The deed has been done. Sindh Governor Ishratul Ebad Khan issued two ordinances on Saturday resulting in the revival of the 2001 local government system in Karachi and Hyderabad as well as the restoration of the previous delimitation of both districts.
The decision, being termed as the ‘first phase’ of an agreement, came following long negotiations between the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, represented by Sindh Governor Ishratul Ebad, and the Pakistan Peoples Party, represented by Senator Babar Awan.
Talking to the media at the Governor House after the talks, the Sindh governor said that the decision to remove all differences between the PPP and MQM had been taken via the ordinances, and reflected the will of President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani and MQM chief Altaf Hussain.
Awan, while talking to the media, said that two ordinances, and not three, as was being initially reported, had been signed.
He gave details of the phases of negotiations that had taken place.
The first phase took place in Islamabad between the governor and Awan, the second took place at the Governor House in Karachi, the third at the Sindh Chief Minister House, and then the last one at the Governor House again, after which the ordinances were signed.
He said that the decisions were in the best interest of strengthening democracy, and stressed that there was no lack of trust between the MQM and PPP, nor was there any deadlock at any stage.
He said that violence in Karachi was hurting Pakistan.
He added that the ordinances were the first phase of an agreement, and that many more decisions would continue to unfold in coming days in the run up to Eid-ul-Fitr.
Awan also said that it was agreed in the negotiations that the Police Order 2002 would not be restored and that it was best that it was done away with.
He said that it was also agreed that the governor would regain control of the education boards in the province, though there would be no legislation on the matter, but just a verbal agreement.
Awan added that all of the petitions filed in the courts on the matter would be withdrawn.
The MQM and the PPP have been mercurial allies, with the MQM frequently breaking away from the PPP-led coalition for a variety of policy differences. Most analysts, however, agree that the single biggest difference between the two parties is that over elected local governments in Sindh.
The MQM, with its political support base in the urban parts of the province, supports autonomous elected local governments. The party ran the last such government in Sindh between 2005 and 2009, which was widely seen as boosting the MQM’s governing credentials amongst its supporters.
The PPP, meanwhile, fears that the local government system would erode the party’s popularity within its political base in rural Sindh by offering an alternative to PPP-backed aristocratic politicians. It has been hesitant to allow local governments for fearing of losing its place among the electorate in Sindh.
A compromise, however, appears to have been reached on Friday, with the PPP agreeing to allow elected local governments – similar to those introduced by former president Pervez Musharraf – in Sindh’s two largest urban centres, Karachi and Hyderabad, which are also the areas from where MQM draws its deepest base of support.
The remaining 21 districts in Sindh, however, are expected to remain under the bureaucrat-dominated ‘commissionerate’ system that includes several colonial-era laws.
On Saturday morning, Awan and Governor Ebad met at Awan’s house in Islamabad to discuss the details of the agreement under which the MQM has agreed to rejoin the ruling coalition, led by the PPP, after having quit it for the third time. Both men had been given the parameters of an acceptable settlement by their respective parties and were reported to be hammering out a deal.
They met again in Karachi later in the day to continue working on the deal after they had failed to reach a conclusion in Islamabad.
Both men spoke to the media after their meeting in Islamabad and seemed keen to portray willingness by both sides to cooperate with each other.
The governor was also quick to rule out the possibility of a military action in Karachi, saying that the situation should be controlled before the need for such intervention arises.
“Why should we allow conditions in the city to deteriorate to the point where we have to call the army?” asked Ebad rhetorically.
Awan had kind words to say about MQM chief Altaf Hussain and said that the discussions between him and the governor had been conducted in a cordial atmosphere.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 7th, 2011.