Finally the curtain has fallen on a controversial personality. Sindh Home Minister Zulfiqar Ali Mirza is reported to have gone abroad on sick leave, announced as “indefinite” by Sindh Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah. Mr Mirza was no longer seen by PPP’s allies in government as the trouble-shooter in the province, but as trouble itself. On the one side was the MQM, the party whose defection in Islamabad could bring the federal government down; on the other was Mirza’s warmth of close companionship with the party leader. It develops that Mirza’s removal is not punitive. It is simply another ‘adjustment’ made to keep the MQM inside the tent.
Mirza had a voice of particular volume that home ministers usually avoid. He made claims that he could not fulfil, simply because the city of Karachi had a frozen ethnic-linguistic vote. Instead of being silken in his discourse, he chose to be challenging, shoring up his party in the mega-city. Worst of all, he was unable to give the non-partisan citizen a safe place to live in. He would have had his backers not only among PPP supporters but also among communities across the board, had he succeeded in curbing rising urban crime, including ‘bhatta’. He failed in that, but then minimised his chances of success by applying a partisan gloss to crime.
Party boss President Asif Ali Zardari had to accommodate his rather prickly personality while adjusting to the tough and fluctuating partnership of the MQM at the centre and in Sindh. When it all began, Karachi was troubled and had its old ‘bhatta’ problem, but under Mirza things deteriorated with the expansion of ‘bhatta’ to local criminals. This was compounded by that other scourge called target killing. Instead of getting a grip on these evils, Mirza focused on the political side of the crime. As he implied complicity of the MQM and non-complicity on the part of those arrayed against the MQM, he made things difficult for himself. What is more, he could not stick to his guns for long and was made to eat his words after each typically aggressive delivery.
Who has taught our politicians to adopt aggressive delivery? No mature politician in the world will be attracted to fulminatory statements when the political scene is as balanced in terms of power projection as Karachi. Mirza simply did not have a normal mode of address. If this was his natural self, then it was most unfortunate.
His predictions as home minister were mostly proved wrong. His statements, particularly the one about the PPP’s peace committee, were belied by his own party. He either did not grasp the delicate politics being conducted by his party chief at the centre or simply disagreed with it and tried to plough his separate course in Karachi.
But Mr Zardari is non-linear in his conduct of politics, and that has delivered him longevity in power so far. He exercises ambivalence as a principle and applies his Sindhi ‘grace’ and noblesse oblige as a softener to perceived lack of principle. He knows when to advance aggressively and when to retreat from face-to-face combat. Many observers believe that Zulfiqar Mirza was a close personal ally — loyalty for Mr Zardari is a virtue that cannot be ignored — and was used in Sindh to tackle a temperamental ally in the MQM. With that context in mind, his removal from the home department in Sindh is simply another chessboard move. Some say he will be ‘adjusted’ in the Senate. In any case, the new information minister for Sindh is seen to be close to Mr Mirza, and is believed to take a hawkish party stand.
The fact of the matter is that, as long as the PPP and MQM remain at loggerheads, the chaos of Karachi will continue to bring a bad name to the ruling party. If the exit of Mirza is a gesture of reconciliation, let it be linked also to local bodies elections to shift some of the responsibility on to the MQM.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 8th, 2011.
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