Is it the end of the road for PPP-MQM love-hate affair?

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Is it the end of the road for PPP-MQM love-hate affair?

By Shaheen Sehbai

Courtesy: The News

LONDON: The top MQM leadership strongly believes and fears that its days of continuing a working relationship with the PPP, led by President Asif Ali Zardari, are over and unless a quick and effective remedy is found, Sindh and especially Karachi will slide deep into chaos and anarchy.

The MQM Secretariat at Edgware Road remains forever tuned to the developments and events in Pakistan and the fast deteriorating situation in Karachi has been taking most of its time as there is a pervasive feeling that the MQM and the current Sindh government can no longer co-exist in a coalition.

But a considered decision has been taken that MQM leader Altaf Hussain will not give the final green signal to break up with the PPP until a series of steps are taken and after a determined effort. If that also fails, the dice will be rolled.

The MQM is looking up to Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and waiting for the detailed judgment of the Supreme Court on the NRO to take its next step, although the roadmap charted out is very clear in every body’s mind.

A senior MQM leader said the first step would be to pull out of the federal government at the Centre. That would give PM Gilani a wake-up call, as normally it is perceived that any MQM decision is an indication of where the winds are likely to blow in establishment corridors. So once MQM gets out of the cabinet and goes to the opposition benches, PM Gilani will have a massive job to sustain and prove his majority to sustain his government.

The final go-ahead of even this first step has been left to Altaf Hussain as very diplomatically, during the heat of nasty exchanges of vitriolic between Sindhi PPP and second tier MQM leaders, it has been said that MQM’s parliamentary party has asked for permission from Altaf Bhai to sit in the opposition.

The next stage would be to pull out of the Sindh cabinet, although the MQM knows that the PPP on its own has a simple majority in the Sindh Assembly and would not be in danger of falling as such. But if the MQM walks out, the rural-urban divide will become a major issue and given the temperature, Karachi and Hyderabad could return to the days of endless turmoil, body bag killings, looting and chaos.

But the domino effect of the MQM pulling of the coalition with the PPP will be massive, the London Secretariat of the MQM believes. FATA MPs, who have acquired a critical role in the number game, have already shown in the recent past that they could part ways with the PPP, given their own grievances and the wishes of the quarters, which normally have a decisive say in their major political decisions.

Another coalition partner, JUI of Maulana Fazlur Rehman is known for its “flexibility” and no one has any doubt that the Maulana will stand where he is “required” to stand, given that his ever fluctuating “principled position” is favourably considered and he gets what he wants in kind.

All these number games will, however, become relevant once the NRO issue is settled and the Supreme Court sets the direction in its detailed judgment. The political moves before the judgment comes, are however, considered as preliminary homework to face the situation as and when it unfolds.

The issue at the bottom of the PPP-MQM fiasco is that of the Nazims and the MQM would never accept the PPP appointed administrators to hold elections, something the over-zealous Zardari friends and Jiyalas are desperate to do. The current so-called target killings in Karachi and unrest in areas, which were quiet and safe for a longtime, is considered as a “trailer” with the real thing to come later, if needed.

But despite all that is happening Altaf Hussain is keeping his options open with a keen eye on how the situation develops after the NRO cases are reopened, or if they are not, if the PPP goes into a direct confrontation with the judiciary.

The MQM is also expecting that if the tension with the PPP continues, the next PPP target would be the Governor of Sindh, a post which has been occupied by Dr Ishratul Ebad for the longest period in Sindh history.

Already within the PPP circles, names are being quietly discussed and on top of the list is Dr Asim Hussain, the right hand man of President Zardari, who was given important portfolios and then eased out in time before he could get engulfed in serious corruption charges. He was once considered to be close to the MQM as well but whether this connection will work now is open to questions, as the MQM may not like its diehard governor to be replaced by a less trusted distant friend working for the rivals.

But the thinking in the MQM circles is that if the hawks surrounding President Zardari are politically neutralised, they could still have a strong working relationship with the PPP government, keeping peace in the urban centres and creating a better and conducive environment for domestic and foreign investment.

In this context, the role of Karachi Nazim Syed Mustufa Kamal is considered by the MQM as crucial as he has not only changed the shape of Karachi but his plans include bringing direct foreign investment for Karachi, no matter how bad the law and order situation is in the rest of the country.

Mustufa Kamal is seen by Altaf Hussain as his party’s poster boy and the MQM chief promises to produce one Mustufa Kamal for every big city of Pakistan, should the MQM ever get a chance to do so.

There is an underlying feeling in some MQM circles that the superior judiciary, especially the current Supreme Court, may still have some lingering anger about the role of the MQM on May 12, 2007 when Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry was not allowed to enter Karachi.

But another view is that the party may have washed its negative image when it stood up against the NRO and practically blocked it from being moved in parliament, a decision which paved the way for the Supreme Court to strike the law as void ab initio.

The MQM’s bold stand that it was not afraid of reopening of any or all of its cases in courts and the underlying confidence in the judiciary may have also restored some comfort level between the party and the judges.

All in all the MQM is not much worried about the developing situation in Karachi, specially in the aftermath of the Ashura bombing and the calculated loot and plunder supported by elements in the administration. The leaders are confident of the way things are moving, no matter how shrewdly PPP plays the good-cop, bad-cop game.

The MQM leadership is going along, fighting its way where needed and playing soft when required. It appears the future is clear in their eyes and they seem to know the roadmap but they are proceeding with caution, but with confidence.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

News analysis


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