaumi Mahaz (JSQM) worker Shaheed Abdul Waheed Lashari.” Lashari’s bullet riddle dead body was recovered from a storm-water drain in Gulshan-i-Maymar area of Karachi on November 27, 2014. Lashari, who was JSQM vice-president of Warah Tehsil in Qambar Shahdadkot District, had been ‘missing’ for the preceding 15 days.
Apart from using brutal force against organisations lending support to the ‘freedom movement’ after banning them, the government continues with its policy of enforced disappearances. According to Pakistan’s Commission of Enquiry on Enforced Disappearances (COIED), Sindh accounted for a total of 1,690 cases of missing persons between March 1, 2011 (the date of inception of the Commission) and December 31, 2021. According to the Commission, of these 1,690 persons, 1,085 were traced – 59 dead bodies, 256 in prisons, 41 in internment centre and 729 returned home. The Commission ‘deleted’ cases of another 435 missing persons, claiming that these were “closed due to not being cases of enforced disappearances, incomplete address, withdrawal by complainants, non-prosecution, etc.” Thus, according to the commission, a total of 1,520 cases were ‘disposed of’, leaving 170 cases ‘under investigation.’
On January 19, 2022, concerned over the Governments’ – both the Federal and the Provincial – approach, the Sindh High Court directed the provincial authorities to constitute an Enforced Disappearance Task Force to exclusively focus on such cases. It directed the Police to use modern technology to trace out missing persons.
There has been a significant improvement in the situation in Sindh, as compared to the three-digit fatalities each year, between 2010 and 2017. Between 2018 and 2021, fatalities have been contained within two digits, as the Islamist terror outfits earlier active in the Province have been brought under control. Violence, however, remains a quotidian fact of life, as pro-freedom insurgent groups strengthen their bases in the province. The use of disproportionate force and tactics such as enforced disappearances against these groups have only helped them gain more support among the masses, pushing up the potential for further escalation.
*Tushar Ranjan Mohanty
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management