ISLAMABAD - MQM’s latest threat to sit in the opposition has a familiar ring designed to convey a message to the PPP. Its timing is intriguing. As has been the pattern of its moves in the past, the present action has some multi-dimensional motives and objectives vastly distinct from what the party has publicly stated.
The MQM move came only two days before the crucial summit meeting of the 4-party coalition that is likely to clinch the issue of deposed judges. President Musharraf has been building enormous pressure on Asif Zardari through Americans and other quarters to pre-empt this decision or at least stall the reinstatement of Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry at any cost. The MQM’s sudden move is timed to enhance this pressure.
The PPP is also finding it difficult to accept the terms of endearment as price for MQM’s cooperation. Media reports say the MQM wants 35 per cent share in Sindh government in addition to its choice of governor. At the centre it has been seeking four plum ministries including communications and, above all, port and shipping. To neutralize Nawaz Sharif’s opposition, Altaf offered him hand of friendship after several weeks of venomous attacks. .
Ostensibly, the appointment of Shoaib Suddle as IG Police Karachi preceded earlier by a major reshuffle of police structure in Karachi appears to be the immediate trigger. The new security set-up represents a bold and serious attempt by the PPP to hold a genuine inquiry into the bloodbath of October 18 and April 9 (if possible May 12 as well). The MQM faces the threat of being exposed as a result of these investigations.
Such is the tenuous nature of the budding PPP-MQM affair that it began showing cracks within couple of days after the fantastic spectacle of bonhomie during Asif Zardari’s April 3 Nine-Zero yatra. The stirring speeches by Zardari and his new-found love Altaf Hussain had a surreal touch. Ironically, while the series of events following that visit have a sequential nexus, hardly anything has been unpredictable.
First the MQM decided to indefinitely boycott the assembly session on the flimsiest possible excuse -episode involving Arbab Rahim. Arbab must have been amused by the display of “solidarity” by his tormentors who made his life miserable as chief minister for three years. Then on an equally insignificant (howsoever deplorable) incident of maltreatment of Dr. Sher Afgan, the MQM lawyers staged a protest rally the very next day. Karachi was assigned to another day of infamy marked by charred bodies, arson, loot and anarchy.
The theatrics two days later was the fourth of its kind in one year and deceived none. Altaf Bhai excused himself from leading the MQM ( a la Aitzaz Ahsan style whom he paid tribute for risking his life to rescue Afgan). As expected the “resignation” was withdrawn in no time amid melodramatic scenes and a charged speech that implicitly acknowledged responsibility for the April 9 carnage. Zaradri again contacted Altaf and resumed negotiations for power-sharing in Sindh.
Everything has been scripted and choreographed with single-minded intent to thwart the people’s verdict of February 18 and avert the inevitable “minus one” denouement predicted by Aitzaz Ahsan. For this purpose the choreographer, who justified the heinous crimes in Karachi as a reaction to Sher Afgan episode, considers it imperative to drive a wedge between Zardari and Nawaz Sharif for which the former is being offered tantalizing options and power permutations.
In a command performance, the MQM responded generously to Asif Zardari’s request to withdraw Dr. Farooq Sattar as opposition’s candidate to contest prime minister’s election. Next day the PMl-Q joined to give a “unanimous” vote of confidence to Yousaf Raza Gilani. There were pious expression of extending “unconditional” support to the PPP in the larger national interests and reconciliation.
But MQM’s prominent leader Babar Ghori spilled the beans within hours of the vote. During discussion on a TV channel, Ghori noted that the 249 votes polled by speaker Dr. Fahmida Riaz included 91 from the PML-N leaving 158 votes which are not enough to elect the prime minister. “To free the PPP of dependence on Nawaz Sharif’s vote, we decided to support its candidate.” This was the strategy Musharraf had pursued immediately after the elections but failed because Zardari was shrewd enough to sense the outrage he would have caused in the entire country by aligning with pro-Musharraf parties.
He was then blackmailed by the threat of Amin Fahim group chipping away a dozen or so PPP members to form a government in collaboration with the MQM, the PML-Q, PML-F etc. But this was not 2002 and any such move would have had terrible backlash in rural Sindh where people had avenged Ms. Bhutto’s murder by voting her party to power despite selected rigging. The strategy was changed accordinly.
I asked a veteran anti-PPP Sindhi leader as to who delivered MQM to Zardari, his spontaneous response was:”General Musharraf’. Zardari’s motives to woo the MQM were obvious: first, to prevent a nexus with Fahim and secondly to buy peace in Karachi and other cities. It makes an eminent sense that political forces representing rural and urban Sindh must coalesce to end years of hatred and ethnic prejudices. This policy was adopted by Benazir in 1988 when she co-opted MQM in the coalition at the centre and in Sindh. But the MQM proved a Trojan Horse and stabbed her within 9 months by supporting the no-confidence motion at the behest of Ishaq and army chief.
The much-trumpeted MQM “mandate” has some disturbing features. Before it suffered a serious set back last May by blatantly supporting Musharraf siding with Musharraf against lawyers, the MQM was ambitiously projecting itself as a national party. But May 12 outrage pushed the MQM back to its original narrow-based ethnic and linguistic appeal based on hatred and tainted by violence and coercive tactics. The boycott by Jamaat Islami and Sunni Tehrik left the field wide open for the MQM landslide victory buffeted by state patronage and enormous financial and administrative resources.
There is strong possibility that the MQM will soon resume its contacts with the PPP and sort out differences. This will, however, be part of the larger strategy of its mentor Musharraf to oust Nawaz Sharif from the coalition.