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Exclusive: Interview with Shafi Burfat, JSMM Chairman fighting for Sindh separation

Shiva is the shakti of Sindh and Sufi is the faith, says Safi Burfat of JSSM

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Perspective |Standpoint | Approach

These words can stand dull on a piece of paper but they hold more meaning than they are credited for. There’s a fine line between understanding and agreeing. You may not agree with somebody’s take on things but if you’ve never really looked from his point of view, climbed under his skin and walked around in it, you will never understand his opinions.

My interview (Reporter Karishma Vanjani of NewsGram) with Shafi Burfat has a lot to do with this perception. Shafi Muhammad Burfat is the chairman of Jeay Sindh Muttahida Mahaz, founder of a separatist and liberal political party, a leader, an activist and a man with an imposed ban stamped on his name for his alleged separatist’s actions against Pakistan.

The nationalist leader has formed the group for one sole motive- freedom of his beloved Sindh. He’s been fighting for the cause actively since 2000 and seems to have left no stone unturned in this struggle.

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Buttoned up collar and a stack of books in the background; a set up in Germany complementing his strong persona, our Skype interview began with answering the What if’s. When questioned about Sindh, without catching his breath, there was a full outcry against the August 15, 1947, separation.

Shafi Burfat: There should have been no separation based on religion in the first place. It was a mistake committed by the then Indian political leadership, a blunder for which we are still suffering. In my opinion, history betrayed us; a Modi should have been born in place of Gandhi ji to stop this unnatural division. A division even the Hindu- Muslims stood strongly against. Secondly, Jinnah, he was no leader, he was a servant of the British headship and this division was a conspiracy where he was used as a pawn by the Britishers to act their will. The man didn’t see the walls of a jail for an hour and in return, he made a new country! 

In midst of the controversial statements thrown now and again, there was nothing that broke some ground. The leader of the JSMM party (an organisation termed as a terrorist group like the many other independent fervent groups formed in Pakistan) agreed with brotherhood and detested the separation. Narrowing down to Sindhi’s, Sindhudesh and their secular fight against the regime, he adds.

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Shafi Burfat: We hold no difference between a Hindu and a Muslim because we aren’t either of the two. We are Sindhi’s. Our Sindhudesh was surviving as a free nation since thousands of years and then came the division that strangled us with a noose around our necks. Many Indians won’t know this but it’s a fact that many of the ancient Vedas and scripts like the Rigveda were written near the banks of the Sindhu River. Such was the nature of our country but today there are extra-judicial killings of Sindhi Political Activists. We are a different sect; freedom is our right and ‘hum wo leke rahenge.’ (No one can deny us our freedom). 

At the expensive of coming across as a man with evident animosity towards Pakistan to support his fervor and passion for a single political cause, he expressed his repulsion.

Shafi Burfat: Pakistan today, after 1971 (referring to the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War) is not the Jinnah regime Pakistan or simply the country Pakistan. It’s a capture; capture of two things. There are the G3 guns of Punjab force on one side and on the other side there are Mullah’s with fatwa’s who only know how to shed blood in the name of humanity. JSMM is against Pakistan politically and historically due to its badge of terrorism.

Every leader has his own perception about his struggle and the future of it. In this case, the Sindh movement, which has been a matter of great concern in Pakistan for last 45 years, is perceived to be the next Balochistan in the eyes of media. Sharif Burfat puts his vision in words.

Shafi Burfat: Modi’s recent speeches in favor of the Balochistan conflict compels me to convey my message to all your readers, Indian media, to the intellects, political leaders and policy makers of India. Give Sindh the political and moral support it needs, establish Sindh as a separate entity and we’ll do the breaking. There is no need for an external force, no need for military intervention by India to do the striking. Adding to that, years back G.M.Syed during his India tour and then during the Geneva conference too had warned the Indian political leadership against radical Islamists and asked for a separate national identity for Sindh. The then Indian leaders, I assume didn’t grasp his words till the time the Mumbai attacks took place, it’s only now that they have woken up. Therefore, I say that ideologically we have already defeated Pakistan; it’s the political support we ask for. 

Protests against CPEC.
Protests against CPEC (China-Pak Economic Corridor)

A lot of readers will not stand in vein with his fanatics and hold opinions that will state otherwise. But Perspective. Wikipedia doesn’t always nail it right but it defines perspective correctly, one’s personal opinion about an issue. Sharif Burfat continues to spread his message regionally and internationally through various media outlets and social networking sites.

Currently, he’s fighting against CPEC (China-Pakistan Economic Corridor), the $46-billion project that displaces thousands of people without a proper plan of rehabilitation or providing any compensation. He considers Sindh and Hind to be a single unit (while referring to the Indian national anthem) and looks forward to receiving equal support for JSMM’s struggle for Sindhudesh as one sees for Balochistan.

Interviewed by Karishma Vanjani of NewsGram. Twitter: @BladesnBoots

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  • Asad Saber Janjua

    OMG! Indian media pretends to go berserk while trying to sell patriotism dish to Indians cooked in anti-Pak sentiment spicy broth. THEY COMPETE WITH EACH OTHER BECOMING CRAZIER THAN OTHER IN PRETEND RAGE.

Next Story

Pakistan Fears Economic Turmoil, Re-thinks ‘Silk Road’ Project With China

In 2017, Pakistan turned down Chinese funding for a $14 billion mega-dam project in the Himalayas because of cost concerns.

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Pakistan
A man passes through a railing while others board a train as they make their way home at the Cantonment railway station in Karachi, Pakistan. VOA

After lengthy delays, an $8.2 billion revamp of a colonial-era rail line snaking from the Arabian Sea to the foothills of the Hindu Kush has become a test of Pakistan ’s ability to rethink signature Chinese “Silk Road” projects because of debt concerns.

The rail megaproject linking the coastal metropolis of Karachi to the northwestern city of Peshawar is China’s biggest Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) project in Pakistan, but Islamabad has balked at the cost and financing terms.

Resistance has stiffened under the new government of populist Prime Minister Imran Khan, who has voiced alarm about rising debt levels and says the country must wean itself off foreign loans.

“We are seeing how to develop a model so the government of Pakistan wouldn’t have all the risk,” Khusro Bakhtyar, minister in Pakistan’s planning ministry, told reporters recently.

Pakistan
Visitors read instruction material about land that was reclaimed from the Indian Ocean for the Colombo Port City project, on the Galle Face sea promenade in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Jan. 2, 2018. The Port City project was initiated as part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative. VOA

Unease elsewhere

The cooling of enthusiasm for China’s investments mirrors the unease of incoming governments in Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Maldives, where new administrations have come to power wary of Chinese deals struck by their predecessors.

Pakistan’s new government had wanted to review all BRI contracts. Officials say there are concerns the deals were badly negotiated, too expensive or overly favored China.

But to Islamabad’s frustration, Beijing is only willing to review projects that have not yet begun, three senior government officials have told Reuters.

China’s Foreign Ministry said, in a statement in response to questions faxed by Reuters, that both sides were committed to pressing forward with BRI projects, “to ensure those projects that are already built operate as normal, and those which are being built proceed smoothly.”

Pakistani officials say they remain committed to Chinese investment but want to push harder on price and affordability, while re-orientating the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), for which Beijing has pledged about $60 billion in infrastructure funds, to focus on projects that deliver social development in line with Khan’s election platform.

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China’s ambassador to Pakistan, Yao Jing, Islamabad. VOA

‘Mutual consultation’

China’s Ambassador to Pakistan, Yao Jing, told Reuters that Beijing was open to changes proposed by the new government and “we will definitely follow their agenda” to work out a roadmap for BRI projects based on “mutual consultation.”

“It constitutes a process of discussion with each other about this kind of model, about this kind of roadmap for the future,” Yao said.

Beijing would only proceed with projects that Pakistan wanted, he added.

“This is Pakistan’s economy, this is their society,” Yao said.

IMF bailout likely

Islamabad’s efforts to recalibrate CPEC are made trickier by its dependence on Chinese loans to prop up its vulnerable economy.

Growing fissures in relations with the United States, Pakistan’s historic ally, have also weakened the country’s negotiating hand, as has a current account crisis likely to lead to a bailout by the International Monetary Fund, which may demand spending cuts.

“We have reservations, but no other country is investing in Pakistan. What can we do?” one Pakistani minister told Reuters.

Pakistan
Laborers dig the ground before replacing concrete sleepers along railway tracks in Karachi, Pakistan. VOA

Crumbling railways

The ML-1 rail line is the spine of country’s dilapidated rail network, which has in recent years been edging toward collapse as passenger numbers plunge, train lines close and the vital freight business nosedives.

Khan’s government has vowed to make the 1,872 km (1,163 mile) line a priority CPEC project, saying it will help the poor travel across the vast South Asian nation.

But Islamabad is exploring funding options for CPEC projects that depart from the traditional BRI lending model, whereby host nations take on Chinese debt to finance construction of infrastructure, and has invited Saudi Arabia and other countries to invest.

One option for ML-1, according to Pakistani officials, is the build-operate-transfer (BOT) model, which would see investors or companies finance and build the project and recoup their investment from cash flows generated mainly by the rail freight business, before returning it to Pakistan in a few decades time.

Yao, the Chinese envoy, said Beijing was open to BOT and would “encourage” its companies to invest.

Pakistan
A man waits to cross a portion of track once shared with the Karachi Circular Railway line in Karachi, Pakistan. VOA

Large rail projects, problems

Rail mega-projects under China’s BRI umbrella have run into problems elsewhere in Asia. A line linking Thailand and Laos has been beset by delays over financing, while Malaysia’s new Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad outright canceled the Chinese-funded $20 billion East Coast Rail Link (ECRL).

Beijing is happy to offer loans, but reticent to invest in the Pakistan venture as such projects are seldom profitable, according to Andrew Small, author of a book on China-Pakistan relations.

“The problem is that the Chinese don’t think they can make money on this project and are not keen on BOT,” Small said.

Off-books debt

During President Xi Jinping’s visit to Pakistan in 2015, the ML-1 line was placed among a list of “early harvest” CPEC projects that would be prioritized, along with power plants urgently needed to end crippling electricity shortages.

But while many other projects from that list have now been completed, the rail scheme has been stuck.

Pakistan
. The difference between the two validate the investments made on the road, and give a hopeful image for the future.

Pakistani officials say they became wary of how early BRI contracts were awarded to Chinese firms, and are pushing for a public tender for ML-1.

Partly to help with price discovery, Pakistan asked the Asian Development Bank (ADB) to finance a chunk of the rail project through tendering. The ADB began discussions on a $1.5-$2 billion loan, but China insisted the project was “too strategic,” and Islamabad kicked out the ADB under pressure from Beijing in early 2017, according to Pakistani and ADB officials.

“If it’s such a strategic project then it should be a viable project for them to finance on very concessional terms or invest in?” said one senior Pakistani official familiar with the project, referring to the BOT model.

China’s foreign ministry said Beijing was engaged in “friendly consultations” with Pakistan on the rail project.

Chinese companies participated in BRI projects in an open and transparent way, “pooling benefits and sharing risks,” it said.

Pakistan
In this file photo taken Oct. 10, 2015, a bus moves past by solar power and wind power farms in northwestern China’s Ningxia Hui region.

Chinese debt or no project

Analysts say Pakistan will struggle to attract non-Chinese investors into the project, which may force it to choose between piling on Chinese debt or walking away from the project.

In 2017, Pakistan turned down Chinese funding for a $14 billion mega-dam project in the Himalayas because of cost concerns and worries Beijing could end up owning a vital national asset if Pakistan could not repay loans, as occurred with a Sri Lankan port.

Khan’s government chafes at several Chinese intercity mass transport projects in Punjab, the voter heartland of the previous government, which now need hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies every year.

Also Read: Creating a New Silk Road: China’s Billion Dollar Investments to Expand Its Transportation Network

They also fume about the risk of accumulating off-books sovereign debt through power contracts, where annual profits of above 20 percent, in dollar terms, were guaranteed by the previous administration.

With the ML-1 line, there are also those who harbor doubts closer to home, including the previous government’s finance minister, Miftah Ismail, who said his ministry had always had concerns about its viability.

“When people say it’s a project of national importance, that usually means it makes no sense financially,” he said. (VOA)