Bus slaughter

FROM the violent stirrings over the ‘Mohajir province’ to Friday’s barbaric bus ambush, Sindh’s fragile ethnic balance is being severely rocked. The attack, in which several men ambushed a bus near Qazi Ahmed in Nawabshah district killing at least seven people, is the latest in a disturbing trend witnessed earlier in the Mastung and Kohistan incidents. But while the victims in those attacks were Shia, the passengers in Friday’s atrocity were apparently targeted due to their ethnicity as the victims hailed from Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Some reports indicate that pamphlets of the Sindhu Desh Liberation Army were found near the crime scene. This is the same outfit that claimed responsibility for the recent low-intensity blasts outside bank branches and attacks on railway tracks. There are also reports that the assailants claimed the attack was ‘revenge’ for the killing of Jeay Sindh Muttahida Mahaz leader Muzaffar Bhutto — allegedly by intelligence agencies — whose group is not known for violent tactics.

Ethnic tension in Sindh is nothing new. Along with Sindhi-Mohajir friction, anti-Punjab feelings have existed in the province since at least the 1960s, when migrants from Punjab settled in Sindh to cultivate fertile land after new barrages were built on the Indus. Though there have been sporadic attacks targeting non-Sindhis, the bus ambush is the first of its kind. And while the attack on the Awami Tehrik rally in Karachi was a dangerous portent as far as communal harmony is concerned, the Qazi Ahmed incident is even more alarming. Both attacks were clearly designed to stoke communal violence among the different ethnic groups that reside in Sindh. As for the impression some fringe political groups are trying to create comparing Sindh’s situation to the deprivation in Balochistan, this is far from true. Unlike Balochistan, the political process has roots in Sindh and — despite the hiccups — is working. Also, we would not like to believe this is revenge for Muzaffar Bhutto’s death. If it is, targeting innocent people is a despicable and cowardly reaction.

The Sindh administration has a lot to answer for as not only has it failed to prevent acts of terrorism and sabotage, it has also
failed to promote ethnic harmony in the province. Those who rule Sindh — the PPP and MQM — must realise that if the situation degrades into ethnic conflict, they will be the biggest losers. All parties, both from the mainstream and the nationalists, must condemn such acts of violence and shun the politics of parochialism, and instead work for the rights of Sindh within the democratic framework.