The moves and counter moves that Asif Ali Zardari has been making since acquiring absolute control of the PPP have kept his opponents unsettled for three long years. Even the hardcore ‘ideological types’ of his party have been grudgingly swallowing his never-ending appeasement of the forces who were never known for having any sympathy for the PPP.
After initial shocks, such elements rather started realising that without commanding a clear majority in parliament, Zardari was destined to act pragmatically to stay in power until the next elections. There always comes a point, though, when even seemingly successful moves by a politician start producing diminishing returns and Zardari appears to have reached the turning point. Tuesday’s proceedings of the National Assembly brought this reality into the open, almost with a bang.
Syed Zafar Ali Shah, an experienced politician from the neighbouring district of Zardari’s hometown in the heart of Sindh, took the lead. He joined the ANP legislators in walking out of the House to protest over the restoration of Local Government System that Gen Musharraf had enforced. The symbolic gesture by Shah was not noticed by most reporters. What forced the copious note-taking by them was the speech of Nabeel Gabool.
This lawmaker is a scion of a family that has deep roots in Lyari, considered the ‘invincible citadel’ of the PPP in Karachi since the 1970s. He got the mike to speak on the frightening chaos gripping his hometown and confessed at the outset that his party leadership had “banned me from speaking in any of the TV talk shows. I have been obliging so far, but my voters have elected me to the National Assembly, how can I keep quiet, when it is discussing the issue of perennially deteriorating law and order in Karachi?”
After opening with a defying question, Gabool switched his accumulated ire on Rehman Malik, the federal minister for interior.
“He (Rehman Malik) knows too well from where the criminals are launched in bulletproof cars to unleash chaos in Karachi with reckless firing and random acts of arson. Yet, he is just not willing to stop them,” alleged Gabool. He was lethal in referring to interior minister’s announcement of rewards for citizens, who would give information about hardened criminals and weapons in Karachi. “I have a list of at least 500 persons in this context. Would Rehman Malik dare order a raid even to counter-check my information?” he wondered sarcastically.
Members sitting on the treasury benches kept feeling embarrassingly helpless when Gabool was speaking. Still, the most stunning blow came from Nasir Shah, a vocal PPP MNA from Quetta. He finished his brief but blunt speech with an unequivocal demand: “It’s time that Yousaf Raza Gilani resigned from the prime minister’s office. He failed to provide us with good governance. The prime minister’s son had also been named in mega Hajj scandal, ruining the image of his father and our party.”
Strangely, not one member from the treasury benches cared to attempt some damage-control. Privately, talking to this correspondent in a minister’s chamber, none of the three ruling party MNAs that I met seemed surprised over what had happened in the house. “It was bound to happen,” one of them commented rather drily.
When pressed, he and his two colleagues revealed that an overwhelming majority of legislators from rural Sindh were finding it impossible to face their constituents “after mind-boggling turns and U-turns that our leaders kept taking while dealing with the MQM.” All of them were feeling doubly bitter over the “shamelessly hasty compromises that Dr Babar Awan offered to the MQM after landing in Karachi during the weekend.”
They further claimed in unison that after the return of Dr Ishratul Ebad to Governor’s House, Syed Khurshid Shah was deputed to negotiate details of a compromise with the MQM to facilitate the return of its nominees to the federal and provincial governments. The friends-to-all type Shah from Sukkur is an acknowledged bargainer, who engages people to maneuovre win-win kind of compromises. He presumably was doing the same with Sindh’s governor, “but Awan was suddenly dispatched from Islamabad to concede a special package to the MQM, ie the return of Musharraf’s local governments, only for Karachi and Hyderabad.”
The announcement of this concession shocked the majority of those who have been winning and losing elections to national and provincial assemblies on a PPP ticket since 1988 from Sindh. The so-called nationalists there announced a call for strike against it and this forced the government to announce that Musharraf’s system would be restored in whole of Sindh.
“Saeen,” a PPP MNA told me in a chocked voice, “try to understand. Babar Awan is a Punjabi and he does not need to contest a direct election in Sindh. There, we have to beg for votes in coming elections. Someone from amongst us should have been negotiating with the MQM. Why Punjabis like Malik and Awan are sent to appease them?”
Published in The Express Tribune, August 10th, 2011.