One-Unit Period and Sindh: A Bitter Reminiscence

This study inquires the political, cultural and economic grievances of Sindhis and role of the actual or perceived injustices for the rise of Sindhi ethno-nationalism.

Conception of the One-Unit plan is attributed to army high command because the then Commander-in-Chief of armed forces Field Marshal Muhammad Ayub Khan in his autobiography revealed that One-Unit plan was conceived by him.

By Sultan Mubariz Khan, Misbah Shaheen and Aaqib Shahzad Alvi

[This study inquires the political, cultural and economic grievances of Sindhis and role of the actual or perceived injustices for the rise of Sindhi ethno-nationalism. One-Unit was a scheme introduced by the Pakistani government to amalgamate all the areas of West Pakistan in a single province. Its implementation deprived existing provinces of their autonomy. The defunct provinces were not mere administrative units but were historical homelands of communities possessing distinctive ethno-cultural identities. Hence, it was not only a loss of political autonomy but was also a loss of identity for the people of smaller provinces. Larger proportion of One-Unit population belonged to the former province of Punjab. Punjabis also formed the most advanced ethnic group of West Pakistan. So their dominance in One-Unit’s administration, economy and politics was quite obvious.

The government was compelled to abandon the One-Unit scheme after a decade and a half because of the resolute opposition by smaller provinces nevertheless it left bitter memories. Indigenous population of Sindh akin to people of other smaller provinces considered the One-Unit period as the bitterest experience of their history. It is abominated as the colonial period during which people had to face many suffering and lead a miserable life. That strengthened ethno-nationalists sentiment among indigenous Sindhis. The perceptions of Sindhis’ exploitation are how much based on reality demand a comprehensive investigation based on empirical pieces of evidence.]


All the areas of the western region of Pakistan were integrated in a single province by abolishing the existing provinces and autonomous states. The new arrangement was called “One-Unit”. It was envisioned as panacea to resolve various problems that Pakistan had to face during that period. Dispute between Punjab and Bengal over share of representation in central legislature of Pakistan had created a deadlock and hindered framing of constitution. Hence, it was anticipated that One-Unit would be helpful to resolve the constitutional dilemma.

More over administrative unification was believed to facilitate efficient administration and process of national integration. Conception of the One-Unit plan is attributed to army high command because the then Commander-in-Chief of armed forces Field Marshal Muhammad Ayub Khan in his autobiography revealed that One-Unit plan was conceived by him to resolve the constitutional and administrative problems of Pakistan. The ascendant bureaucratic oligarchy played the leading role in its implementation and the group of Punjabi politicians supported them. The plan was bitterly criticized and begrudged throughout Pakistan except Punjab province.

One-Unit- Pakistan Parliament-1951-58
Pakistan’s parliament 1951-58

The apprehensions about undesirable outcomes in future were more intense in Sindh as compared to other provinces because Sindh had the bitter experience of its amalgamation with Bombay Presidency during British Raj. Style of governance in nascent state of Pakistan had already disillusioned Sindhi intelligentsia and politicians. The coercive measures employed by the central government for the approval of the One-Unit plan became a source of displeasure among smaller provinces. Chief Minister of Sindh Muhammad Ayub Khuhro on behest of central government compelled Sindh Legislative Assembly to pass the bill for approval of One-Unit. The people of Sindh had certain suspicions about the future political leadership and bureaucratic administration of One-Unit province. There were apprehension of Punjabis’ dominance and marginalization of people from smaller provinces because of Punjabis numerical strength and better level of modernization as compared to peripheral regions of West Pakistan.

Sindhis’ Grievances during One-Unit

Lesser representation in administration and bureaucracy

Prior to the implementation of One-Unit scheme, administrative body of the Sindh province was comprised of native Sindhi elite, though there were complaints of excessive intrusion by the central government in provincial matters. However some of the actions taken by Sindh government, for instance resistance to refugees’ settlement in Sindh, opposing the proposal of the separation of Karachi, recruitment of indigenous Sindhis in the government sector, preservation and furtherance of Sindhi culture and literature and measures to increase Sindhis’ representation in central services were appreciated by native population. Creation of One-Unit deprived Sindhis of their inalienable right to rule their ancestral land autonomously. They considered it a serious blow for their national pride. The provincial headquarter of One-Unit was in Lahore; that was situated at a faraway distance from the Sindh region and was an unfamiliar place for Sind his because of linguistic and cultural differences.

Journey to a distanced place inhabited by a community whose mother tongue was unintelligible for native Sindhis wasn’t trouble-free for predominantly illiterate native Sindhi masses. Those visits were not excursions but a compulsion for resolution of problems related to official administration. At the commencement of One-Unit, bureaucratic power was budding and consequently the decision making power was too shifting towards bureaucracy, although there was a façade of democracy. However, with the enforcement of martial law that façade also vanished and the civil-military bureaucrats became the actual power holders. General Ayub Khan assumed power as the chief marshal law administrator. He believed that politicians are inept for statecraft. Resultantly the way was paved for bureaucracy to establish its complete control at all levels of administration. Such arrangement enhanced bureaucratic powers by demounting all types of legal hindrances in the way of administrators to manage the state’s affairs according to their own free will). Ayub’s vision of a strong central government was meant an independent and authoritative executive not contingent on the impulses of the legislature. Hence, legislative assembly became a mere representative forum for all the submerged regions. And the financial affairs became out of its domain.

One Unit Postal StampOwing to such ascendant role of executive, the system closely resembled the constitutional autocracy of vice regal system of British India. The other institution where native Sindhis had representation was the federal cabinet. However in lieu of cabinet member, the actual influential in the decision making process were civil servants so substantial participation in policy making was possible only by dint of enormous presence in civil-military bureaucracy which they didn’t possess. The top most cadre, ‘Civil Services of Pakistan’ (CSP) that was supposed to transact the important bureaucratic functions and had been relishing monopoly in the prestigious bureaucratic positions, had inadequate representation of native Sindhis.

Almost all the top management authority of various public sector organizations namely; Water and Power Development Authority, Industrial Development Corporation, Planning Commission, etc. were in the hands of non Sindhis. When provincial head quarter of Sindh was abolished and government employees were asked to shift at Lahore for assumption of their duties. Majority of Sindhi officials refused and opted retirement option because of faraway place and inauspicious working conditions that further reduced already meager proportion of Sindhis in government services. The findings of a survey conducted in 1969-70 revealed that the ratio of Sindhis and non Sindhis in federal government was one by five thousand (1:5000) and native Sindhis consisted of even less than 40 % of government servants posted in Sindh region during one-unit period. While answering a question in One-Unit assembly, it was revealed that the number of indigenous Sindhis was limited to only one officer against the post of secretaries, deputy secretaries and joint secretaries respectively. Their representation in other key government departments like railway, telephone & telegraph and accounts were also very limited. Board of revenue that is considered a very important institution for lands allocation did not had even a single Sindhi in five-member board to protect the indigenous Sindhis’ interests. In addition, representation of Sindhis in public and private sector banks was insufficient.

Ayub prioritized rapid economic growth. Consequently “Planning Commission of Pakistan”, got a potent role in administrative and policy making mechanism. Technical experts were accorded key role in highest decision making. But those experts largely belonged to non-Sindhi community which caused further exclusion of native Sindhis in policy making process. Even in the district administration significant number of the officers posted in Sindh were non-Sindhis.

The larger proportion of officers other than Sindh combined with their arrogant behavior created resentment among people of Sindh. They preferred their co-ethnic member over Sindhis in provision and distribution of governmental facilities and resources (short term loans, distribution of irrigation water and other basic facilities like electricity, Sui Gas and roads). Such factors engendered in native population a consciousness that they were being ruled by the outsiders and Sindhi nationalist intelligentsia considered them as foreigners who behaved like masters and treated them as their slaves.

Cultural Grievances

The possible annihilation of distinctive identity due to imposition of OneUnit was the most potent threat which haunted the Sindhi masses as well as intellectual elite. The amalgamation of all areas of West Pakistan ended the Sindh’s status as an autonomous province and the name Sindh wasn’t allowed to be mentioned for those areas which were earlier part of Sindh province. Sindh had always retained its status as a separate administrative unit throughout history even before advent of British’s Raj, whether it was part of large empires or a sovereign state. British discarded that tradition by annexing it with Bombay presidency. Incorporation in One-Unit province reminded Sindhis of the problems which they had to face after amalgamation with a dominant region. Pakistani authorities couldn’t be content with mere administrative unification of West Pakistan rather they intended to achieve cultural harmony which was considered as a prerequisite for transformation of diverse cultural groups residing in West Pakistan into a unified nation. It was presumed that goal of national harmony would be achieved by persuading the population of West Pakistan including native Sindhis to adopt the cultural practices of advanced Muslim community of northern India. The government tried to promote culture, history, heroes, achievements and contribution of Muslims form United Provinces (UP) and Delhi. Indigenous histories and cultures of West Pakistan’s areas were ignored. It was in accordance with the prevalent perceptions at the international level which considered that task of nation building wasn’t possible in situation of cultural diversity.

Language is considered as significant cultural marker, repertoire and conduit of culture. Promotion of culture supportive for government’s efforts of minimizing the differences between people of West Pakistan was considered as the principal obligation by decision makers. And consequently, regional languages and cultures were not only neglected but discouraged for the sake of promotion of Urdu. Implication of those policies for Sindhi language and native culture were unpleasant. Sindhi language had achieved the status of official language for centuries ago and the status dates back to colonial era that remains intact after independence till imposition of One-Unit.

The advent of One-unit didn’t augur well for Sindhi language. Certain decisions taken by government during One-Unit period were castigated by Sindhi nationalists as a planned strategy for elimination of Sindhi culture and identity i.e. Karachi University banned Sindhi language as medium of examination in 1957. Banning of Sindhi as medium of examination by University of Karachi created lot of problems for Sindhi speaking students. They had studied all their subjects in Sindhi language and suddenly they were asked to appear for examinations conducted in a different language. That handicapped situation was like adding insult to injury for Sindhi students. Hyder Bux Jatoi lamented on that discouraging circumstances for Sindhis by writing a pamphlet entitled as ‘Will Sindhis remain in Karachi’. He argued that central government dominated by Urdu speaking officials was not willing to permit indigenous Sindhis for getting education in their mother tongue while residing in Karachi. They were forced to make a choice between Karachi and Sindhi language.

Educational reforms commission was constituted by Government of Pakistan and the status of regional languages as medium of instructions was reduced to primary level. It further suggested for mandatory introduction of Urdu from class three and to adopt Urdu as sole medium of instruction from sixth grade. Sindhis were not amused because of that decision. Majority of native Sindhis could only communicate through Sindhi. In new situation it became quite hard for them to perform their official responsibilities as majority of them had got their education only I Sindhi language. Data of 1951 census revealed that the ratio of educated Sindhis literate in their mother tongue was five times as compared to speakers of other local languages of West Pakistan. That decision was considered by Sindhi intelligentsia as an arbitrary action taken by small elitist group to impose Urdu culture and language at the expense of Sindhi language. So they launched a fierce agitation campaign. Huge public meetings were organized to register protest and vast majority of natives participated in agitation procession. Observance of Sindhi language day on November 9, 1962 was a monumental event in history of Sindhi nationalist movement. A protest memorandum by Sindhi member of national assembly was presented to the President of Pakistan. Media also participated in that vital effort of indigenous population by issuing a press statement supported by almost all the native Sindhis. Government decision was condemned and grave negative connotations for the fate of Sindhis were also highlighted. It emphasized to review the decision.

The exigencies of situation united rival personalities like Syed Sardar Ali Shah, A K Brohi and Sheikh Ayaz on a single platform to make resistance more formidable. Report of commission was even rejected by a Sindhi language newspaper Mehran which was considered a representative of moderate opinion. Editorials of newspaper opposed the proposals of report due its inimical implications for native’s interests and negative consequences for Sindhi language. Agitation compelled the government to revise its decision and status of Sindhi as medium of instructions for Sindh region was restored. Although, the revised decision did not significantly alter the superior status of Urdu and inferior status of Sindhi and Urdu continued to enjoy government patronage and privileged status. A new chain of government schools in the name of comprehensive schools was created in rural Sindh and the medium of instruction in them was Urdu. Sindhi speaking students due to language barriers faced difficulties in passing admission tests of those schools as compared to Urdu speaking students. And in this way, that policy deprived Sindhis of equal educational opportunities in interior Sindh.

Despite resistance form native Sindhis, government remain stuck to its goal of cultural unification. The enthusiasm demonstrated by authorities for cultural integration created apprehension amongst Sindhi public that government intended annihilation of Sindhi culture. Those policies were believed as replica of the strategy pursued by Russian authorities during Socialist regime and Tsarist era for cultural genocide of their subject nationalities. Government instructed the staff of Pakistan post offices department to avoid delivery of letters if address was written in Sindhi language or name of Sindh was mentioned for places situated in Sindh region. Names of certain towns which previously had word ‘Sindh’ were changed i.e. Hyderabad Sindh railway station’s name was renamed as Hyderabad railway station. Urdu sign board replaced the sign boards written in Sindhi. Native population responded that policy by clandestinely rewriting names of railway stations in Sindhi language which were written in Urdu by government officials. All the legislation was printed in Sindhi language during erstwhile era of One-Unit. Most the legislation during One-Unit period was published in Urdu language. Preservation of official record was done in Sindhi that tradition changed during one-Unit. Cancellation of funds by new government which were allocated for Sindhi cultural and linguistic institutions by provincial government of Sindh was another example of non-friendly attitude of One-Unit administration. In a bid to seek concessions from government, a charter of demands was presented by indigenous Sindhi students to concerned ministry. Memorandum pointed out the non-participation of any person associated with native Sindhi population in preparation of all language policies implemented by government after independence up till that time. Representative delegation of Sindhi students also demanded solution of language issue through adjudication. They proposed to constitute a commission of impartial experts for that purpose.

Migration of outsiders in Sindh especially after independence shifted demographic balance against native’s majority. Karachi’s 432% growth of population during two decades of 40s and 50s is an unmatchable phenomenon throughout known human history. Establishment of One-Unit further enhanced the pace of Punjabis and Pukhtoon settlement in Sindh. Settlement of 4.5 million people from other regions in Sindh during One-Unit period is a glaring evidence of phenomenal increase in outsiders’ influx. The period witnessed the increase in number of Urdu speaking population by four times and Punjabis as well Pukhtoons by approximately twelve times. Influx of outsiders was not only limited to Urban centers but a considerable numbers of people chose to settle in rural areas of interior Sindh. Sindhis did not appreciate the settlers’ evasive attitude for Sindhi culture as they showed lack of interest for Sindhi culture. They preferred for their children to get education from Urdu medium schools. Government transformed the medium of instruction from Sindhi to Urdu in some of the schools established in the areas which received influx of immigrants i.e. in district Sanghar and Tharparkar medium of instruction for number of schools was changed.

Transformation of demographic map had detrimental implications for Sindhi culture along with economic and political loss. Especially Karachi became culturally non-Sindhi and Sindhis were haunted by the specter that incessant migration of outsiders would outnumber them and they would be destined the fate of Dravidian of ancient Sindh who were driven out by Arians. Nationalist intellectuals like G. M. Syed propagated that indigenous Sindhis were facing the serious threat of becoming minority in their own native region.


The prevalent sense of deprivation in Sindh due to injustices perpetrated against them during One-Unit period resulted in a sense of alienation amongst indigenous Sindhis. Majority of the indigenous population were not satisfied with economic, administrative and cultural policies of central government. Settlement of outsiders created long lasting resentments in Sindh. Consequently nationalist were able to convince Sindhi masses that their miserable conditions were because of usurpation of Sindh’s resources by outsiders. The situation provided a favorable ground for Sindhi nationalism to flourish. It was the period when the slogans like ‘Jeay Sindh’ (long live Sindh) got popularity and twilight period of 60s witnessed a vigorous popular campaign in Sindh for annulment of One-Unit and restoration of Sindh’s provincial status.

It is evident that sense of marginalization developed due to significant socio-economic and political inequalities which existed between Sindhis and non-Sindhis. When socio-economic and political disparities coincide with cultural and linguistic denial by the dominant groups, the situation becomes more fertile to give birth to ethnic conflict and nationalist tendencies that may lead to chaotic situation at later stage. Hence, state authorities need to ensure an equal and due representation of all the ethnic groups in provincial and national power structures.


Excerpts from Pakistan Social Sciences Review (March 2020)

Sultan Mubariz Khan is Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science and IR, University of Gujrat, Pakistan; Misbah Shaheen is Lecturer, Department of Politics &IR, University of Sargodha, and Aaqib Shahzad Alvi is Lecturer, Department of Social Work at the same university.


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