By Zia Ur Rehman
July 4, 2015
This is the first of The News’ series of interviews with political parties’ grassroots leadership aimed at exploring politics at the community level through individuals who interact directly with the locals.
The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf has recently been focusing on reorganising the party in the rural parts of Sindh. Can the PTI replace the Pakistan People’s Party and emerge as a significant political force in the province? What challenges is the PTI facing and does it understand Sindh’s politics? For answers to these questions, The News spoke with Zulfiqar Halepoto, a Hyderabad-based prominent civil society activist, who has been recently been appointed as the PTI’s deputy information secretary in the province.
The News: Can the PTI emerge as an alternative political and parliamentary force in Sindh’s rural areas?
Zulfiqar Halepoto: In my opinion, the PTI is the only option for Sindhis for bringing about socio-economic development in the rural parts of the province. The reasons are obvious and the first one is governance. The PPP and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement are ruling Sindh for many decades, but civic services and governance are poor in both the rural and urban areas of the province. Both parties have looted the province as much as they could.
The second reason is ethnic divide. People have voted for the PPP and MQM since 1988 onwards so that both parties could maintain ethnic harmony, reduce the rural-urban gap and develop the province without any discrimination.
But instead of developing it, both have exploited the Sindhi and Mohajir cards to fill their pockets with money and people are treated as merely constituents rather than citizens. So in that context, the PTI is the only party which has the potential to get elected from both the rural and urban pockets and can maintain that balance.
People have voted for the PPP considering it the lesser of the evils for several reasons: their love for Bhutto and the PPP’s continuous struggle against the establishment on Sindh’s structural issues including as water, the NFC Award, mega development projects and its territorial integrity.
But now that Asif Ali Zardari has compromised over these issues, the perception here is he can even sell Sindh to save his empire.
Imran Khan and the PTI are clear when it comes to the main concerns of Sindh including the province’s control over its natural resources, its territorial safety and unbiased development.
Imran Khan had made this clear at a public gathering in Lakrana and then during a discussion with the province’s leading scholars, intellectuals and technocrats at my residence in Hyderabad.
I am telling you frankly that Sindhis do not want any party to perish and a new one to emerge on the cost of others’ death. Sindhis want healthy and ideological alternatives and the PPP should not take them granted believing that they do not have other options.
TN: But how will the PTI replace the PPP or make space for itself in rural Sindh’s politics. We have seen that a 10-party electoral alliance, comprising the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and nationalist parties, failed to dent the PPP’s popularity in the province in the last elections.
ZH: We all know how the elections were rigged under Gen (retd) Ashfaq Parvez Kayani’s formula and let me share one incident that shows how the PPP had actually lost the elections but the returning officers were operating on Zardari;s directives.
I was part of that 10-party alliance as an observer member in the quota of writers and technocrats. Just before the 2013 general elections, there was a by-election in Kandiaro after Dr Ahmed Shah, Zafar Ali Shah’s brother, had resigned because of his dual nationality.
The PPP was in power at both the provincial and federal levels. At that time, Sindhis thought that Zardari was dividing Sindh on an administrative basis because he had announced two different local government systems for the province.
Despite having the state resources at its disposal and several provincial and federal ministers there, the PPP won with only a margin of 114 votes and we know how they managed that win.
So I think instead getting into statistics, we should see that whenever people see political forces that are serious about their welfare, they develop their perception.
The way PPP has destroyed Sindh’s political, socio-cultural and economic base, people will surely teach them a lesson this time.
TN: The PTI has emerged as an influential political force in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab. Why did it not happen in Sindh’s rural areas?
ZH: We have closely seen the power periods of Benazir Bhutto Shaheed. She was a lady of a powerful stature, but always had to struggle to save the PPP governments because of Punjab’s hostilities.
The fact is that just five divisions of Punjab have 95 national assembly seats and until you don’t shake Punjab in Pakistan’s parliamentary politics, no matter how powerful are you, you can’t change the paradigm.
I think now the PTI has made significant progress in Punjab and it is now easy for it to focus on Sindh and Balochistan.
TN: What are the PTI’s central leadership’s plans for rural Sindh in terms of organising the party and the upcoming local government polls?
ZH: Dr Arif Alvi has been assigned the task of reorganising the party in Sindh and plan for the local bodies polls.
Though there is a long way to go, the dynamic middle-class youth and women are inclined towards the PTI.
I have been monitoring the elections in Sindh and being from a rural area of the province, I can tell you that a major chunk of vote bank of Shaheed Benazir Bhutto’s comprised women and now that has shifted to he PTI.
So women and youth will be the harbingers of change in rural Sindh. Many feudal lords and other influential people are contacting Khan, but his first and foremost priority is the middle class – self-made people, especially te youth and women. We will improve gradually.
The recent crises and the complete failure of the PPP, the PML-N and the MQM in addressing them have compelled many people to turn to the PTI as their last report
Another advantage that the PTI has is that it is more sensitised towards development, , women empowerment, education, skill-building, the agro-based industry etc. We will be focusing on the local bodies elections to practically demonstrate our vision.