On May 30, a Chinese engineer was targeted in a roadside bomb in Karachi’s Gulshan-e-Hadeed area, when he was on his way to Port Qasim.
“The man was travelling with his driver and a security guard when a low-intensity bomb went off by the road, shattering the windows of the van the men were travelling in,” Sindh police chief Allah Din Khawaja said.
Police found a pamphlet written in Sindhi language by a little known group Sindhudesh Revolutionary Party, Senior Superintendent of Police Rao Anwar told reporters.
“We see China as an imperialist power rising all over Pakistan, and we see it as a collaborator of the Punjabi establishment in enslaving Sindh and robbing its resources,” the handbill said, claiming responsibility for the attack. “We want to make it clear to China that we will oppose every anti-Sindh project including the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.”
This is not first time that a Sindhi group has attacked Chinese interests, Karachi-based reporter Amar Guriro told me. Like Baloch-nationalist groups, they believe the Chinese are helping the Pakistani establishment take away their natural resources.
The announcement of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project lent new energy to Sindhi groups, most of which rely on peaceful political means.
They have made calls for the boycott of Chinese products, held protest demonstration outside the Chinese consulate in Karachi, and in one rally, burnt thousands of SIM cards belonging to Chinese telecom companies.
The Jeay Sindh Qaumi Mahaz (JSQM), one of the largest Sindhi-nationalist parties, have also held a number of protest rallies and demonstrations against Zulfiqarabad, a proposed new port to be built in the Thatta district of Sindh on the edges of Arabian Sea with the help of China. According to Guriro, they believe the project is a conspiracy to make Sindhis a minority in their province.
A large number of people from other parts of Pakistan have migrated to Sindh, especially the provincial capital Karachi, since 1999, because of Taliban violence and the ensuing military operations in FATA and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and depleting water sources and floods in Punjab, among other reasons. “Sindhi nationalists are wary of the influx of such a large number of people,” Guriro says. “They believe large new projects will bring in new migrants.” Since China helps Pakistan with such projects, they oppose China.
Sindh has more Chinese investments and visitors than the other three provinces. An attack on a visiting Chinese engineer despite a prolonged law-and-order operation by the paramilitary Rangers in Karachi is alarming for the federal government as well as the province, according to another Karachi-based journalist Saeed Sarbazi.
In August 2015, Sindh police claimed to have chalked out a comprehensive security plan for the Chinese nationals visiting Karachi and other parts of the province for CPEC-related projects. Nearly six months ago, they said they were responsible for the security of more than 1,500 Chinese visitors working on 111 projects.
Following the recent attack, around 160 ex-servicemen have been hired as part of the Sindh police’s plan to raise a 2,000-strong commando force for the security of Chinese workers in the province.
Jan Achakzai, an analyst and a former spokesman for the JUI-F, says the responsibility of the protection of foreign workers and belongs to the provinces, but the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government has shied away from that responsibility for political reasons. He says such attacks will hurt the climate of investment in Pakistan, and “in case of any such security lapses, heads should roll.”
While he sees Sindhi nationalist groups as opposed to “any project that would benefit Pakistan” because of their “grievance narrative”, other analysts believe many such groups have legitimate concerns and addressing them would strengthen the federation.
Some of them see the recent rise in the popularity of Sindhi ethnic political parties as an outcome of bad governance by the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) government in the province. They are competing with religious groups to fill the political vacuum.
In 2010, flood relief activities by Jamaaut Dawa’s charity organization Falah-e-Insaniyat Foundation penetrated deep inside Sindh. In May last year, there were reports that the sectarian group Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ) held a conference in Khairpur, the forte of Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah.
There are concerns among Sindhi-nationalist groups – who are overwhelmingly liberal – about Jihadi and sectarian outfits gaining a foothold in the province. They believe many of the followers of these groups are from outside the province.
Shaikh Abdul Rasheed, a Sindhi columnist, believes the religious parties have never been able to achieve widespread popularity in the province in history. According to veteran journalist Sabauddin Saba, “The soil of Sindh is not suitable for the growth of religious fundamentalism.”
Sindhi-nationalist parties, who do not have uniform ideologies or methods, have also failed to create a vote bank for themselves, according to Shaikh Abdur Rashid says. In the 2013 election, they formed a “grand alliance” against the PPP under the leadership of Pir Pagara, but could not win even a single provincial assembly seat. One reason for that may be their hatred for other ethnicities, according to Sabauddin Saba. “They cannot win too much space in the province with that kind of a worldview either.”