May Issue 2012

By | News & Politics | Published 7 years ago

“We do not believe that cardiac arrest was the cause of Bashir Khan Qureshi’s death. We are certain he was eliminated by those who could not stomach the nationalist leader’s popularity, which was amply demonstrated during a rally in Karachi on March 23, 2012,” said the acting chairman of Jeay Sindh Qaumi Mahaz (JSQM), Dr Niaz Kalani.

Bashir Khan Qureshi, the JSQM’s chairman died mysteriously at the age of 54 on April 7 at Sakrand. Qureshi was on a party tour when he suddenly lost consciousness after having dinner with other party workers. He complained of chest pain followed by a cough. Qureshi was shifted to a local hospital, where he breathed his last at around 2:45 am. Party workers contended that Qureshi was not a heart patient, and there had never been any indication of heart problems in the past. Some leaders of his party alleged that he was poisoned.

Subsequently, the medical team at Chandka Medical College performed an autopsy of Bashir’s body, but the results of the report have been kept confidential. Meanwhile, although the 15-member committee of forensic experts constituted by the Sindh government to further investigate the cause of Qureshi’s death have acknowledged that there was a presence of organo-phosphate in Qureshi’s viscera, they contend it does not conclusively prove there was foul play.

In the late ’60s, denouncing the two-nation theory, G.M. Syed floated the idea of the independence of Sindh from Pakistan through the creation of Sindhu Desh, from the platform of the Jeay Sindh Qaumi Mahaz. The idea gradually gained popularity among Sindhi youth, progressive Sindhi writers and intellectuals. Over the years, students became the backbone of the movement, and universities remained the centre of political activities. However, after G.M. Syed’s demise, the Jeay Sindh movement faced many challenges, including threats of disintegration. In the ’90s the party split into various factions.

Bashir Qureshi started his political career as a student worker of the Jeay Sindh Students Federation during his studies at the Agriculture University, Tando Jam. Since the early stages of his political activism, he was very close to G.M Syed, and remained so until the latter’s demise. Qureshi became chairman of the JSQM in 1998 and continued the struggle for Sindh’s independence until his own death.

Under Qureshi’s leadership, the JSQM consistently mobilised the masses in Sindh to demand the rights of the Sindhi nation. The construction of the Kalabagh Dam, illegal immigration to Sindh and other issues related to language, the national census and a recognition of Sindhis’ rights to the province’s natural resources remained the party’s continuing agenda. Thus, JSQM remained an active pressure group vis-à-vis the political discourse in Sindh and it put immense pressure on the PPP to counter policies which could damage the province’s economy and integrity. Benazir Bhutto’s participation in the demonstration against the Kalabagh Dam at Kashmore in 1998 is considered to be the result of pressure exerted on the PPP by Sindhi nationalists. And it is inarguably the large scale and ongoing mobilisation of public opinion by the nationalist forces that has forced virtually all the political parties in Sindh to take a stand on water issues and the NFC award.

Closer to home, it is widely believed that Bashir Qureshi was responsible for bringing about a fundamental change in the JSQM itself, which was, before he took over the reins of the party, mainly a lower-middle-class group confined to educational institutions and drawing rooms. “No doubt, the credit goes to Bashir Khan Qureshi who altered the course of the history of the nationalist movement, and who went to the grass-roots level to gain the masses’s support. It was his hard work and unique skill of public mobilisation that enabled Qureshi to effectively organise rallies of hundreds of thousands of people in the rural and urban areas of the province,” says political analyst Jami Chandio.

Apart from romantic ideals about Sindh’s freedom, Bashir Qureshi got his party involved with peoples’ day to day issues. He was actively engaged in the process of restoring peace in upper Sindh by helping convince tribal chiefs to wage peace not war, and to allow people to live in harmony. Moreover, Bashir Khan Qureshi and his workers often challenged state agencies and feudal lords, dared to organise demonstrations, and participated in the rallies and strikes carried out by labourers, students and civil society demanding peoples’ rights.

Says Mohammad Ali Shah, the Chairman of the Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum, “Bashir Qureshi always supported our struggle for the rights of the fishermen’s community. JSQM, like other nationalist parties, joined us in raising a voice against the illegal occupation by the Pakistan Rangers of the fishing grounds in Sindh.”

Realising the need for an effective presence of nationalist forces in Sindh’s urban areas, Qureshi also effectively succeeded in demonstrating his party’s street power on Karachi’s roads. “Bashir Khan Qureshi was the first Sindhi nationalist leader who effectively propelled the Sindhis of the interior to assert their rights in Sindh’s urban areas,” says Amar Sindhu, a writer and women’s rights activist.

This statement is corroborated by the ‘Freedom March’ held on Pakistan Day in Karachi. “Today hundreds of thousands of leaders, activists and supporters of the Jeay Sindh Qaumi Mahaz have taken to Karachi streets, chanting anti-Pakistan slogans like ‘Kal bana tha Bangladesh, ab Banega Sindhu Desh,’” declared senior journalist Akhtar Baloch. “After the creation of Bangladesh, this is the biggest anti-Pakistan rally ever witnessed in country’s history. Today we all say goodbye to the Pakistan Resolution and demand freedom for Sindh.”

But can the JSQM continue to further the momentum garnered by Bashir Khan Qureshi after his death? Only time will tell.

This article was originally published in the May issue of Newsline under the headline “Murder by Death?”