The Curious Case of Hyderabad Sindh

By Anjum Altaf

Peshawar is by no means the busiest airport in the world but compared to Hyderabad it is a monster.

I mentioned in an earlier post (Anchoring Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province) that the number of flights per week into Peshawar airport was 79 of which 56 were from the Middle East. I used the information to venture that the KP economy was anchored in the Middle East and that this was not due to the flow of investment into KP but the export of manpower from it.

A reader commented that what I had mentioned for Peshawar was true of every big city in Pakistan. This may well be established and, if so, it would suggest that Pakistan as a whole is a manpower exporting economy – statistics indicate that almost the only positive number in recent years has been remittances from workers overseas.

Still, it is my guess that Peshawar is an outlier amongst cities in Pakistan and that extending the comparison to every city is not warranted. I make my point by referring to the curious case of Hyderabad which in terms of population size is of the same order as Peshawar.

In extending the research to Hyderabad, I was, much to my annoyance, surprised again. I had not expected to find that Hyderabad airport had actually remained inoperative for ten years till 2008 and just this year has been closed to commercial traffic again.

My memory of earlier years recalls flights to Hyderabad from Lahore and Islamabad via Nawabshah but clearly something had changed. This warrants investigation given that in the normal course one would expect more economic integration not less over time.

A number of scenarios could be postulated. First, Hyderabad might really have declined economically over the years and is not any more a viable destination for air traffic. I would be skeptical of this explanation given that there are still flights into smaller cities like Sukkur.

Second, it could be the case that there is real economic demand for service which is not being met for reasons we are unaware of. If so, it would signal a failure of the political process through which the needs of a community are articulated and met.

Third, it could be that Hyderabad can do without air service because of the proximity of Karachi. I am not convinced of this argument which could be made just as plausibly for Peshawar. One could ask why Islamabad airport does not serve the same purpose for Peshawar.

The answer to the last question should be obvious: Enough passengers wish to fly directly to Peshawar which makes the supply of air service a viable proposition. There is clearly not the same magnitude of passenger demand into Hyderabad.

This brings me back to the study of relative labor flows from and to Pakistan that was mentioned in the post on Peshawar. The district-level study summarized its findings as follows: “The general pattern seems to suggest that the less developed districts have high out-migration and low return-migration, whereas the more developed districts… have low out-migration and high return-migration.”

It then highlighted the exceptions: “The only districts that do not fit into this pattern are the less developed districts of Sindh and lower Punjab, which are characterised by both low out- and return-migration.”

The puzzle was that while both the erstwhile NWFP and Sindh were characterized by similar indices of rural poverty, the relative outmigration of labor from the former was much higher than from the latter. One of the joys of research is stumbling upon the unexpected – I realized for myself the importance of the dog that does not bark. While we were focused on studying the causes of migration, the lack of migration from some areas was an equally important phenomenon to explore and explain.

It was my inference at that time that the explanation of the puzzle pertaining to the very different individual responses to rural poverty resided in the nature of the land tenure systems in the two provinces – one tied its labor to the land in much more coercive ways than the other. The why and how of it are fascinating topics to explore but I leave them here to the imagination of the reader.

It was natural to extend this insight to the movement of labor from rural Sindh within Pakistan. The immobility hypothesis explains why, for example, Karachi is the largest Pakhtun and not Sindhi city in the world despite the fact it is located in Sindh and over a 1000 kilometres from Peshawar.

The internal movement of labor in Sindh also threw up an interesting contrast with the Punjab. The ethnic homogeneity in the latter meant that both labor and capital circulated freely between rural and urban locations in the province. The ethnic heterogeneity in Sindh, with rural and urban areas dominated by different groups growing increasingly alienated from each other, meant that the corresponding circulation of labor and capital was much more restricted if not severed altogether.

The deprivation of modernizing capital investments from urban areas had obvious negative implications for the prospects of rural development in Sindh. For our limited hypothesis related to demand for air service, it meant that both international and national flows of labor from rural Sindh were severely constrained.

To some extent, this provides a partial explanation for the curious case of Hyderabad whose airport has remained barely functional over the years. Of course, it highlights a number of larger questions about local variations in political economy and their implications for the nature of economic change that would bear more careful analysis.

Anjum Altaf is Dean of the School of Humanities, Social Sciences and Law at the Lahore University of Management Sciences. This op-ed appeared in Dawn on July 16, 2013 and is reproduced here with permission of the author.

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20 Responses to “The Curious Case of Hyderabad Sindh”

  1. Hamza Says:

    Interesting. I somehow feel that Pathans are very open to the idea of migration(national+international) as compared to Punjabi and Sindhi people. Most of the pathans i have come across(specially the labour class) , they have been working and living in various areas and have been constantly moving. In short i feel that the pathans move at very minimal incentive whereas for a punjabi the opportunity cost for moving is far greater.

    • Anjum Altaf Says:

      Hamza: You have a cultural explanation – somehow Pathans are more open to migration compared to Punjabis and Sindhis. I would like you to keep pushing – why might that be the case? Did the Almighty decide to drop one kind of people in one place and a differnt sort in another? Or could the nature of a place have something to do with the disposition of its residents? All over the world there are significant differences between highlanders and lowlanders even when they are in close proximity.

      You still need to answer why Pathans move at a very minimal incentive while the opportunity cost of moving for Punjabis is far greater. The claims by themselves are not enough.

      • Hamza Says:

        I do not base my statement on logic rather on my limited observations. Also, although location plays a big role but when i talk about migration i do not talk about a specific origin. Pathans though originally might have migrated from KPK/Afghansitan but they keep on moving constantly from one place to another, few of pathans i know they have been residing in Punjab villages for over two generations now and they still keep moving. So i guess ‘Almighty decided to drop one kind of people in one place and a differnt sort in another’ kinda sounds right.
        Perhaps one logical explanation would be that pathans are known to be more productive and since there is a higher demand for Pathan-labor wherever infrastructure work gets a boom , pathans move there. This i can say for a fact basing on following two observations
        1) We have a family friend who is a contractor for WASA and he prefers employing pathans when it comes to laying down new sewage lines . So as his work moves within Punjab so does his Pathan labor force.
        2) Pathans are preferred whenever it comes to breaking of concrete/digging etc and they are paid Rs.100/Rs.150 more than the usual Rs.300/Rs.350 per day labor rate.(True for Lahore atleast)

        As far as the question is concerned that why Pathans move at a minimal incentive , this leads to a huge debate and i dont think we can find a logical answer to this. But a very vague guess is that somehow i feel that Pathans do not have strong family connections as compared to Punjabis so moving for them is perhaps easier. For instance , my house is guarded by a private security company and their guards comprise of about 80% punjabis and 20% pathans , whenever an occasion like EID comes . I see that most of the time Pathan guards stay back but the punjabis they go to their respective villages and some of them don’t even bother coming for over a month whereas the pathan guards even when they go on vacation they are back in a week max.

        ps. I am talking about the unskilled labor class here as i feel that as one gets more educated and more skilled the caste/sect differences vanish.

        • Anjum Altaf Says:

          Hamza: An observation is not an explanation; it needs an explanation; it is only the starting point of an inquiry; it should serve the purpose of a question that requires a credible answer.

          You have observed that a Pathan is more productive than a Punjabi. What might be the reason for that?

          You have observed that Pathans take less vacations than Punjabis. What might be the reason for that?

          You argue that the Almighty made some people one way and others another. Yet at the end, you undermine that theory completely by stating that the differences vanish with educations and skills. Which seems to support the position that these difference are not innate and God-given. You are contradicting yourself which is alright – it means you have to keep looking for a better explanation.

          The point to keep in mind is that the same observation can have multiple explanations. Let me adapt a great example from Amartya Sen: You observe a person for a 12 hours from a hundred yards away. The person does not eat during the entire period. What would be your explanation for his behavior? Well, he could be fasting or he might be on a diet or he might be starving and without money to buy food. You cannot find out which explanation is closer to the truth without further investigations.

          This brings up another central issue – that of choice. The first two actions (fasting and dieting) are acts of choice. The third (starving) is an outcome of lack of choice. So when you see differences in behavior (the Pathan going home less frequently than the Punjabi) you need to figure out whether this reflects an act of choice or results from lack of choice.

          On this profound difference between choice and lack of choice, Ghalib was well in advance of Amartya Sen. And since this is the month of fasting, Ghalib’s analysis is all the more appropriate.

          http://thesouthasianidea.wordpress.com/2008/09/03/ghalib-says-7/

          Almost all the wisdom of the world is incorporated in literature. Which is why it is important to study literature. Anyone who knows Ghalib or Bulleh Shah knows more than most of our highly trained professionals.

  2. Ebad Pasha Says:

    I think by simply looking at the airport issue in Hyderabad gives an insight into things, but makes things very much complicated. With regards to Sindh, there are a number of things which need to be taken into consideration. I believe Sindh suffers from the lack of skilled labor. Most people in the lower income bracket do not have many options of social mobility. Perhaps one of the things you would want to look at is the worsening education system of the province. In KPK labor is highly skilled because of options such as mining being available. Lower income groups in SIndh know no skill other than farming, hence making them a lot more immobile both socially as well as geographically.

    Social structures of Sindh are also much more different than those existing in KPK, which complicates the issue even further. Hamza rightly says it is much more difficult for a Sindhi to move than a Pakthan.

    Another pattern you might want to look at is the recent increase in migration to Hyderabad from interior Sindh and from Hyderabad to Karachi. You mentioned how Karachi is not the largest Sindhi, but Pakhtoon city. Let me try and unfold this a little. Karachi, Hyderabad, Mirpurkhas and SUkkur are cities with higher urdu-speaking population in SIndh, in descending order of urdu-speaking population by percentage respectively. Living in Hyderabad I experienced migration of a number of Sindhis to Hyderabad, while the urdu-speaking population of Hyderabad moving to Karachi. This explains why Karachi has not seen an increase in the number of Sindhi population. I believe in the next few years, Hyderabad will have a higher proportion of Sindhi population than it had ten years or so ago.

    I hope I have explained my scattered thoughts somehow, and this makes a little sense.

    • Anjum Altaf Says:

      Ebad: Thanks. Some of things you mention make sense to me, others need more thought:

      Why does Sindh suffer from lack of skilled labor?
      Why is the education system worsening in Sindh? If migration is tied to education, it should have been higher when the system was better. There is no evidence to support that.
      I don’t believe KPK labor is highly skilled. The mining sector is a very minor employer. Mining skills are not in demand abroad.
      Farming is not a deterrent to migration. All over the world farmers migrated to cities. What is special about Sindh that its farmers can’t migrate?
      Yes, the social structure is different in KPK compared to Sindh – this is what the op-ed also suggested. So are the systems of agriculture and land tenure. In what way do these impact mobility?
      Yes, the urban and rural elites in Sindh are different unlike the Punjab – the op-ed mentioned that. In what way doe this impact the regional economy?

  3. Sardar Ahmed Shah Durrani Says:

    The two largest ethnic groups in Hyderabad are the Sindhis and the Urdu-Speaking Mohajirs. Most of the Sindhis are in one way or another engaged in agriculture related professions. And the Mohajirs in business, trade, etc.
    Having lived in Hyderabad for almost all of my life, I can say that the demand for a functional commercial airport is low in Hyderabad. The economy is not as strong and most people prefer travel by train or buses. People who visit their agricultural lands use buses or road transpoet. And when people come from abroad or other cities within Pakistan they land in Karachi.
    As you mentioned in your article, Hyderabad Airport used to be functional years ago and commercial airlines used to operate as well. Now, the Airport has come under “Pakistan Airforce” control and serves as a small base for its jets. As the economic conditions will enhance, so will the demand for a functional airport.

    • Anjum Altaf Says:

      Ahmad Shah: The puzzle posed in the op-ed was why the demand for an airport in Hyderabad was low. If the answer is that most Sindhis are engaged in agriculture, then three question follows: First, why was an airport operational over 20 years ago and is not so today? Second, given the extent of rural poverty, why the poor have not migrated to the Middle East like the poor from KPK? If there were sufficient people abroad that would make a direct flight to Hyderabad viable. Third, what is the basis for the optimism that economic conditions will improve when they have been declining in the past?

      Can we argue that the economy of Peshawar is stronger than that of Hyderabad? If so, what indicators might we use to make the case? It seems to me that both are equally weak but more people are being pushed out of Peshawar than Hyderabad and we are trying to understand the reasons for the difference.

      • Sardar Ahmed Shah Durrani Says:

        As Shahroz and Hamza mentioned, the social and cultural issue is also important in this regard.. Sindhis tend to remain in their own areas and moving out of their villages is not something that is done often. For example, at the time of partition when Mohajirs settled in big cities like Karachi and Hyderabad, most Sindhis remained in their villages.
        Even now, the village or “Goth” is considered home and moving out of the village is very difficult.
        Whereas, the Pathan from KPK would willingly travel from peshawar to karachi to find employment.

        • Anjum Altaf Says:

          Sardar Ahmed Shah: To me what your describing is an observation, not an explanation. I would like your opinion on why Sindhis find it very difficult to move out of the village while Pathans do not.

          Also, this is unrelated but at the time of Partition Peshawar was also a non-Pathan city. In fact, it remained largely a non-Pathan city till the time of the first Afghan war when it got an influx of refugees.

  4. shahroz punjwani Says:

    Sir I find substantial logic in one of the reasons you mentioned that is the quasi-feudal social structure of Sindh for lack of mobility, which has had very deep cultural and psychological impact on Sindhi low-skilled labour. This is also answer to Hamza’s point where he says that Pathans are very open to the idea of migration and Sindhis are not. I believe the issue can be greatly explained by the geographical, political and cultural perspective rather than economic one.

    The geography of the region gives bases for the economic structure, that is agriculture. Massive fertile lands and water have also shaped the power structure and poltics of the region. On the contrary KPK has an altogether diff scenario. Further more political events such as water disputes with Punjab and
    The domination of punjabis in the central has fostered feelings of nationalism in the ppl of Sindh.

    Thus the wide employment capacity in agri sector and the impact of feudal system on daily lives of the people has led to the limited horizon of low income sindhi generations where seeking employment abroad is regarded as a very distant option.

    • Anjum Altaf Says:

      Shahroz: You are on the right track but some ideas need to be pushed further. Could you spell out the impact of feudal system on the daily lives of the people? Why and how does it limit their horizons? Why is seeking employment abroad a very distant option? One would think people would want to escape an oppressive system, wouldn’t they?

  5. Asad Shah Says:

    Dear Anjum,

    It was a pleasure to read your article and the analysis it contains.

    One element that I noticed when I was in ADB, was that very few Indonesians and Malaysians migrate to developed countries. On the other hand, The Filipinos have migrated in large numbers, particularly to USA. By some estimates there are between 2 to 3 million Filipinos in USA. We find a large number of Filipino workers everywhere in the world. I think there are several reasons or it; please consider these opinions as that of a lay man as I am not a good searcher, what to talk about re-searching!

    First, I think the colonial history of the Filipinos (Spanish and US influences) made them more liberal, particularly in the context of the stage of their own civilization. In this process, while the Spanish ruled them for over 500 years, and the Americans for less than 100 years, they have imbibed the American culture more thoroughly, particularly in urban areas. Second, the literacy rate is very high; the English speaking population is very large. Third, culture plays a very important part. With urbanization,the hold of old culture has diminished in the Philippines, women’s participation rate in labour is high, and mobility has increased.

    In Indonesia and Malaysia, most of the local population likes to remain within their own country, and even in their own area. You would recall the failure of the transmigration program in Indonesia. I suspect the Sindhi speaking population, in general, and, those living in the rural areas in particular, is still bound by their past traditions and prefer not to move. The case of Karachi makes it clear, where the non-Sindhi population is only about 10 percent. While the nature of feudal society and ‘bonded labour’ are also issues, an emphasis on education, particularly in the technical and vocational areas, would create job opportunities for the oppressed rural Sindhis. Of course, multi-modal connectivity improvements remain an important component.

    Regards

    Asad Shah

    • Anjum Altaf Says:

      Asad: Thanks for the detailed comment and for connecting to the parallels in East Asia. I am not convinced by the argument that Indonesians and Malaysians like to remain in their own country while Philipinos do not. This leaves no need for any explanation. My interest is in understanding the reasons for such a difference.

      Why do Pathans want to leave their country but Sindhis do not? We still do not have a good answer to the question. There were no Spanish or Americans in NWFP nor were the Pathan poor literate or English speaking. Nor for that matter were they Arabic speaking but the migrated to the Middle East. The Sindhis were no different in all these attributes. So why did they not migrate to the Middle East too?

      In the case of East Asia, I would look at the huge Spanish style latifundia estates in the Philippines compared to very different rural structure in Malaysia and Indonesia. Could one offer the explanation that the latter generated many more jobs than the former? After all, if a region is generating jobs, its people would not want to move unless there were some other reasons for the immobility – as I suspect there are in Sindh.

      Within, East Asia one could also compare the very different international mobility of the Chinese and the Japanese. The easy explanation would be to attribute this, ex-post, to cultural differences. A thought experiment would be interesting. Suppose someone visited Japan and China well before the migrations. Would he/she, just by meeting the people, been able to predict which ones would turn to be more mobile?

      • Asad Shah Says:

        Thanks for your response. I personally do not believe everything comes to jobs. There is need to study the cultural context and the related historical processes. Perhaps culture would also be undegoing a change through the process of globalization and in the ultimate analysis it would all come to economics. But all societies are not at that stage currently. When studying the cultural context, another area for study may be the colonial hetitage and how this has influenced the values of these socities in areas such as mobility, modernization and empowerment of women.

        • Anjum Altaf Says:

          Asad: I agree on the importance of history. For example, it is highly unlikely there would have been large scale migration from India to the West Indies, Mauritius, Malaya, etc., without the British intervention. However, cutural is a more tricky matter. Muslims should be especially careful about subscribing to cultural theories because many people ascribe a tendency to violence, an aversion to scientific thinking, and an incompatibility with democracy to the culture of Islam and/or Muslims.

          The problem with culture as an explanator is that it can ex-post explain everything. Thus before 1987, the weak economic growth in India was called the “Hindu” rate of growth as if it had something to do with Hindu culture. Nothing in the culture changed but growth rates more than doubled after 1987. The reasons were policy changes, not culture.

          Similarly, before 1979 Chinese were derided as opium-eaters. Now they are considered the most disciplined people in the world. The culture did not change, policies did.

          In his book “The Future of Freedom,” Fareed Zakaria warns against the temptation of cultural explanations:

          “A hundred years ago, when East Asia seemed immutably poor, many scholars — most famously Max Weber — argued that Confucian-based cultures discouraged all the attributes necessary for success in capitalism. A decade ago, when East Asia was booming, scholars had turned this explanation on its head, arguing that Confucianism actually emphasized the essential traits for economic dynamism. Today the wheel has turned again and many see in ‘Asian values’ all the ingredients of crony capitalism. In his study Weber linked northern Europe’s economic success to its ‘Protestant ethic’ and predicted that the Catholic south would stay poor. In fact, Italy and France have grown faster than Protestant Europe over the last half-century.”

          • Asad Shah Says:

            Anjum, I fully agree with you. I think I have not been able to convey the meassge appropriately. What I am saying is that there is need to wake up the people so that they can realize their potential. In many cases this sleep has been induced by the society’s belief system or historcial appreciation of their values or culture. This aspect is well demonstrated by the case of Malaysia, whee I worked during the 1980s. I think the greatest contribution of Mahatir has been the message of “can do’ to the Malays, who had been cast as a lazy race by the British colonial government as they ‘imported’ Indians and Chinese to carry out most of the work in the industrial and service sectors. I witnessed this transformation firt hand when the Malays came to realize that there was nothing wrong with their genes and they could become educated and contribute to the modern economy. A paricularly pleasing aspect of this has been empowerment of women and thier greater participation in economic activities.

  6. Vikram Says:

    The Philippines and Indonesia have had about the same net migration rates (around -1.2 migrants / 1000 population) over the last decade. A comparison with Malyasia wont be fair as it has a substantially higher per capita GDP, but its net migration rate is lower than both the other countries (-0.37 / 1000 population).

    Is the migration of the wealthy and entrepreneurial merchant Sindhi class to India during Partition a possible reason ? Because of the loss of this community, and the movement of Urdu speakers into the main industrial center of Karachi, the Sindhi population might have lost out on the networks that would have enabled them to move successfully to Karachi and beyond Pakistan. The lack of an extensive rail network might have made movement from rural Sindh to Karachi difficult. So the rural Sindhi population might have just stayed put in the villages, to face a life of economic and social frustration.

    For the Pathans, the exit of the merchant class from Peshawar might have created the room for a new Pathan elite to move in to that city and beyond Pakistan from there. In recent years, the uncertain security situation in the Pathan areas might have created a desperate situation for the population there making them more willing to move.

    • Anjum Altaf Says:

      Vikram: Thanks for joining this discussion and for pointing out that the Philippines and Indonesia have the same rate of migration. It is a bit surprising because one sees Pilippinas (nurses and housemaids) all over but not Indonesians. Malaysia has its uniqueness. Its urban economy is dominated by immigrant communities (Indians and Chinese) who have little incentive to leave and the Malays who are predominantly rural have benefited from an agressive affirmative action program for decades.

      Also, one should keep in mind that Malaysia has a lot of land, is resource rich, but has a very small population – about 28 million. Compare that to the Philippines (95 million) and Indonesia (242 million). One can assume that the pressure on land must be much higher in the latter.

      On Sindh, I feel you are partly right. The merchant Sindhi class (that migrated involuntarily) was replaced by Urdu speakers from India. The urban-rural networks were broken (unlike Punjab, as mentioned in the post) which certainly restricted both rural development and migration. However, the lack of an extensive rail network was not a factor. A good rail network existed even at that time.

      Regarding the Pathans, when the Hindus and Sikhs left Peshawar they were not replaced by Pathans from rural areas. Rural Pathans migrated to Karachi and the Middle East even though they had no connections there to start with, there were no extensive rail networks, and not even a sea port with regular sailboats to ports across the gulf. Pathans have been moving well before the recent security situation. Recall all the Afghans who moved to India over a 1000 years ago.

      The Sindhi puzzle has yet to find an answer.

  7. Anjum Altaf Says:

    Some people might find this reference to the entrepreurial spirit of Sindhis intriguing but that is only because of unfamiliarity with history:

    “It raises the question of why the Sindhis have been so successful [in Indonesia]. Manoj believes it is the result of the entrepreneurial spirit that’s “in the blood of the Sindhis,” while ethnic Indonesians themselves are less driven by the business of profit.”

    This is why cultural explanations (including Manoj’s reference to Indonesians) are so problematic. Are some Sindhis entrepreneurial and others not? Are we now going to move from an ethnic to a religious explanation?

    http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/sindhi-kings-of-indonesian-entertainment/article5052949.ece?homepage=true

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