By B. Raman
President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan was in Beijing from June 5 to 7, 2012, to attend the summit of the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation (SCO) of which Pakistan, like India, Iran and Afghanistan, is an observer.
During Zardari’s stay in Beijing, officials of the two countries signed three memoranda of understanding (MoUs) covering supply of water from Tarbela to Islamabad, the establishment of a Special Economic Zone in the proposed new city Zulfikarabad in Sindh and the building there of 6,000 flats on private-public partnership basis. They also signed an agreement for Chinese assistance in the de-silting of canals and barrages in the Sindh province.
After Mr. Zardari’s return from China, it was reported that he has directed the Sindh Government to identify a million acres (4,000 km²) of land near the coast in Thatta district for the development of the proposed new city, in memory of the late Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. The proposed location of the city would be near Jherek in Thatta district.
It was also reported that Mr. Zardari sought Chinese assistance to make Zulfikarabad into a major special economic zone patterned after Shenzhen in southern China’s Guangdong province where China’s first SEZ was set up and where the Chinese economic miracle started.
Reports about Mr. Zardari’s plans to create, with Chinese assistance, a Pakistani Shenzhen in the Thatta area of Sindh have caused serious concerns among sections of the Sindhi nationalists, who fear that the Chinese-aided project might result in the eviction of the Sindhi peasants from the area and the ingress of a large number of Punjabi businessmen and ex-servicemen into the area to make the city a Punjabi Shenzhen in the heart of Sindh.
The protesting Sindhi nationalists claim that the Chinese-aided construction of the Gwadar port in Balochistan resulted in the ingress of a large number of Punjabi businessmen and construction companies into the area, transforming Gwadar, which was essentially a Baloch fishing village, into a Punjabi colony in the heart of Balochistan.
Many Sindhis fear that a similar fate might befall Thatta and that the Punjabis would be the ultimate beneficiaries of the project. Mr.Zardari’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), which strongly supports the project, has undertaken a campaign to educate the Sindhis that the project would benefit Sindh and the Sindhis and that the fears voiced by the Sindhi nationalists were baseless. The inauguration of the construction of the project, originally due in the last week of June, has reportedly been postponed for giving time to address the concerns of the Sindhi nationalists.
In their campaign to remove the fears of the Sindhi nationalists, PPP leaders have been saying that the proposed SEZ would have a special regulatory regime to ensure that the locals have the priority over jobs and other opportunities, that the inflow of people from other parts of the country is controlled by introducing work permits and that land could only be leased with ownership remaining with the locals.
PPP leaders have also been promising that as part of the Chinese-aided project, the road, rail and port (Keti Bunder) infrastructure in the area will be upgraded and a number of technical and vocational training institutions will be started to train Sindhis to take up jobs in the SEZ and to start their own small and medium scale industries
Despite this, Sindhi nationalist parties such as the Jeay Sindh Qaumi Mahaz (JSQM) have started a protest movement against the project. On July 12, 2012, the JSQM took out a protest rally against the proposed project in Karachi. JSQM leaders had planned to march to the Chinese Consulate-General in Karachi to hold a demonstration, but the police prevented them from going there.
The protesters then staged a sit-in on the National Highway and destroyed over 1000 SIM cards of their Chinese mobile sets. Dr. Niaz Kalani, the acting Chairman of the JSQM, who led the protest rally, announced that more protest rallies and sit-in demonstrations against the Chinese Government would be held from July 18.An appeal was issued to the Sindhis to boycott Chinese goods and a Chinese cell phone service provider. Among other JSQM leaders who participated in the protest were Mr. Asif Baladi, Mr.Sagar Hanif Burrdi, Mr. Sarfraz Memon and Mr. Maqsood Qureshi. ( 15-7-12)