As all eyes are on Lyari, Lyari’s eyes are on Dr Zulfiqar Mirza – the beleaguered constituency’s knight in red, black and green armour. But for reasons best known to perhaps the president, this Pakistan Peoples Party figure is silent.
His silence is taking a toll. It is day six of a police operation to cleanse the helter-skelter settlement of criminals despite resistance from its residents. Lyari may have long been a PPP fortress that few outsiders could breach through the ballot, but the government’s decision to set the police on it has not gone down well. The only person who could have helped, argue its people, is Zulfiqar Mirza, who stepped down as the home minister.
“This is the time to prove who is loyal with whom,” remarked Lyari resident Khadija Laasi, who had come out to protest on Wednesday. “We are looking for Mirza who used to say that he would fight for our rights till the last drop of blood in his veins. We will not go after him to help us, but he should come to our help.”
If Mirza has been watching what has been happening in Lyari, he certainly hasn’t said anything. He is believed to be at his DHA residence and avoiding meeting PPP leaders who are generally close to him.
Party members close to him offered one explanation; after receiving strict instructions from the president, Mirza is avoiding creating trouble for his wife, Fahmida Mirza who is the speaker of the National Assembly, and his son Hasnain, who was recently elected an MPA to the very seat Mirza vacated.
A key figure in Lyari and a leader of the banned Peoples Amn Committee, Zafar Baloch, said that they had neither contacted Mirza nor had he approached them. He was fairly diplomatic in his assessment of the lack of visible support from Mirza – “perhaps he has had to compromise for the sake of his wife and son’s political career”.
“We still respect Dr Mirza, who might have some political commitments with his leadership. But I can say that no one can be a leader while ignoring the rights of their people. We need ration bags not hollow promises. The operation in Lyari has now exposed how these people [who claim to be true leaders] are committed to us.”
Mirza was once close to the amn committee. In fact Zafar and Uzair Baloch flanked him at a press conference when he railed against the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, a move that has since relegated him to the virtual political margins of the PPP at least in the public’s perception.
The people of Lyari who were allied with the amn committee recall March 2 when Mirza was feted at Baloch Cultural Day. As the home minister, he controlled the police and when the Rangers started an operation in Lyari he threatened to resign. When the PAC was banned Mirza had said that he would try to revive it.
Aside from Mirza, most other PPP members have been silent, with perhaps the exception of Sindh Culture Minister Sassui Palijo, the only woman MPA who contested the election on her own in Thatta. She has been voicing her opinion against the operation at meetings and events.
A senior PPP parliamentarian explained that the party has surrendered under a reconciliation policy. “All members are afraid of getting explanation calls. No one is now willing to speak against the party policy.”
Former information minister Sharjeel Inam Memon, who is close to Mirza, did not want to comment either. For his part, PPP MPA Saleem Hingoro from Lyari said that though they had supported an operation against criminals, people were angry. “We have clearly communicated the message to our leadership that the same kind of operation must be carried out in other disturbed areas.”
Published in The Express Tribune, May 3rd, 2012.