The popular talking point has become, once again, that the government is playing ‘Sindh card’ in its relationship to the judiciary. But a careful examination of recent media articles suggests that perhaps there is another player holding the cards.
‘Sindh card’ refers of course to the idea that President Zardari and other PPP politicians attempt to energize a base of Sindhi supporters by invoking provincialism. Ethnic parties certainly exist, but PPP is a national party that enjoys support across ethnic and provincial lines. So while PPP might have a base in Sindh, that is not sufficient to classify it as an ethnic party. Nevertheless, a series of media reports suggest that some in the media might be attempting to do just that.
Last Saturday, Shaheen Sehbai wrote the column titled, ‘Use of Sindh Card – when, how and why!’ which The News published front and center of the first page.
Next day, The News published a cartoon image of a ‘Sindh Card’.
The same day, Hamid Mir accuses President Zardari of playing the Sindh Card by praising the Supreme Court. But when protests were held in reaction to the Supreme Court’s unilateral dismissal of NAB chief Justice (retd) Deedar Hussain Shah, Jang Group reporter Tariq Butt termed the reaction “using Sindh Card”. So we learn from The News that praising the Supreme Court is invoking ‘Sindh Card’ and protesting Supreme Court is invoking ‘Sindh Card’ also.
But is Tariq Butt correct that protests are government playing the ‘Sindh Card’, or is the reporter himself producing the card? After all, Supreme Court Bar Association President Asma Jahangir has also expressed reservation over the Supreme Court’s dismissal of Justice Deedar Shah.
The SCBA president was not satisfied with the decision in as much as it provided for the chief justice of Pakistan to decide the matter if the leaders of the house and opposition were at dispute over the appointment. She said this means the complete authority to make appointment would go to the CJP discarding parliament. She said the government should go for a review petition in this case.
How President Zardari’s PPP is using the Sindh Card to target the judiciary stands exposed if one sees the fashion in which Nawaz Sharif got his conviction set aside.
Nawaz Sharif’s conviction in the plane hijacking case was set aside by the Supreme Court in 2009, but neither he nor any member of his party gave racial colour to his case. Instead, he focused on the dictator, ignoring the judges altogether who had convicted him.
Ironically, the very next day, Vice Admiral (retired) Taj M Khattak in The News directly contradicts Ansar Abbasi’s comparison while himself playing the ‘Sindh Card’.
Back on Nov 28, 1997, during Nawaz Sharif’s second term as prime minister, charged political workers of his PML-N stormed the Supreme Court on Constitution Avenue in Islamabad. The judges inside had to scramble for safety to their chambers…the mob which attacked the Supreme Court consisted of supporters hailing from Punjab, determined to cause physical harm to then-chief justice Sajjad Ali Shah, who is from Sindh…
In a piece that is allegedly about the history of the government-judiciary relationship, the retired military officer mentions Sindh 11 times. He mentions Punjab only three times. The author complains of “second-tier politicians” from Sindh who go to the Supreme Court “prominently displaying their ethnic symbols”. Once again, readers are left to wonder who is actually playing the ‘Sindh Card’ here?
Vice Adm. (retd) Khattak concludes his column with what appears to be a non-sequitur – a story about Chief Justice Muhammad Rustam Kiyani who was bullied over some land in Sindh by a patwari who “had never done a day’s honest work”. According to Khattak, the Chief Justice was rescued by the intervention of Gen Ayub whose “gentlemanliness was to last to the end”.
Again, one might ask, what does this story have to do with the present government’s relations with the judiciary? Could it be an attempt to invoke ethnic tension as a means of disparaging the government? Why else would the author go to such lengths to invoke the ‘lazy Sindhi’ stereotype compared to the ‘gentlemanly’ Gen Ayub?
Unfortunately, this appears not to be an isolated incident by one retired military officer, but as is shown in the references above, a disturbing trend of blaming every action of the government on a ‘Sindh Card’. Disagreement with government actions and policies is a legitimate subject for opinion columns. But even then, the disagreement should be based on facts, not thinly-veiled attempts to invoke ethnic stereotypes and play to provincialism for political ends. Please, leave the cards at home and stick to pen and paper for reporting.