After its recent patch-up with the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party, the Mutahida Qaumi Movement signalled its willingness to rejoin the federal government when the cabinet is expanded sometime late next week.
Sources in both parties confirmed that the MQM has agreed in principle to rejoin the federal cabinet provided PPP addresses its remaining concerns. One of the major demands made by the MQM about action against Peoples Aman Committee has already been met.
The MQM is also demanding a reshuffle in the Sindh cabinet before the next phase of federal cabinet expansion. It wants local government ministry, which is currently being held by Agha Siraj Durrani, said to be a close associate of President Asif Ali Zardari.
The MQM also wants the removal of Zulfiqar Mirza as the provincial home minister. This is, sources said, a bit tough for the PPP to accept.
If both parties succeeded in resolving bilateral issues amicably, the PPP may initially offer two key ministries and some additional portfolios to the MQM. Sources said MQM’s Babar Ghauri was likely to retain his previous portfolio as the minister for ports and shipping.
Another lucrative ministry, the ministry of housing is most likely to go to Dr Farooq Sattar, who is MQM’s parliamentary leader in the National Assembly.
Source said that the government had earlier planned to carry out the cabinet expansion in the first week of March but delayed the plan because of its continuing parleys with the MQM, whose support is vital for the prime minister to retain a simple majority in the National Assembly.
Since the two parties formed an alliance after the 2008 elections, relations between the PPP and the MQM witnessed many ups and downs. The PPP leadership is learnt to have been ready to welcome either of the two PML-Q factions in case it really had to let the MQM go as a political ally.
Earlier, the president held a meeting with the Chaudhrys of Gujraat, who lead the main faction of the PML-Q. PML-Q leaders later claimed that the meeting had nothing to do with joining the government, but political observers viewed the move a smart one on the part of the president in a bid to convey a clear message to the MQM that he still holds many cards close to his chest.
This time around, it is learnt, the PPP wants to accommodate some key ministers who were dropped. There is also a possibility that a few new faces can also make their way into the new cabinet.
Among those likely to get cabinet posts are: Qamar Zaman Kaira, the former information minister, Raja Pervez Ashraf, former minister for water and power and Nazar Gondal, the former agriculture minister.
The PPP is also likely to take at least one minister each from Sindh and Balochistan.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 20th, 2011.