The Indus River has acted as the cradle of civilisation on the Indian subcontinent, particularly where it passes through Sindh. Around 6000 years ago, some of the world’s first urban cultures sprang up in the region, reaching their zenith in the great city of Moenjodaro.
Some millennia later, Sindh was annexed by the Persian empire, to be subsequently invaded as Alexander the Great tore through the region in 326 BC. When the Greeks pulled out, the Buddhist Mauryan dynasty stepped in and ruled the whole of Sindh until the early 2nd century BC.
Sindh’s history is little recorded from here until Hindu Brahmins briefly took control in the 7th century AD, although their reign was short-lived with the arrival of the Abbasid Arabs from Baghdad under Mohammed bin Qasim in 711, marching under the newly green banner of Islam. Sindh remained under the Abbasid caliphate until 874 and under Arab domination until the indigenous Muslim dynasty of the Sumras seized power in about 1058.
Dynasties came and went for several hundred years until 1520, when Sindh was brought into the Mughal empire by Akbar, himself born in Umarkot in Sindh. Mughal rule from their provincial capital of Thatta was to last in lower Sindh until the early 18th century. Upper Sindh was a different picture, however, with the indigenous Kalhoras holding power, consolidating their rule until the mid-18th century, when the Persian sacking of the Mughal throne in Delhi allowed them to grab the rest of Sindh.
Sindh became a relative backwater, a state that only changed when the British seized it in 1843 on the flimsiest of pretexts, as a military restorative after their thrashing in the first Anglo-Afghan war – ‘like a bully who has been kicked in the street and goes home to beat his wife in revenge, ’ wrote a contemporary critic. The small port of Karachi came into its own, expanding rapidly and eventually becoming Pakistan’s capital upon Independence in 1947.
Sindh’s big landowning families (including that of the late Benazir Bhutto) and Mohajirs (Urdu-speaking refugees from newly formed India) continue to play a strong role in Pakistani politics, in power and opposition, although the province frequently hits the headlines these days for its increasing susceptibility to natural disasters, such as the calamitous floods of 2007.