What started off as a legislative dispute on Wednesday, devolved into a full-scale exchange between the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and their former coalition allies, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM). And before the night was over, Karachi was once again caught in the crossfire.
Intense aerial firing, burnt buses and panic once again were the order of the day, with at least on dead. However, this bout, it seems, is not restricted to Karachi.
Reports of violence came in from Hyderabad, Mirpurkhas, Sukkur and even Shikarpur.
Sindh Senior Minister Zulfiqar Mirza’s latest diatribe first stoked the flames by unleashing yet another rant against the MQM leadership – this time taking it up a notch by referring to the leader of a breakaway MQM as “the true leader of muhajirs” and accusing the MQM of trying to divide Sindh.
“If [MQM-Haqiqi leader] Afaq Ahmed is a criminal, then [MQM leader] Altaf Hussain is 100-times a bigger criminal,” bellowed Mirza. “Afaq is the second-biggest political prisoner in Pakistan after President Asif Ali Zardari.”
Mirza’s diatribe called on the people of Karachi and Hyderabad, the MQM’s electoral strongholds, to stop supporting the party. “I call upon the people of Karachi and Hyderabad to get rid of these lowlifes,” said Mirza. “For as long as I am alive, I will continue to work against criminals, target killers, and extortionists.”
“This province was here for centuries before you [Urdu-speaking migrants] came to this city hungry and naked [after Partition in 1947],” said Mirza. “You will divide Sindh over my dead body.”
Mirza made the remarks at a dinner hosted by Awami National Party (ANP) leader Shahi Syed. Interestingly, when Mirza first came forward to speak to the media, Syed attempted to stop him – and, once unable, requested the media ‘to not ask sensitive questions’.
When Mirza was at the zenith of his diatribe, fellow PPP leader and Local Bodies Minister Agha Siraj Durrani came forward and literally dragged him away from the podium. Syed later angrily asked the media if they were “satisfied” that the questions and responses had resulted in a ‘ruined evening’.
Mirza’s rant sparked an almost instant outburst of violent protests throughout Karachi, with aerial gunfire heard in nearly every part of the city. At least one woman was reported killed and six injured as a result of the gunfire. At least six vehicles were set on fire by protestors who also burnt tires in the streets.
Protestors also burnt effigies of Zulfiqar Mirza. Most businesses that were still open around midnight shut down within a few minutes.
Meanwhile, the PPP leadership almost instantly distanced itself from Mirza’s incendiary remarks. President Asif Ali Zardari was reported to have “taken notice” of Mirza’s statements. The party’s spokesperson, Qamar Zaman Kaira, said that Mirza’s remarks were his own personal opinion and not that of the PPP, nor did they reflect PPP policy.
Earlier in the day, the Sindh Assembly passed the three ordinances that had been promulgated by acting Governor Nisar Ahmed Khuhro on July 9.
The first of these was the repeal of the Sindh Local Government Ordinance 2001, which meant that the previous law – the Zia-era law from 1979 – became effective once again. The second was a repeal of the Police Order of 2002, which then reverted the law back to the colonial-era Police Act of 1861. The final was an amendment to the Sindh Land Revenue Act that brought back the commissionerate system.
The MQM members of the Sindh Assembly protested loudly throughout the proceedings, tearing up their copies of the bill and not partaking in the floor debate. The PPP has a majority in the provincial legislature and can single-handedly pass most legislation.
In fact, the MQM legislators were so occupied with their protest that they seemed not to notice when the government brought up a bill to move control of higher secondary education boards from the governor to the chief minister. The bill had passed in 2008 but had been sent back by then-Governor Ishratul Ibad of the MQM. The MQM’s protest drowned out the former governor’s dissenting note, which was read out in the assembly after having been sent there by his successor, the PPP’s Khuhro.
At a press conference after the session, MQM’s deputy parliamentary leader in the Sindh Assembly Faisal Subzwari called July 13 a “black day”, in sharp contrast to the description used by some PPP leaders: “a great and historic day”.
“This is not British rule and we cannot tolerate this kind of dictatorial approach,” said Subzwari.
Subzwari accused the PPP of transferring prisoners affiliated with the MQM to rural parts of Sindh in order to torture them. “This is not 1990s when our people were assassinated in extra judicial killings. We will not bow before government’s undemocratic attitude and continue to speak out for democracy,” he said.
Sindh Education Minister Pir Mazharul Haq, a senior PPP leader, meanwhile said that the MQM harmed their own and their constituents interests by not partaking in the debate in the Sindh Assembly.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 14th, 2011.