Dr. Ajmal Sawand's Murder And The Scourge Of Tribalism In Sindh

Dr. Ajmal Sawand's Murder And The Scourge Of Tribalism In Sindh
On April 08, Dr. Ajmal Sawand of Sukkur Institute of Business Administration (IBA) was brutally murdered in a tribal feud in the ‘shalo’ area of Kandhkot district. Dr. Sawand had a PhD in Artificial Intelligence (AI) from France, and came back to serve his motherland despite the lucrative offers in France. This incident has sparked an academic discussion on tribalism, feudalism and casteism in Sindh in the local Sindhi newspapers, and on social networking websites such as Facebook and Twitter.

It is indeed the failure of the present judicial system, the Sindh Police, the State of Pakistan, the Sindh Government and the PPP - as the province’s ruling party for last fourteen years. But just focusing on that aspect will be a very simplistic and naive understanding of what is otherwise a very complex centuries old issue of tribalism in Sindh.

The tribal system is based on tribal thinking, which divides people into ‘us’ and ‘them’ and at every step encourages that one’s ‘own people’ should be given priority over ‘others.’ Undoubtedly, such tribal thinking is found in other provinces of Pakistan and to some extent in the world at large, but the manner in which this tribal thinking prevails at every level in Sindh is amazing. There is no other province where caste or clan is connected with every person’s name as it is in Sindh. Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwah are known as tribal societies, but the way Kalairi and Ujjan, Jagirani and Jatoi, and Sundarani and Sawand tribes attack each other’s villages and kill people in tribal feuds does not happen anywhere else in Pakistan. We need to analyse why tribalism persists in such a brutal form in Sindh.

Historically, nationalism around the world has been the political ideology that has curtailed the role of clan and tribe in popular thinking. As ‘nation’ ranks higher compared to the ‘caste’, ‘clan’ or ‘tribe’ in hierarchy, it enables the people to think above those binaries. Therefore, with the rise of the nation-state system, tribalism declined because people started thinking along national lines.

Similarly socialism, secularism, democracy and human rights movements spoke of establishing a society on the basis of human equality, above religion and nationality. Hence, slowly, the effectiveness of tribalism was reduced around the world and nationalism, ethno-nationalism and the spirit of human equality emerged with varied frequency in different parts of the world, depending on several factors.

In Sindh, all these ideologies came in conflict with tribalism at different times, but instead of directly challenging tribalism, they mostly accepted the influence of tribalism, due to which tribalism is still strong in Sindh today. For example, in the 1970 elections, the people of Sindh voted for PPP with its socialist manifesto and rejected the waderas and tribal sardars. But later the same tribal chiefs and waderas returned on the PPP ticket, turning democracy into another tool in the hands of tribal chiefs. Bhutto’s land reforms which were aimed at ending the feudal structure in Sindh remained confined to the pieces of paper they ere written on as the Bhuttos, Jatois, Sayeds, Pirs and Mirs headed the provincial PPP. The result is that the element of tribalism is even more prominent now in Sindh, because most of the waderas and tribal chiefs of Sindh are in PPP.

On the other hand, the ideology of nationalism has existed as a very powerful ideology in the social fabric of Sindh, at least since the late 1950s and early 1960s, when a popular movement was launched against the one-unit scheme. The educated lower-middle class of Sindh has a strong nationalist sentiment, which applies to even those individuals and groups who otherwise hate the nationalist parties and support PPP or any other left oriented or even religious parties like Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam etc. That raises a pertinent question, why tribalism remains strong despite the fact that nationalism is so powerful in Sindh.

The history of the ideology of nationalism in the world tells us that where nationalism is based on ethno-cultural elements such as common descent, common language, common territory and common culture etc. for example in Eastern European countries such as Poland and Serbia, tribalism still survives in some form. On the other hand, wherever nationalism is based on ‘civic’ principles like democracy, socialism, secularism and human equality, for example in Western European countries like France, Italy and Britain, tribalism has been on the decline in its all forms. Nationalism existing on the basis of ethnicity is tribal and racial in its essence because such nationalism decides membership on the basis of descent and not on the basis of citizenship.

Sindhi nationalism has the same problem, it is largely based on ethnicity, as it is considered necessary to be a son of the soil to be a part of the Sindhi nation. Like the Sindhi Hindus living in Western countries who have renounced the citizenship of Sindh are still considered part of the Sindhi nation while Punjabis, Mohajirs, Balochs and Pashtuns who have made Sindh their permanent abode for several generations are still not part of the Sindhi nation in the popular discourse. In my opinion, the more Sindhi nationalism shifts from ‘ethnic’ to ‘civic’, the more it will help to eradicate tribalism in Sindh, because as long as nationalism is based on ethnicity, it will remain tied to the caste, clan and tribe.

Canadian Professor Anna Triandafyllidou divides modern nationalism into two types. A plural nationalism, that is, an inclusive nationalism which has the ability to absorb diversity; and neo-tribal nationalism which is aggressive, exclusivist and nativist as it completely rejects diversity. It is sad that a particularly violent strain of neo-tribal nationalism has become embedded in Sindh’s social fabric during last few decades. For the decline of tribalism in Sindh, Sindhi nationalism has to move beyond ethnic, neo-tribal nationalism and adopt the principles of plural nationalism, based on inclusive citizenship.

The author is an Assistant Professor at the National Institute of Pakistan Studies at Quaid-e-Azam University Islamabad.