Ms. Humaira Rahman, Director WSI (Canada)
April 6 & 7, 2007

Seminar organized by Tufts and Harvard Universities

This is to inform you that Ms. Humaira Rahman, Director WSI (Canada) represented The World Sindhi Institute at a seminar organized by Tufts and Harvard Universities, USA on the subject of: “Contested Spaces, Competing Narratives: Towards Human Rights and Democracy in Pakistan” on April 06 and 07, 2007. She participated in the seminar as a speaker.

The main focus of the event was on current events in Pakistan , with reference to the struggle for human rights and democracy. The Seminar brought together diverse perspectives on the struggle for democratic spaces in the face of increasing militarization and militancy. The deliberations also covered topics such as the role of media in supporting democratic struggle and in countering ‘disappearances’, air strikes and attacks on journalists, gender violence and increase in religious extremism; the broader implications of these trends for Pakistan, South Asia and beyond; the role and impact of US foreign policy, and the positive trends and how can they be strengthened.

Although the issues mentioned in the concept note by organizers did not mention the absence of genuine federalism as the overarching problem in Pakistan, WSI's Humaira Rahman whilst giving a multi media presentation, showed a map of Pakistan, which highlighted its multinational status , population charts by mother tongue and a video clip of Mahmood Khan Achakzai, current chairperson of PONM speaking in the National Assembly of Pakistan on the killing of Nawab Akbar Bugti, wherein he spoke of the legitimate demand of nationalities for self determination. As conclusion to her presentation, Humaira Rahman presented slide show of individual names and details of disappeared Sindhi and Baloch persons.

Following is her speech at the seminar:


The regression of the idea of Pakistan as a mosaic of autonomous and sovereign states into the degenerated centralist dictatorial state is the root cause of all chaos and instability we are experiencing today. Grave injustice committed by the state toward the peoples of the land was to deny them their historic heritage and identity.

[Achakzai speech – 46 secs] Mehmood Khan Achakzai, member of National Assembly, leader of Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party and president of PONM (Pakistan Oppressed Nations Movement).

I believe the emergence of Pakistan as an Islamic-Military model state is the logical outcome of an ideology based on fear and hate rather than a sense of historic justice and compassion. The seeds of discord and instability in the region were sown with the division of the sub-continent based on religion. Historic nations of Punjab and Bengal were cut in half; Sindh lost its developed middle classes to forced migration, creating a cultural gap in the urban centers; the independent state of Balochistan was forcefully annexed without the consent of its people; and the Durand Line became a permanent border dividing the Pakhtoon nation from their historic Afghanistan . All in the name of Islam.

The problem of national identity and religious extremism in Pakistan are deeply rooted in its ideology. By denying the history and cultural identity of Punjab, Sindh, Balochistan, Pakhtoonistan, and Siraiki people; Pakistan is at a loss to define its own identity other than Islam. The nature of conflict between the Bengalis and the rulers of Pakistan was cultural identity and right to Bengali as their national language rather than Urdu. Instead of opening a political and cultural dialogue on the subject of granting rights to the indigenous peoples of Pakistan , the military rulers sort the road to disaster driven by the ideology of Two-Nation Theory.

Unfortunately lessons from history were soon forgotten, and 1973 saw yet another military operation, the dissolution of a democratically elected provincial government in Balochistan and the banning of National Awami Party, representative of the oppressed nationalities of Pakistan . Ironically 1973 is also the year when the constitution was signed by elected representatives from all four provinces, granting them provincial autonomy. Four years later , this dream of recognition of the fundamental human and nationalities rights in Pakistan came to an end and the 1973 constitution was suspended following the military coup led by General Zia-ul-Haq.

The nationalities question has always been the core subject of all political movements in the entire history of Pakistani dictators from General Ayub Khan to General Musharraf. In fact any civil unrest in the smaller provinces for democratic rights against the center has always been treated by the establishment as a threat to the ideological borders of Pakistan and Islam. And the natural reaction from the center toward such civil movement was brutal military action with trumpets blowing and tanks rolling, creating an atmosphere of a patriotic army at war with the enemies of the state. Sindh in 1983 went through such a phase when MRD launched its anti-Zia campaign to restore democracy in Pakistan . This political movement started peacefully with street rallies and voluntary arrests presented by leaders of various organizations. As it started gaining momentum, spreading across Sindh to small towns and villages; it attracted a significant section of the society from students to peasants and successfully brought the Sindhi women into the fold of struggle - awakening the rural masses as it grew rapidly like a monsoon storm. Support for MRD and solidarity with the Sindhi people kept growing in other provinces, especially Punjab . And in order to stop it from becoming a country wide people’s opposition to military rule, army was sent in to crush the civil unrest in Sindh by declaring it to be a conspiracy against Pakistan and Islam. Sindh’s democratic struggle to end military rule in Pakistan was portrayed in the government controlled media as a movement for separation of Sindh. Of course that made the job for the army much easier in dealing with the atrocities taking place in the towns and remote villages of Sindh.

The aftermath of this bloody encounter was a general sense of deprivation and a growing awareness of a Sindhi nationalist identity in conflict with Pakistan state ideology. In all its battles against nationalities, Pakistan state is the biggest loser, especially when the army is used as a brutal force to crush people’s democratic aspirations. And the sad part of this story is that Pakistan army, an instrument of repression, is perceived by the smaller nationalities as representative of Punjab .

The ongoing military operation in Balochistan is another bloody chapter in the history of smaller nationalities striving for their rights to land, natural resources and political power. Sadly but true, Balochistan can be called the land of military operations, since 1948 this is the 5th time army was sent to massacre and humiliate a people who lay claim to 43 percent of Pakistan’s land mass.

Now is the time to open up our minds and hearts to the realities of past and present. Do we have a future based on a past ideology – the Two Nation Theory? The year 1971 was a wakeup call for the remaining parts of Pakistan and its diverse cultures.
The state of Pakistan is fast approaching what is being increasingly referred to as a failed idea because of its rigid attachment to an ideology unable to comprehend the historic realities of the region. The smaller nationalities have played their role in history and shall keep on striving for more political, economic and cultural freedom. It’s about time that Punjab stood up for its historic and cultural identity and pave the way for a peaceful transformation of Pakistan from a centralist, militaristic state to a truly democratic multinational country respecting the idea of unity in diversity.

After all what good is a national language if not spoken by the majority of the people of Pakistan ? Why can’t we have 4 or 5 national languages like any other civilized country in the world? Urdu has been accepted by all nationalities in Pakistan as the language of communication, a bridge, linking the country’s diverse cultures. Urdu was chosen by the establishment as a tool of cultural repression to block the progress of indigenous development and harmony among the peoples of Pakistan .
Let us save Urdu from being exploited as a weapon and give it its due place in a multicultural society as a source of learning and communication.

Through political, economic and cultural reforms we can build a society in Pakistan worthy to play a positive role in the region and in world affairs. The present political structure in Pakistan is an outdated setup from the colonial days and completely unfit to serve justice and equality to the smaller provinces. Without the equal share and participation of the smaller provinces in the federation, the democratic process cannot move ahead. Decentralization of the power structures is the key to put a stop to military generals taking control of the civil society.

The Two-Nation Theory has failed to safeguard Pakistan ’s integrity and shall remain a source of religious extremism and military adventurism disrupting peace and stability in the region. Pakistan needs a new identity reflective of its constituent nationalities and cultures.