In Search of Lost Glory: Sindhi Nationalism in Pakistan
by Dr Asma Faiz
Oxford University Press and Hurst Publishers 2021, 277pp
Reviewed by: Prof Matthew A. Cook, North Carolina Central University
17 March 2023
In Search of Lost Glory: Sindhi Nationalism in Pakistan, by Asma Faiz, is a historical account of politics in the Sindh province of Pakistan. It focuses on nationalist groups, ideologies, political parties, and electoral competition. It explores Sindhi nationalism’s linkages and differences with the Pakistani state through the narratives and actions of party politics and voter behavior. Faiz argues that the Pakistani state and its ideologies are critical variables in “shaping the end and means of the Sindhi quest for autonomy and identity in post-1947 Pakistan” (p.190).
In Search of Lost Glory aims to fill a “void” in Pakistan Studies produced by not addressing Sindhi nationalism. In contrast to studies of other ethnic groups in Pakistan, Faiz concludes that nationalism among Sindhis is an “understudied phenomenon” (p.189). She states: “Sindhi nationalism expresses the political and ideological aspirations of a community in search of its lost glory” (ibid.). Her work addresses the politics and ideologies of Sindhi nationalism by examining its historical evolution, from its initial stages in colonial India up to 2020, and builds a narrative around important political events in the history of Pakistan (e.g., demographic changes after Partition, the One Unit Scheme and Ayub Khan, the 1971 Bangladesh War, the rise and fall of Z.A. Bhutto, the dictatorship of Zia-ul-Haq, and the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy). However, unlike other books on these events, Faiz reads them through Sindh’s provincial political history. A significant focus of the book is the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). Faiz maintains that most analyses of the PPP focus on it from points of view outside of Sindh (p.3). In contrast, she addresses the PPP in connection to ethnic nationalism in Sindh. Her research tacks back and forth between the national and provincial levels. Interdisciplinarity shapes the analysis, which draws on the author’s fieldwork in the province.
Chapter 1 of In Search of Lost Glory addresses the colonial era and Sindhi identity formation before 1947. Faiz describes how colonialism “laid the foundations for the formation of Sindhi identity through massive educational, linguistic, technological, hydraulic, and demographic changes” (p.37). These changes, she argues, strengthened identity consciousness in Sindh. Faiz then analyses how this increased consciousness was central to Sindh’s political separation from Bombay in 1937. Chapter 1 zooms in on this event but contextualises it within all-India party politics. It concludes that the demand for Sindh’s separation was “the first ethnic movement of Sindh” (p.9). Faiz oscillates between politics, ethnicity, and religion to paint a complex picture of early Sindhi nationalism. The chapter ends by arguing that the all-India movement for Partition swept up ethnic nationalism in Sindh to create a broader Muslim nationalist wave for establishing Pakistan.
Chapter 2 deals with post-1947 political, economic, and demographic changes and how they reignited ethnic nationalism in Sindh. It focuses on the Pakistani state’s imposition of Urdu as the national language, its conversion of Karachi into the federal capital, its rewriting of school textbooks, and its integration of Sindh into the One Unit Scheme introduced in 1955. It also addresses party politics in Sindh during and after Ayub Khan’s martial law and the “cultural turn” in Sindhi nationalism during the 1960s. Faiz analyses these events in the context of the consolidation of Pakistani state power in Sindh. She details how this consolidation resulted in the “persistent interference in the making and breaking of parties in the province” (p.71). Faiz concludes that this interference (along with centralisation and a state “homogenising drive”) helped reignite ethnic nationalism among Sindhis after Partition:
The evolution of Sindhi nationalism was fundamentally shaped by … the post-colonial state in Pakistan. The nature, structure, and policy agenda of the state deeply impacted nationalist discontent here [i.e., Sindh] (ibid.).
The loss of provincial sovereignty to the Pakistani state is central to Faiz’s analysis in Chapter 2. She states that this loss, combined with the declaration of Urdu as the national language, became “untenable” for Sindhis when Muslim migrants from India (i.e., Muhajirs) used their influence with the state to secure economic advantages over them (p.40). She describes how it resulted in increased ethnic strife and the rise of a nationalist “sons of the soil” movement in Sindh.
Chapter 3 traces the rise of the PPP and profiles the 1971-1977 period. It asks: Why was the PPP under Z.A. Bhutto electorally victorious when established Sindhi nationalists were not? For Faiz, the answer is that PPP policies appealed to a “Sindhi sense of deprivation” (p.92). She argues that this appeal undercut the popularity of Sindhi ethnic nationalists like G.M. Syed. In support of this argument, Chapter 3 analyses the PPP’s messages of populism and equality at the provincial level in Sindh. It unpacks policies based on these messages (e.g., the introduction of Sindhi as an official language and affirmative action measures) and the PPP’s approach to fighting socio-economic inequality. It also examines how these policies alienated Muhajirs, a politically and economically influential (and predominantly urban) post-Partition community (ibid.). Faiz credits this alienation as crucial to shaping ethnic politics among Muhajirs (p.74). She describes how it, and the PPP’s socialism, drove Muhajirs to be “active participants” in agitations against Bhutto (p.84). The chapter concludes with an in-depth analysis of Bhutto’s execution in 1979, the military rule of Zia-ul-Haq, and the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy.
Chapter 4 of In Search of Lost Glory examines the ideology, mobilisation, and organisation of Sindhi ethnic nationalism. Its central question is: How did Sindhi nationalists react to PPP rule in the 1970s? Faiz argues that a turn toward separatism was the response. She details this turn in the writings of G.M. Syed, who saw Pakistan as a country of multiple nations and Sindhis as a “distinct nationality” (p.109). He also viewed the Pakistani state and its ideology as an “artificial framework” to “enslave” Sindhis (p.110). He challenged PPP rule by framing its national and provincial governments as complicit in the oppression of Sindh. In Syed’s opinion, the formation of these governments amounted to the PPP turning “their guns against their own kith and kin” (p.106). To better understand Syed’s advocacy for a separate Sindu Desh, Faiz pushes methodologically beyond the national and provincial levels. She adopts ethnographic lenses to analyse “ordinary people doing ordinary things” in the city of Hyderabad (p.104). Such lenses contextualise local resistance to the PPP and the Pakistani state by Sindhi nationalists. For Faiz, this focus on “banal nationalism” is essential because ethnic politics remains “alive in a daily and lived sense in Sindh” (ibid.).
Chapter 5 and the Conclusion tie up Faiz’s historical study of Sindh’s politics. Chapter 5 unpacks the PPP between 1988 and 2020. It spotlights the party within a broader analysis that embeds the past 30 years of Sindh’s political history within the larger politics of Pakistan. Faiz characterises this period as an “unstable equilibrium” (p.49). In support of this characterisation, she presents an overview of the PPP, the Sindhi-Muhajir conflict, the Pashtun-dominated Awami National Party (ANP), and the rise of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) under Imran Khan. This overview determines that the PPP under the Bhutto family “will probably remain the dominant players in Sindh for the foreseeable future” (p.86). It also concludes that this fact is “grudgingly conceded by Sindhi nationalists” (ibid.). The Conclusion to In Search of Lost Glory reviews the book’s principal arguments and (re)emphasises how the Pakistani state and its ideology shape politics in Sindh.
Faiz argues for a “holistic” approach (p.3). In this way, she aims to create a “comprehensive account of Sindhi nationalism in Pakistan” (p.2) by emphasising the dynamics of structure and agency and mapping them onto Pakistani state and provincial relations:
It [i.e., In Search of Lost Glory] therefore examines the question of Sindhi nationalism through a study of the structure of the Pakistan state, with reference to the question of centre-province relations and the agency of nationalist elites movements and parties (pp.1-2).
Faiz’s “bifocal” analysis maintains that the Pakistani state operates in a structural position due to its centralised design and profile (p.4). In contrast, provincial politics occupy positions of agency in Faiz’s book. She writes: “While structure [of the Pakistani state] lays out the context and shapes the preferences of actors, the role of human agency in the form of ethnic elites and parties [at the provincial level] is equally crucial” (ibid.). Overlaying structure and agency onto political relations between the Pakistani state and the province of Sindh creates a multi-level analysis that is empirically rich in detail. Not narrowly focused on Sindhi nationalism, In Search of Lost Glory is a more comprehensive book. Equally a history of Pakistani politics in Sindh as it is about Sindhi nationalism, the book’s analysis is more far-reaching and “holistic” than its subtitle suggests.
Nonetheless, holism is frequently a goal instead of an achievement. Like all books, In Search of Lost Glory has underdeveloped spots. A notable one is Faiz’s assertion that the PPP is a Sindhi ethnic party. She states: “I argue in favor of considering the PPP as an ethnic party in Sindh by default” (p.73). The PPP is undoubtedly rooted in Sindh and among Sindhis. However, its identity as an ethnic party is best demonstrated not by default. A more sustained ideological analysis of the PPP’s purported ethnic politics would enhance In Search of Lost Glory. Such an analysis is particularly crucial because Sindhi nationalists, like G.M. Syed, often dismissed the PPP as anti-Sindh (p.106). Its inclusion would also be critical since patronage instead of ideology often drives politics in Pakistan and Sindh (p.116). Notable PPP policies, like introducing Sindhi as an official language and affirmative action, can be interpreted, as Faiz does, as an ideological commitment to ethnic politics. However, they also reflect the PPP’s patronage system in Sindh and its ideologically socialist commitment to socio-economic equality. A more thorough historical account of PPP ideology would better reveal how and when ethnic nationalism, socialism (Islamic or otherwise), and patronage drive party actions. It would also make In Search of Lost Glory a more “holistic” book.
Good books often raise questions that go unanswered. These unanswered questions often point toward possible future research projects. In Search of Lost Glory is no exception. Faiz concludes her book with a range of questions. How could generational changes in leadership impact the PPP’s future? How might diminished ethnic nationalism among Muhajirs shape the politics of Sindh? How can the devolution of power (under the 18th Amendment) contour Pakistani state and provincial relations? Whether addressed by Faiz or by other authors, such questions are crucial for building a deeper future understanding of politics in Sindh and Pakistan. Through its detailed and multi-level analysis, In Search of Lost Glory similarly deepens knowledge about Sindh and Pakistan. As such, it is a welcome addition to an ever-increasingly diverse array of scholarship in Pakistan Studies.
© Bloomsbury Pakistan 2023