What has the MQM ‘extorted’ from the government for boycotting their threatened boycott?
Until fairly late on Friday night, Syed Khurshid Shah remained busy in desperate negotiations with various leaders of the PML-N. The prime minister had deputed him to ensure order and calm during the delivery of customary annual address to parliament by President Zardari.
Khurshid Shah’s hyper but focused activity looked misplaced to me. After anxiously watching two consecutive sittings of the National Assembly since Wednesday, I rather felt strongly that while delivering the presidential address, Asif Zardari would rather suffer embarrassing sloganeering by his most pampered allies, the MQM legislators.
By suddenly discovering and agitating against the menace of bhattakhori in Karachi, the MQM had been creating raucous scenes both within the National and the Sindh assemblies throughout this week. Taking the lead in noise-making on Friday, Wasim Akhtar, an established hawk of the MQM, had clearly announced that if SOS measures were not taken to address the rampant acts of extortions in Karachi, he and his colleagues would not let the president address the joint sitting.
At the house of a federal minister Friday night, I had a chance meeting with Syed Khurshid Shah. When suggested that instead of focusing on the PML-N, he should also appease the MQM, the crafty Shah from Sukkur kept quiet with a meaningful grin. A former minister, sitting next to him, laughed out loud at my naivety and opened his blackberry to show me a press release duly issued by the president’s office. It announced that Zardari had talked to the MQM leader on phone and had ensured him pulling the law enforcers for stern vigilance and action. You don’t need to be a disciple of Aristotle to realise that Bhattakhori does not end through phone calls. Something else might have been conceded to pacify the MQM. A veteran legislator from Sindh suspected that the president must have agreed to appoint an MQM nominee as federal minister of housing and works. Faisal Saleh Hayat, the incumbent minister of this portfolio, was also present at the dinner where he said this. After intently listening to suspicions expressed by the veteran politician, the Makhdoom of Shah Jeewna discreetly slipped out. I suspect that Hayat must have left to contact some persons he could trust to double check whether he was being replaced by some MQM nominee. I had no courage to ask him, however, when he returned to join us for the dinner.
While negotiating with Khurshid Shah, the PML-N kept adamantly demanding that at least three of its legislators should be allowed to deliver ‘short speeches,’ before the president. Through these speeches, the PML-N wanted to express concern over the issues of corruption, inflation and mismanagement of various state-run businesses under the command and control of ‘cronies that Zardari has appointed’. The PPP remained sticking to the position that letting some PML-N legislators speak before the presidential address would set a dangerous precedent.
After much haggling, it was eventually decided that after some desk thumping and hooting, the PML-N would walk out of the house. The government wanted them to stage the noise-making show, only for ten minutes. Fifteen minutes was the final deal. It is a different matter that the PML-N stretched them to 20 initial minutes of the president’s speech. I don’t feel motivated to say more on this scripted display of agitation. I am yet to fathom, however, why two known howlers of the PML-N with forceful lungs – Khawaja Saad Rafique and Mohammad Asif – didn’t come to the house, if their party was really committed to make it embarrassingly difficult for President Zardari. Also conspicuous was the absence of Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, the politically astute leader of another ‘allied partner’ of the Zardari-Gilani government.
For the past two days, wagging tongues have been claiming in conspiratorial whispers that Chaudhry Shaib was working overtime to win the support of Altaf Hussain. Cabinet reshuffle looks imminent to take place in the next few days. Chaudhry Sahib seriously feels that both the MQM and the PML-Q should collectively negotiate to extract those ministries for their nominees that help the incumbents to dole out favours on a mass scale. They can justify the demand for such ministries by referring to the reality that from now on hardcore politicians should focus on consolidating his or her hold over constituencies one expects to get elected from. After all, we are entering the election mode. The opposition expects the new general election in September/October this year. The cool war gamer in Asif Ali Zardari, however, is yet not willing to hold them before March 2013. Who will get his choice of dates for new election is anybody’s guess.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 18th, 2012.