PPP’s Zafar Ali Shah takes on Zardari’s henchmen

An otherwise quiet Syed Zafar Ali Shah surprised many with an in-your-face type speech.

Nusrat Javeed August 11, 2011

The blowback impact of turns and U-turns that the Zardari-led PPP kept taking to first bully and then appease the MQM continued to surface in the National Assembly on Wednesday, discussing the chronic collapse of law and order in Karachi. An otherwise quiet Syed Zafar Ali Shah surprised many with an in-your-face type speech.

He started by bluntly pronouncing that his party was behaving like a helpless hostage to MQM’s dictates. Then, he switched to wondering as to why a senator from Punjab, “Dr Babar Awan, who is neither a federal nor a provincial minister, was sent to Karachi to announce the restoration of a system that General Musharraf had devised to please the MQM”. He concluded the speech by categorically telling the chair: “We (the PPP members) do not want Awan and (Rehman) Malik on Sindh’s soil.”

A few PPP MNAs appeared to be mustering some courage to endorse his statement by tapping their desks. The sound from the PML-N benches, however, was far more roaring. What really intrigued the press gallery, though, was the steady silence that the MQM legislators maintained. Not for once during Shah’s acerbic speech, did they appear perturbed. They even refrained from invoking the privilege of speaking on points of personal explanation.

They should at least have taken some trouble to refute a serious allegation that Zafar Ali Shah made with full force. In clear words this very experienced parliamentarian and a veteran of political battles rather got away by spinning the story that during the 10 years of General (retd) Musharraf, “the MQM planted hundreds of its cadres in various departments. No public representative can now manage any relief for his or her constituents without a nod from the sector commanders of this party”.

Perhaps the MQM legislators didn’t feel bothered to react; for, their party has eventually protected its turf from a bunch of smart Alecks, widely acknowledged for being associated with Asif Ali Zardari. It was time to savor the final victory by acting sober and let the PPP endure the shame of public wailing by its legislators.

I can fathom the anger and frustration of the PPP MNAs from Sindh. They surely find it very difficult to defend and justify their leader’s somersaults while dealing with the MQM. No one is sure about when and how, but most observers of our political scene expect next general elections within the coming 12 months. An early calling or enforcing of these elections will certainly lead to some PPP candidates’ defeat in various constituencies of Sindh, so far considered the invincible citadel.

Still, the PPP legislators from Sindh are just not being fair in focusing their ire, exclusively on Babar Awan. In the same context, they are also being a bit reckless in pointing at his ‘Punjabi domicile’. There is no doubt that rags to riches Awan is ruthlessly ambitious. During most of his initial years in political games, he also was found ferociously associated with the camp that hated Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and his party, almost pathologically.

After the return of Nawaz Sharif to Prime Minister’s Office in 1997, however, he came close to Asif Ali Zardari and decided to defend him in various ‘small courts’, set to hear corruption charges against him. Many leading lights of the PPP felt it ‘below their status’ to appear before those courts. While some would politely try to tell Benazir Bhutto that her husband had turned into a liability, a few would drop hints for reclaiming ‘expenses’, if asked to defend Zardari against a plethora of ‘serious corruption charges’. Awan remained steadily available for doing all the ‘dirty work’. Being a friends’ friend and with no capacity to forget and forgive, President Zardari is now returning favours.

The opportunity-seeking instincts of Babar Awan are remarkably sharp. He takes no time to fully comprehend the priorities of his boss in dire political straits and seldom hesitates to deliver there and then.

Awan needed no tutor for discovering that Asif Ali Zardari wanted to keep the MQM on board, at least until March 2012, rain or shine. With or without sharing or approving Zardari’s game plan, powerful countries with troops in Afghanistan also wanted no trouble in the port city of Pakistan, furnishing the cheapest and the quickest route for logistic flow and support. At least the British from among these countries came out into the open to demand restraint from all stakeholders of the political scene of Karachi. Both the PPP and the MQM could just not afford to disregard their demand. They had no option but to compromise and pull back from the brink. Quaid-e-Tehrik took the lead with publicly expressed apologies. His initiatives had to be matched by Zardari’s camp. Babar Awan merely acted as a smart postman in the said context.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 11th, 2011.