“All’s well that ends well…” but does it apply to the latest MQM-PPP patch-up?
A strong coalition government is the need of the hour.
First the government held the elections to the two constituencies of Azad Kashmir legislative assembly from Karachi which, as expected, MQM nominees won. Then, the Sindh government revived the local government system. These were the two bones of contention between the PPP and Muttahida Qaumi Movement. Appeasement being complete, the stage seems reset for the MQM to walk into Pakistan Peoples Party’s open embrace. But why things were allowed to drift so far?
Trouble had been brewing between the PPP and MQM since early this year. Targeted killings of political workers of MQM, ANP and PPP had become a daily routine. Things took an uglier turn when Sindh Home Minister, Zulfiqar Mirza, openly accepted the People’s Amn Committee of Lyari as one of the PPP’s sub-organization.
Speaking at an event in Malir, organized to commemorate the struggle of slain PPP leader Abdullah Murad, Mirza said: “I am announcing today that the People’s Amn Committee is a sub-organization and a part of the PPP. If the Amn Committee’s people are considered criminal, then I am a criminal too! They are our children and soldiers of the PPP. The spilling of Amn Committee activists’ blood means that the PPP’s blood has been spilled.”
His statement was the first time any PPP leader had officially accepted the Amn Committee a part of their party. Moreover, because Zulfiqar Mirza had previously denied any link between the Amn Committee and the PPP his statement came as a surprise to many.
The MQM on the other hand has long since held the Amn Committee to be a terrorist group, with a number of activists from both sides being killed in armed skirmishes between the two groups in what is known as Lyari gang war. It also held the Amn Committee responsible for the Shershah carnage earlier.
Understandably MQM responded to Mirza’s statement with the threat to withdraw from the Sindh government. The situation prompted President Asif Ali Zardari to take notice of Mirza’s statement. In consequence Zulfiqar Mirza was relieved of his portfolio and went into hibernation.
But, just as normality in the PPPMQM relations was returning, another dispute arose between the two, when the government abruptly postponed the elections to two seats in the Azad Jammu and Kashmir legislative assembly from Karachi. Because these seats are invariably won by MQM candidates, the latter treated it as a deliberate attempt to deprive MQM of a voice outside Karachi.
Reacting angrily, MQM decided to part ways with Pakistan People’s Party government and to sit on opposition benches in the National As- sembly, Senate and Sindh Assembly. The federal and provincial ministers of MQM as well as the governor of Sindh, Dr. Ishratul Ebad immediately resigned their offices.
The PPP countered the move by making overtures to Pir Pagara’s Muslim League (Functional) and ML (Q), which it had earlier called the “Qatil” (murderer) league, inducting members from both parties as ministers in the federal and Sindh governments. Perhaps also to hurt the MQM further, the Sindh government
restored the system of administration with commissioners and deputy commissioners to which MQM was totally opposed.
Zulfikar Mirza was also brought back, elevated as senior minister and given the portfolio of jails. Seething with anger against MQM because it had been instrumental in depriving him of the home portfolio, his first act after assuming the charge was to meet MQM-Haqiqi leader Afaq Ahmad in jail. Later, in a vitriolic speech, at a dinner by ANP local chief Shahi Syed, he praised Afaq, reviled Altaf and the Mohajirs in the most derogatory language.
Dr. Mirza confirmed that he had twice met MQM (Haqiqi) chief Afaq Ahmed and said that “If Mr. Ahmed was a criminal then Altaf Hussain was an even bigger criminal,” adding, “In my view, the real leader of the Mohajir nation is Afaq Ahmed who has been in prison for eight years and not a single case against him has been proved. In fact next to President Asif Ali Zardari he is the biggest political prisoner of the country.”
At the same time the Friday Times reported that there was speculation about Afaq Ahmad being made “governor, or given some other key office in the Sindh government.” It was also rumored that Afaq Ahmed has been “provided with cellphones and is said to be re-organizing his party from the jail.”
Maybe these actions were taken and rumors floated to out the fear of God into MQM’s heart. But if so, the moves backfired. Mirza’s speech triggered mayhem. Graffiti appeared all over the place demanding separate province for Mohajirs. And at least 15 people were killed as Haqiqi cadres emboldened by the change in the government’s mood towards the party, attacked MQM supporters in Landhi and Korangi.
Altaf Hussain reacted by advising people to store rations for one month, which triggered a general impression that in the coming days the city might plunge into more chaos.
Taking notice of the worsening situation the president sent Chaudhry Shujaat as his personal envoy to Nine Zero to negotiate fence-mending with MQM and also telephoned Altaf Hussain. Meanwhile, the stalled elections to the AJK assembly from Karachi were held and as expected, won by MQM candidates.
As a result a thaw ensued. Governor Ishratul Ebad was brought back from Dubai on a special plane and he resumed the charge of his office on July 19 after three weeks’ absence. Later he met with the president to discuss the situation in Karachi after which the government agreed to accommodate MQM’s demand to revert to the local government system.
Accordingly, an ordinance was promulgated. But, it revived the local government system only in Karachi and Hyderabad. This was an egregious error as it amounted to dividing the province into two different systems of administration; one for the MQM dominated areas and the other for the rest of the province. Predictably, there was strong opposition to this decision from Sindhi nationalists. Realizing its error, Sindh government promulgated another ordinance within two days of the first, extending the local government system to the entire province.
MQM has thus got all it had asked for. It may soon return to the federal and Sindh governments as well. But the government is under fire not only from ANP but also from federal ministers, who strongly objected the revival of the local government system.
The mother of all questions therefore is how is MQM going to repay the PPP’s friendly gesture?
MQM and PPP in a war of words.