Pakistan is quite used to drama and theatrics of all kinds. But the astonishing press conference, spread over an expansive two hours, delivered by former Sindh home minister Dr Zulfiqar Mirza at the Karachi Press Club, surely resembles, in terms of dramatic performance, the ‘fat lady’ singing at the end of an opera as people rise to their feet.
Certainly, Mirza’s comments made everyone look up. But whether this was in appreciation or sheer astonishment is somewhat hard to gauge. Much of what Mirza said appears to include at least some element of truth; and truth is not something we are accustomed to hearing very often in this ‘land of the pure’. The former minister, who also announced his resignation from the Sindh cabinet, the Sindh Assembly, his post as provincial vice-president of the PPP as well as from the party’s central executive committee, swore that he would remain an ardent worker of the party. He lashed out chiefly against two main targets, both of whom later, and in totality, denied his very serious allegations. He accused the federal interior minister, Rehman Malik, of being a congenital liar and of having a hand in the ongoing violence in Karachi. The chief accusations hinged around his charge that Malik had played a part in the deaths of thousands of people mainly through his efforts to strike a deal with the MQM and that his interventions in Karachi had made it impossible for Mirza to try and reimpose order.
Mirza was also not any less scathing when he accused the MQM of being behind the frenzied violence Karachi has seen this year which has led to at least 1,400 deaths. Holding a copy of the Holy Quran in his hand — rather over his head most of the time — and emphasising that he would give evidence of what was really happening in Karachi, Mirza said MQM chief Altaf Hussain was directly ordering the deaths in the city and was engaged in a plot with the US to break up the country. He stated that killers, including those who had murdered reporter Wali Babar, had been let off the hook on the orders of Sindh Governor Dr Ishratul Ebad after he had, as home minister, taken action against them. All this is, of course, extremely serious and cannot simply be swept under the carpet. Perhaps time will tell what the precise truth is and how much of what Mirza has laid out before a wide-eyed audience is accurate, but that will only happen when the government of the day and the ruling party respond to the allegations. For instance, the one regarding extortion needs answers, and a solution, because that menace strikes at the very heart of Karachi’s economic and commercial activity. Moreover, in light of the Supreme Court’s hearing on the Karachi situation, Mirza’s explosive allegations may need a more formal forum for investigation.
That all said, one wonders what is the purpose, or perhaps motive, of Mirza’s emotional press conference. One could easily ask why he didn’t take this issue up with his party directly, especially given his close personal relations with President Asif Ali Zardari. During the press conference, hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people from Lyari surrounded the press club premises and shouted slogans in favour of Mirza. Was the purpose of his talk then to alter the political reality of Sindh and win appeal for himself? Is the PPP divided, or was this all a deft move by the party itself to prepare the public at large for a change in the province? Why, for instance, was Mirza praising the army and the ISI so much, especially given the circumstances of the deaths of the PPP’s two previous leaders? Lest we be accused of conspiracy theories, it should be understood that all of these are valid questions given the country’s experience with political change, especially of the extraconstitutional variety.
The question also is whether what Mirza has said is the first whiff of a scenario that could bring lasting change to the country and to Sindh in particular. Certainly, it is hard to believe things will remain calm and exactly in place after this hurricane has swept through our midst. It seems quite likely there will be more developments in the future. Let us hope that if these happen they will be peaceful and not bring with them further violence and unrest. We have seen far too much of that already.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 30th, 2011.