OBITUARY:G. M. Sayed

Shortly after G. M. Syed joined the struggle for creating the Islamic state of Pakistan, he realised religion was the antithesis of a modern nation state and he spent the rest of his life in and out of jail, opposing the country he had created.

He also founded the Jive Sindh ("Long Live Sind") movement against the merger of his home province of Sind with the rest of Pakistan. He proclaimed that the two-nation theory which led to the creation of Pakistan and secular, albeit mainly Hindu, India was irrelevant to the ethos of Sindhis, who were eclectic and believed in the unity of all religions and, therefore, should be independent.

In numerous books and pamphlets Syed emphasised that he wished to atone for his mistake in supporting the creation of Pakistan and, by espousing secularism and tolerance, antagonised Pakistan's Muslim clergy and successive military regimes, who jailed him for almost three decades.

Syed said Pakistan could not develop an identity because its successive military dictatorships had survived by promoting regional and ethnic rivalries to the detriment of Sindhis, many of whom were Muslims who migrated to Pakistan from central and eastern India after independence. Syed accused Pakistan's Punjabi majority community of "colonising" Sind and accused the military of coveting "Sind and not Sindhis."

What strengthened and popularised Syed's slogan of Sindhi nationalism amongst Sindhis was their acute sense of deprivation; they complained they were denied government jobs and were reduced to a minority in their own province. According to Syed, Sind contributed 80 per cent to the federal budget, yet very little of this money was spent locally.

Although Syed's movement was peaceful, almost Gandhian, in its non-violent approach, it gave a fillip to the MQM, a close-knit group of migrants and their offspring from India, to launch a fierce armed struggle against the Pakistani government for autonomy. Over 600 people have died in this civil war, which is still raging without agreement in sight.

Syed had a large following in India too, home to millions of Sindhis, and was ecstatically greeted wherever he went on his visit here in the late Eighties. This popularity, however, proved counter-productive since on his return home he was imprisoned by the Pakistani president General Zia- ul-Haq.

Ghulam Murtaza Syed was born in 1904 in Sann village in Sind Province into a prominent Wadera or feudal family which migrated from Herat in the Middle East five centuries earlier. His interest in politics, nurtured by the independence struggle against the British, began when he was 14, and he supported Mahatma Gandhi's Congress Party, then in the forefront of the fight. But, piqued over what he thought was the sectarian attitude of the Congress, Syed joined the Muslim League in 1938, which wanted a separate Islamic state of Pakistan - an acronym of P for Punjab, A for Afghans, K for Kashmir and S for Sind, with the Persian suffix "stan", meaning country.

Six years later Syed, as a Muslim League leader, was the moving force behind the resolution in the Sind provincial assembly favouring the creation of Pakistan. Two years later, however, he left the League, became a critic of Pakistan and Mohammad Ali Jinnah, head of the Muslim League and founder of Pakistan, and confined himself to working for secularism and Sind's independence.

He was last charged with sedition in 1992 and confined to his ancestral home at Sann for making an anti-government speech, but freed on bail recently because of deteriorating health and age.

Syed wrote over 50 books in Sindhi, Urdu and English. They include Pakistan Must be Broken and A Nation in Chains.

Ghulam Murtaza Syed, politician: born Sann village, Sind province 17 January 1904; died Karachi 25 April 1995.

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