By Najam Sethi
AN EXTRAORDINARY outburst last Monday by Zulfikar Mirza, the diehard former PPP home and senior provincial minister, Sindhi nationalist and Zardari pal- loyalist, against both the MQM and the PPP’s federal home minister, Rehman Malik, has confounded friends and foes alike. In one breath Mr Mirza has accused the MQM’s Altaf Hussain of being an American agent out to undo Pakistan and Rehman Malik of being inimical to Pakistan’s integrity and wellbeing. Considering that the former is Mr Zardari’s desperately needed erstwhile coalition partner and the latter his right hand trouble shooter and negotiator, the confusion is compounded by the fact that Mr Mirza foreswore his passionate diatribe against both gentlemen on the Quran in full public view, giving it the authority of truth, the whole truth and nothing less than the truth.
Is this Mr Zardari’s idea of playing Rehman Malik as “ good cop” and Zulfikar Mirza as “ bad cop” to rope in the MQM by nudging Mr Mirza to attack both Mr Malik ( for being soft on the MQM) and Mr Hussain ( for demanding too many concessions from the PPP)? Or has the good cop- bad cop tactic got out of hand and rebounded on Mr Zardari because the bad cop got so much rope to play around with that he has gone haywire and slung the noose around his own party and boss as well? The facts would appear to suggest the latter answer.
As Sindh home minister and then senior minister, Mr Mirza wanted Mr Zardari to crack down on the MQM unequivocally even if it meant jeopardising the stability of the federal government.
His argument was that the crackdown on the MQM might deprive the PPP government in Islamabad of another year in office (by depriving it of the MQMs votes in parliament should push come to shove) but would win it great support in Sindh and in the rest of the country by bringing peace to the convulsing city — an rising national demand — thereby returning the PPP to power in the next elections. Mr Zardari disagreed.
H E WANTS to hang on to power at any cost (by appeasing the MQM and strengthening his coalition government in Islamabad against attempts by the Supreme Court, Opposition and maybe the military to weaken or oust him from office) until next March when he can win an outright majority in the Senate or Upper House and use the Senate and Presidency to launch a strong campaign to win the next election as well.
The tipping point for Mr Mirza came after the recent Sindhi nationalist backlash against the PPP following its hurried decision to concede one local government system for the MQM dominated urban areas of Karachi and Hyderabad and quite another for the Sindhi rural areas, followed by an operation last Monday by the Police and Rangers ( ordered by Rehman Malik) in the PPP stronghold of Lyari in Karachi, where Mr Mirza has been nurturing armed gangs to fight the armed cadres and proxies of the MQM. Mr Zardari has swiftly moved into damage- limitation mode with other members of his Sindh government who, like Mr Mirza, are also fed up with the MQM and want to “sort it out”. But in a perverse way, Mr Mirza may have inadvertently helped Mr Zardari stitch up his alliance with the MQM instead of rupturing it irreparably.
Two days earlier, the SC had announced a commission of inquiry into the troubles of Karachi. Now it will have to invite Mr Mirza to give evidence that is bound to focus on the MQM and hurt it badly, especially since the killings of May 2007 ( when the deposed chief justice of Pakistan, Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, landed in Karachi to whip up support for his restoration) that have been laid at the door of the MQM will inevitably be brought up. His “ Quranic” attack on the MQM will also push it on the defensive and compel it to soften its terms of entry into the PPP- led coalition in Islamabad.
Mr Zardari and Mr Mirza are school buddies. Mr Mirza owes his great wealth (sugar mills sanctioned during the PPP’s two stints in power) and power (his wife is the Speaker of the National Assembly) to Mr Zardari’s largesse.
INDEED, it is a moot point whether he might have even enjoyed such prominence if Benazir Bhutto had lived to be prime minister. Mr Rehman Malik, on the other hand, was Ms Bhutto’s FIA chief during her second term in power from 1993- 1996 and her close business partner, confidante and political advisor during her decade- long political exile in London from 1997 to 2007. He was not close to Mr Zardari.
That is why he had to work overtime to earn his spurs with him after her sudden death.
So Mr Zardari is likely to feel outraged by Mr Mirza for rocking the boat ( the closer you are to someone, the less likely you are to be forgiven for betraying his trust) and thankful to Mr Malik for shrugging away the hurtful personal allegations against him.
The big loser in this episode is the MQM. Most people will believe Mr Mirza’s “charge sheet” against it as a terrorist organisation even as he is personally shunted out of the self righteous limelight before long.
On the other side, Mr Malik will retain the confidence of Mr Zardari. Therefore it is still a moot question whether Mr Zardari or Mr Mirza was right in his assessment of the political situation and the role of the MQM in shaping the politics of the troubled city of Karachi.
The writer is editor of The Friday Times
Source: Friday Times