The Walking Volcano
The last Sunday of August witnessed an unprecedented spectacle at the Karachi Press Club. The way Dr. Zulfiqar Mirza, PPP senior vice president of Sindh, MPA from Badin and senior minister in the Sindh government spoke and acted at his press conference, earned him the moniker of “Hurricane Mirza” from The Express Tribune. Others called him “Volcano Mirza,” because what flew from the crater for about two hours were red-hot rocks. The targets were Altaf Hussain and Rahman Malik.
The tsunami of invectives at the two included the following: “Rahman Malik is a born, one hundred per cent liar. Malik supports target killers. If the country came to any harm it will be due to Malik. Altaf Hussain said to me that with U.S. assistance he would separate Karachi and that he would wipe away the Pathans. MQM is behind all killings. MQM transported arms in its KKF ambulances. The citizen police liaison committee chief is allied with MQM.”
The outburst was Mirza’s reaction to the paramilitary operation in Lyari launched under Rahman Malik’s or- ders, despite Mirza’s strong opposition. To reinforce his credentials he also announced his resignation from all the three offices amidst thunderous applause by his supporters who had followed him to the venue.
Encouraged by how his speech had stunned the audience, he repeated the scenario at the Hyderabad Press Club two days later. This time he widened his field of attack to include the U.S. “The MQM is armed to the teeth with 150,000 AK-47 Kalashnikovs, around 15,000 rocket launchers, anti-aircraft guns, anti-tank mines and mortars and is now in the process of procuring nuclear weapons with the help of Uncle Sam,” he said, adding that “Uncle Sam was looking for a cruel, ruthless and sordid entity in Pakistan, which would be ready to sell the country’s honor and dignity. They found it in a party which said ‘give me $500 million and finish ISI and we will do whatever you want,’ such as allowing Blackwater and other groups and also to occupy Iran.”
Like at the Karachi Press Club, Mirza once again raised a hard cover copy of the Quran over his head theatrically to shore up his veracity.
A few days later he spoke to a crowd at Ghaggar Phatak on his way from Badin to Karachi, claiming he had issued “300,000 arms licenses to the Sindhi people” and urged them “to use these weapons against the MQM, if they kill any Sindhi or other innocent (person).” He asked the MQM leadership to ‘kill him’ if they want to stop him from unearthing the ‘facts’ against MQM. At one point he asked the crowd, “What you will do if they kill me,” then himself suggested to kill “at least 50 people in revenge.”
Zulfiqar Mirza has even taken to imitating Zulfikar Bhutto, tearing his shirt and baring his chest during his speeches. As before the gimmick is working. His popularity has soared among ethnic Sindhis, some even calling him “Sher-e-Sindh” (lion of Sindh). Several of his former colleagues in the government have also expressed their support for him, besides the ANP, MQM (Haqiqi), Sindh Dost Ittehad (SDI), Sindh National Party (SNP), PPI, and defunct Peoples Aman Committee (Lyari), whose activists received him at the Ghaghar Phattak.
Mirza’s core demand in his speeches is that PPP should end all attempts
at reconciliation with MQM and the Sindh Governor, who is from MQM, be removed.
Meanwhile, in an interview to a private TV channel he disclosed having a two-hour meeting with ISI chief Gen. Shuja Pasha a few days ago during which he handed over evidence against the MQM based on documents which he had carried with him in a briefcase. He claimed further that it was his second meeting with the ISI chief, held with the knowledge (and consent?) of President Zardari.
But Mirza is clever. He is careful to cover his flanks. The army, the ISI, Zardari and Bilawal are the ones to whom he swears allegiance time and again. He said in one speech that “the army and ISI have saved Pakistan” and “I owe unreserved allegiance to Benazir and Zardari.” And he complimented the ISI as a “well-organized, patriotic and well-trained” entity that was “100 per cent dedicated to the motherland.”
He urged the people of Sindh to support his struggle “to protect the Pakistan Army and Pakistan from the anti-state elements’ conspiracies.” He urged the youth to play their role “for strengthening the country and supporting the Army.” He said that “those who oppose the president should consider him as their enemy” and asked the masses “to strengthen the hands of PPP chairperson Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and President Zardari.”
But Mirza is Asif Zardari’s childhood buddy and his “enforcer,” who keeps errant PPP politicians in Sindh in line. A majority school of thought therefore believes that in a Machiavellian move he has been unleashed by Zardari to corner the MQM. His accusations have forced potential political suitors of the MQM like the PML (N) and the PTI, to distance themselves from the party and seek “patriotic” cover.
It is also obvious that Mirza’s incendiary outbursts were clearly programmed to steal the thunder of Sindhi nationalism that was gaining momentum after PPP’s vacillation on the local government issue.
The plan seems to have succeeded admirably on both counts. Sindhi nationalists have been silenced. Driven into political isolation, the MQM was left with no option but to remain Zardari’s allies, on his terms, with no space for political blackmail. Accordingly, when Altaf Hussain addressed a countrywide video conference, to present his case, he spoke of alliance with Zardari. It should not be long therefore, for the MQM to rejoin the government.
That there is no estrangement between the buddies is evident from the fact that Mirza continues as a member of the party and his wife remains the Speaker of the National Assembly. However, the massive surge in his popular appeal in interior Sindh should give Zardari pause before Mirza emerges as a potential rival.
Dr. Zulfiqar Mirza – popular appeal.