Following days of mutual recrimination, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and its estranged coalition partner, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), have finally agreed to a formula which will pave the way for the latter’s eventual return to the government.
According to the formula, in the first phase, the PPP has conceded to the MQM’s demand for the restoration of the local government system – but only in Karachi and Hyderabad. However, in the remaining 21 districts of Sindh, the commissionerate system will remain in place, highly-placed sources told Daily Express.
Following days of political friction and bloodletting in Karachi, there has been a gradual softening of stances in both the PPP and MQM.
On Friday, leaders of both parties met at an Iftar hosted by Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah in Karachi in what was meant to be an ice-breaking congregation. However, what most of those fraternising at the Karachi iftar did not know was that meetings of real consequence were already being held elsewhere – particularly in Islamabad.
Sindh Governor Ishratul Ebad of the MQM held a meeting with President Asif Ali Zardari, followed by an Iftar dinner at the Presidency on Friday.
Sources said that PPP’s senior leaders in Sindh are not aware of the new agreement as President Asif Ali Zardari is handling the situation.
“The law and order situation in Karachi was discussed during the meeting. The president later hosted a dinner for the governor,” said a two-line statement issued by the Presidency.
When contacted, Presidential spokesperson Farhatullah Babar refused to divulge details of the meeting. However, sources disclosed that the meeting was a follow up of a decision taken at the Presidency two days earlier, where the allied parties in the Sindh government had authorised Zardari to intervene and take all necessary steps to bring normalcy in the violence-hit financial hub of the country and to bring the MQM back into the government’s fold.
According to sources, the government’s legal wizards have started drafting an ordinance whereby municipal corporations and district municipal corporations will be abolished in Karachi and Hyderabad.
Sources added that the MQM is likely to rejoin the provincial and federal cabinets following the restoration of the local bodies system in the two major urban centres of the province.
In the second phase, sources said, the commissionerate system would either be abolished or amended to make the office of commissioner subservient to the city mayor (nazim).
Following a consensus among top PPP leaders, the draft agreement has been sent to the MQM for final approval. If the MQM accepts to the draft, sources said, the government is likely to issue the ordinance within the next 48 hours.
The MQM is insisting that three ordinances should be promulgated simultaneously to do away with the Local Government Ordinance 1979, Police Act 1861 and the commissioner system.
However, sources said that the party has apparently relented in backchannel talks with the PPP which says the three ordinances should be abolished in phases.
Sources said that the government is also giving serious thought to the MQM demand for holding local bodies’ elections in Sindh or to appoint political administrators instead of bureaucrats. But the sources clarified that no decision has been taken yet. The two parties have also agreed that their leaders would not make provocative statements against each other’s parties. And in future, differences would be resolved in closed-door meetings.
Meanwhile, over at the Iftar in Karachi, Sindh Local Government Minister Agha Siraj Durrani said that MQM would rejoin the government before the end of Ramazan and the two parties would celebrate Eid-ul-Fitr together.
Talking to media men on the occasion, he said there had been negotiations between MQM and PPP on various issues and the president had directed them to take MQM on board. “The commissionerate and local government system has been the bone of contention between MQM and PPP. We cannot reverse the decision, but we can bring amendments to it,” he said, adding that leaders of MQM were expressing concern over the commissionerate system, but they had failed to propose their desired amendments.
Durrani added that the government had not yet decided over the issue of MQM ministers’ resignations. “We are still waiting for MQM to rejoin the cabinet, I hope the ministers will resume their jobs before Eid,” he said.
Referring to the Sindh cabinet meeting with President Asif Ali Zardari in Islamabad, he said: “All our powers have been given to the president to decide the fate of the coalition.”
MQM leader Raza Haroon said that MQM could rejoin government in the best interest of the country. “We should not waste our time discussing the old local government system of 1979, but there is a dire need to bring the internationally acclaimed modern local government system of 2001,” he said.
Haroon added: “We do not have personal gain in politics, we are advocating for the rights of people and we will continue to do so whether we are in the government or the opposition,” Haroon added. (WITH ADDITIONAL INPUT FROM CORRESPONDENTS IN KARACHI AND ISLAMABAD)
Published in The Express Tribune, August 6th, 2011.