Those who lean towards the theory that ex-PPP leader Dr Zulfiqar Mirza is a ‘bad cop’ deployed by President Asif Ali Zardari to punish the MQM, should carefully watch the trajectory of Mr Mirza’s journey to see if the theory still holds. Zulfiqar Mirza said in Lyari on September 2 that he released MQM killers under pressure from federal Interior Minister Rehman Malik whom he accused of being a Jewish and American agent. He then most strikingly went on to invite the army to tackle the trouble in Karachi.
Of course the real chastisement was meant for the MQM; the PPP leadership was sniped at indirectly through the person of Rehman Malik, the spearhead of the party chief’s policy of appeasement of Altaf Hussain and his party. Mr Mirza took a couple of steps forward on his road to rebellion by leading a procession composed of the Sindh National Party (SNP), Awami National Party (ANP), Punjabi-Pakhtun Ittehad (PPI) and what looked like PPP supporters fed up with the policy being imposed on Sindh from Islamabad. People may wonder, was he doing President Zardari’s bidding?
It is difficult to believe the ‘Mirza-Malik’ bad cop-good cop routine keeping in mind the content of Mirza’s Lyari speech, which marked a rising graph of hostility towards his own party leadership. He no longer displayed his earlier reverence for President Zardari when he said that the “Sindhis, as soldiers of Benazir Bhutto, will not let this [violence in Sindh] happen anymore”. Furthermore, he condemned Malik for misleading Ms Bhutto. Indirectly, he accused President Zardari of relying on a man who had betrayed the PPP in the past and was doing so now. Is he a ‘bad cop’ put up to his dramatics by Zardari or an unbalanced personality trying to hurt the MQM without taking care not to hurt his own party?
How should one read the participation in his procession of the SNP and its foul-mouthed leaders? The rhetoric was sharp against the MQM but in the case of the PPP it stopped short of the person of Asif Ali Zardari. Blending with the Sindhi nationalists and the Pakhtuns of the ANP, he was escalating the challenge faced by Zardari. He narrowed the appeal of the big all-Pakistan party by allowing the nationalists — not all joined, possibly because of doubts about his real intent — to climb his bandwagon. He then made another gesture that would separate him from Zardari: he joined the ANP in their appeal to the Pakistan Army to quash the ‘conspiracy against Pakistan’. The irony is that only the mainstream parties — the PML-N and the PPP — have so far avoided appealing to the army for intervention.
Mr Mirza has always spoken as if he were a loose cannon. His outbursts in the past apparently caused a lot of crises of confidence between the PPP and the MQM; but these episodes invariably ended in Mr Mirza apologising for his intemperate speech. This in reality was what caused most observers to dub him as the ‘bad cop’ put forward by Zardari in his pantomime with the MQM. The question is: is he still the bad cop or the first sign of rebellion in the Sindh branch of the PPP which sends the largest number of MNAs to the National Assembly? The trigger was the undoing of the ‘commissionerate’ system in Karachi and Hyderabad and reversion to local government. The grievance within the non-MQM elements is real, but is Mr Mirza himself for real? Is he so devoted to Zardari that he is ready to deceive so many stakeholders at a later date?
The Sindhis don’t have a big presence in Karachi. The MQM leans on big populations in the four major cities of Sindh. The Pashtun live only in Karachi in great concentration — perhaps second only to Peshawar, but only 22 per cent to the MQM’s over 40 per cent — and all of them are not with the ANP. Is Zardari then more realistic in retreating from the demand for the commissionerate system? He can bring the MQM under pressure but can he take it on? What would he gain by pushing the MQM on the warpath courtesy a ‘bad cop’ being played so realistically by Zulfiqar Mirza?
Published in The Express Tribune, September 4th, 2011.