Whether you wore a green turban or orange, believed in Bacha Khan or Benazir Bhutto, hated the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) or loved it, you were invited to its grand iftar on Wednesday in a demonstration of largesse that was only indirectly proportionate to its level of secrecy on joining the government again.
In Rooh Afza-sweetened tones, guests were welcomed over the microphone to break bread together. The Awami National Party was conspicuous in its absence but almost everyone else accepted the invitation - Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah, Home minster Manzoor Wasan, Pakistan Muslim League-Q’s Shaheryar Mahar, PML-F’s Jam Madad Ali. The spirits were so warm that the hulking Inspector General of Police Wajid Ali Durrani, in a grey Safari suit led the prayers at Maghreb. There were more surprises in store - Mustafa Kamal, Karachi’s former mayor came in a shalwar kameez. Rough estimates put the number of guests close to 1,000. While the ANP’s Shahi Syed did not turn up, he did have an iftar dinner with MQM leaders three days back when a similar event was organised by the US consulate. ANP general secretary Bashir Jan told The Express Tribune that actually the party had been busy with another important meeting and therefore could not make it.
The crowd that gathered, especially the media, had anticipated some kind of announcement. But even though Governor Ishratul Ebad met Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani in the morning, the MQM leaders remained tight-lipped about any expected move to rejoin the Pakistan Peoples Party-led government at the federal and provincial levels again. “I’m just enjoying life,” quipped Faisal Subzwari, while chatting with journalists and alluding to being out of government life as such. When he made a wholly unnecessary introduction of Dr Saghir Ahmed, as the “former health minister”, the good doctor chuckled and said, “resigned not former”. For his part, Mustafa Kamal said that the party had invited everyone in the spirit of goodwill and reconciliation, and if anyone chose not to come, then what could one do about it.
An enigmatic Farooq Sattar, who was dogged by the press over giving a straight answer on when they would be joining the government, chose to speak in tongues: One sees many dreams, but only few come true. Now that another dream is on the verge of becoming true, one shouldn’t lose the opportunity. Unfortunately, the ‘sooth-saying’ Manzoor Wasan who had dreamt of the MQM men becoming ministers, was out of earshot.
On the menu were pakoras, spring rolls, and chaat for iftari and then well-spiced biryani and chicken qorma with sheer maal and piping hot naan. The kheer dessert bordered on the lukewarm, but the atmosphere, fairy lights and high spirits more than made up for it. Strangely, the caterer had decided to decorate each table with tube roses in what suspiciously looked like Rooh Afza.
As the call to prayer drew to a close, the feeling of goodwill and opportunity climaxed between the PPP and MQM. Members from both sides hugged, patted each other’s backs and cracked jokes. Within a few minutes though, the news of the target killing of a former PPP MNA, Waja Kareem Dad, spread like wildfire. Ironically, peshimam Wajid Durrani had just finished a prayer for peace in the city with senior MQM leader Babar Ghauri and CM Qaim Ali Shah in the rows behind him saying ‘Ameen’.
Later, Home Minister Manzoor Wasan said the Kareem Dad’s killing could be a conspiracy and it would not be fair to comment on the situation without the police having completed an investigation. There were reports of at least five killings in the city by the time iftari drew to a close at around 8:30pm.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 18th, 2011.