ISLAMABAD: A set of striking political achievements that President Asif Ali Zardari scored during his weeklong stay in Karachi to cover his flanks in the forthcoming general elections has been offset by the strife, discord and agitation that the Sindh Peoples Government Local Bodies Ordinance (SPLGO) has triggered.
The new law has delighted and thrilled the Muttahidda Qaumi Movement (MQM) but greatly offended three other ruling coalition partners, whose support the president equally values and wants to keep in tact in the next parliamentary polls.
All the gains that Zardari accomplished were meant to cover his flanks in the future elections especially in Sindh. The ultimate objective was that his PPP triumph to keep Sindh under its belt even if fails to form the government at the federal level after the next polls.
A key advantage that the president secured was weaning away of powerful Mahars of Ghotki, who traditionally have won five National Assembly and Sindh Assembly seats from their area on their own, without the support of any political party.
From the Mahar family, former Sindh Chief Minister Ali Mohammad was inclined to join the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) as he met Nawaz Sharif some time back while others like Federal Minister Bux Mahar were poised to continue with the PML-Q. But all of them switched to the PPP due to Zardari’s efforts, leaving the two parties surprised, if not shocked.
Prior to the president’s recent considerably long stay in Karachi, Pir Pagara of the Functional League was seen, somehow distancing from the PPP and signaling as if he is disposed to break bread with the PML-N in the next elections. For example, his stand on the controversial federal commission on creating provinces in Punjab was dissimilar to that of the PPP. Zardari sent former Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani, who is closely related to Pagara (his son recently married with the Pir’s daughter), to the Kingri House Karachi to change the mind of its resident. He did succeed.
Simultaneously, Zardari’s aides opened communication channels with Arbabs of Tharparkar, who also usually secure some six National and Sindh assemblies seats from their region because of their immense personal say. In this connection, contacts were established with former Sindh Chief Minister Dr Arbab Ghulam Rahim, who is living in Dubai for over four years, fearing prosecution by the Sindh government. His group is currently aligned with the PML-Q likeminded, which has entered into an agreement with the PML-N that will take them to the next elections. The PPP’s contacts with Arbabs, which are in the embryonic stages, are yet to produce results.
Topping all the achievements that the president made in Sindh was clinching of an accord with the MQM on the SPLGO, which has been a bone of contention for the past three years with both sides firmly sticking to their respective stands. By acquiescing to major MQM demands particularly relating to the local system in Karachi and Hyderabad where it has a tremendous popular say, President Zardari succeeded in keeping this coalition partner in good humour to remain in alliance with the PPP in the grand electoral exercise next year.
The crux of the SPLGO is that by and large the local system introduced by Pervez Musharraf has been kept in tact with certain modifications in Karachi and Hyderabad on the MQM’s demands while the old local bodies’ scheme promulgated by General Ziaul Haq in 1979 has been made applicable to the remaining parts of Sindh. Thus, two local systems have been put in place for the same province, which has provoked the PPP critics to assert that Sindh has virtually been divided into two administrative units.
Angered over not taking them on board on the SPLGO, three allies of the president including the Functional League, Awami National Party (ANP) and partially PML-Q, which is as usual divided and confused, have rebelled against the ruling alliance and walked out of it in Sindh. This is a huge setback that largely nullified the recent remarkable gains that Zardari made. As the PPP and MQM were frequently holding talks over the mode of local system for years, the Sindhi nationalists have been aggressively speaking against the continuation of Musharraf’s scheme and demanding that the old local bodies should be revived.
Exasperated Functional League and ANP have joined hands with the PML-N, Sindhi nationalists, religious parties, Jamaat-e-Islami and Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) to agitate against the SPLGO (For a change, the PML-N and PTI are on the same wavelength on this issue). They plan a big show on September 13. There is no PPP leader, who is defending outright the new system but everyone is saying that the SPLGO is open to amendments. However, MQM supremo Altaf Hussain is ridiculing and threatening the opponents of the SPLGO in his traditional belligerent tone and style.
There was no apparent motive behind the urgency that the PPP demonstrated to hurry up talks with the MQM to give final touches to the SPLGO at this point of time except keeping the MQM in alliance with it so that it doesn’t slip away to the PML-N in the next general polls. Frequent Sindh visits undertaken by Nawaz Sharif over the past few months have been successful in the sense that he has been making gains. The president’s effort was to cancel out the political advantages of his political rival.
It is widely believed that the PPP might use the large scale protest in Sindh against the SPLGO to prevail upon the MQM to change the law when it will be moved in the Sindh assembly for approval.
But the MQM, which turned out to be a tough negotiator as per its track record, is unlikely to accept any amendments in the agreed law on this pretext. This divergence of opinion could pose threats to the PPP-MQM alliance. Obviously, President Zardari would not like to lose the ANP, Functional League and a faction of PML-Q in Sindh and elsewhere when it goes to the expectedly fiercely fought elections.
At the same time, he will strive to keep the MQM on his side for the same aim. In this scenario, he will be required to perform a delicate balancing act. But the choices for MQM are also limited as both the main opposition parties PML-N and PTI cannot stand their politics. MQM has only the PPP to strike a deal.