While the much awaited talks between the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement failed to materialise on Sunday, PPP leaders continued their long-drawn out wooing of their estranged allies with both Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani and Interior Minister Rehman Malik making it a point to call MQM chief Altaf Hussain on his return from a hospital in London.
Contrary to reports that circulated in virtually the entire media on Saturday, there were no talks held between the PPP and the MQM on Sunday, and none appear to have been scheduled at all. There was no mention of even a future date for a meeting until the filing of this story, according to sources familiar with the situation.
(Read: PPP, MQM meeting - Local govt issue still blocking progress)
According to statements released by the MQM, the party chief has returned to his London home after having recovered from his as yet undisclosed illness. Hussain had earlier been admitted to a hospital because of his condition, though the party has not yet said what he suffered from nor said how serious it was. The statement said that the MQM chief had been advised ‘complete rest’ by his doctors.
In what appears to be a bid to reassure his supporters, the MQM leader gave a speech on Sunday to the party’s central coordination committee, which had gathered to hear Hussain via telephone at Nine Zero, the MQM’s party headquarters in Karachi.
Once he had returned home, he was telephoned by the prime minister and the interior minister. Statements released by the party about those conversations suggest that little more than Hussain’s health was discussed as the leaders from both parties exchanged pleasantries.
Hussain, did, however, state that the MQM was a ‘democracy-loving’ party and would ‘foil all designs’ against democracy in Pakistan, leading some observers to believe that this was a veiled reference by the MQM chief towards talk of a military operation that has been circulating in the media.
(Read: Karachi violence - 15 killed, Army offers assistance)
Prime Minister Gilani, however, seemed more explicit in his desire for the MQM to rejoin the ruling coalition, saying that the popularity of the MQM was ‘a political reality’.
Meanwhile, sources close to the MQM claimed that the reports of a scheduled meeting between the MQM and the PPP had been deliberately circulated by the PPP leadership in order to pressure the MQM through the media.
“It was a political manoeuvre to attract public attention and to create a new agenda for the media to discuss,” said one source, adding that the MQM had not been formally informed of the date for the talks.
Both the spokesperson of the Sindh government and the MQM denied on Sunday that any talks had been scheduled.
The MQM sources, did, however, give broad hints about what it would take for the party to begin talks on rejoining the ruling coalition for the third time since the February 2008 elections.
“If they (PPP) want the MQM return to the coalition government, they should come to the MQM with a clear mind and assurances that they (PPP) would show respect to the public mandate of the MQM,” said the sources.
The source hinted that the MQM considered former Sindh senior minister Zulfiqar Mirza’s allegations against the party to be a game-changer and would require more concessions from the PPP before rejoining the government.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 5th, 2011.