KARACHI: The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz’s strong effort to play a role in the Sindh political scene has set off alarm bells in the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and its allies, and also created an opportunity for groups opposed to PPP to unite.
While Nawaz Sharif has managed to convince several people to join his party, the merger of the Mumtaz Bhutto-led Sindh National Front (SNF) with the PML-N has surprised many. Political analysts believe that Bhutto’s decision will propel him from isolation to inclusion [in mainstream politics].
Bhutto, who Zulfikar Ali Bhutto used to call “my talented cousin”, has also started approaching influential people in Sindh to create an alliance that would oppose the PPP in the next elections.
Mumtaz Bhutto studied at Oxford University and was known as a ‘dahisar’ (a brave man). But in recent years, he was confined to his village Pir Bux Bhutto in Larkana district following the growing popularity of PPP in the area.
Nationalist parties Awami Tehreek and Sindh Taraqqi Pasand Party have also started negotiating with Sharif, while the Arbab Ghulam Rahim-led group of the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid has signed an election pact with the PML-N. Other clans who had a large vote bank in 2002, such as the Jatois of Dadu district, Sherazis of Thatta, Tando Allahyar’s Magsis and the Unars of Larkana have reportedly assured the PML-N of their support.
The PPP is also playing catch up and has tried to woo the Mahar brothers from Ghotki district. But the Mahars have said no to the PPP and the PML-N. According to sources, former district nazim Ali Gohar Mahar and ex-chief minister Ali Mohammad Mahar demanded that the PPP not field candidates for the one national and three provincial assembly seats in the district. “This is our constituency. Only us or our supporters can win the election in our area,” Sardar Ali Gohar Mahar reportedly told MNA Faryal Talpur, President Asif Ali Zardari’s sister.
The PPP is still undecided on its future course of action. The Mahar family tends to contest elections independently before joining a coalition.
“The Mahar family joins any alliance or government on the directives of ‘bari sarkar’ (establishment). It seems they have not yet been signalled where to go,” said journalist Sohail Sangi.
PML-N has constituted a nine-member committee led by former chief minister Liaquat Jatoi to contact influential Sindh politicians in the province.
Raheela Magsi, the former district nazim Tando Allahyar and her brother Irfan Gul Magsi, a former minister for revenue, have also been approached by Jatoi and are expected to join the PML-N soon.
However journalist Sangi disagrees that the PML-N can win seats in Sindh.
“They want to use Mumtaz Bhutto as a ‘tag’ to show that Bhutto’s cousin and other powerful forces are with them,” he said. “How can you assume change from a man who cannot even win his own seat?”
However, it is uncertain what position he will get in the PML-N. Mumtaz Bhutto has served as Sindh chief minister twice, as well as governor and a federal minister.
“Bhutto has rendered a big sacrifice by merging his party into the PML-N. We are also considering giving him the most important position in the party. Deliberations are ongoing and he is likely to replace Raja Zafarul Haq as PML-N chairperson,” a senior PML-N leader said.
While the usual suspicion that the ‘establishment’ is behind the new political game in Sindh, Sangi doesn’t think that the establishment is serious. “Nawaz Sharif is once again trying to give the impression that the PML-N is a national party and some influential people including nationalists are with him.” he said. Sangi says it was odd that a Sindh nationalist group had indicated forming an election alliance with the PML-N.
According to senior analyst and writer Inam Shaikh, Nawaz Sharif has emerged as a vocal leader for Sindh while the PPP – which has a huge vote bank in Sindh – has ‘ditched its people’ and its coalition partner (MQM) appears to be backing a movement for a Mohajir province.
“The situation has changed. We are in the era of social media. People are aware of their issues and know how the PPP has failed to deliver. In this situation the PML-N can get considerable votes because old allies of Nawaz Sharif and Pervez Musharraf who have solid votes in their constituencies are limping back to join the PML-N,” he said.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 21st, 2012.