Shah the loyal

August 7, 2016

In a remarkable political career spread over more than 50 years, Qaim Ali Shah saw the rise and fall of the PPP and the transition of its leadership from Z.A Bhutto to Bilawal

Shah the loyal

There is an Urdu saying that a person goes somewhere to get something and returns not only empty-handed, but also loses whatever he had.

This could fit Syed Qaim Ali Shah Jillani, the elderly former chief minister of Sindh who unprecedentedly served for three terms before being finally replaced recently.

He had been summoned by Asif Ali Zardari, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) co-chairman and former President of Pakistan, to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, to discuss the issue of extension in the Rangers’ deployment in Karachi, but ended up losing his job as chief minister.

The Sindh government finally granted extension to the Rangers as wished by the Pakistan military and the federal government, but this was done by the new Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah instead of Qaim Ali Shah. There were reports the latter was unable to take the pressure and decide the issue while protecting the interests of the PPP and its provincial government. As always in such important situations, it was left to Zardari to make the final decision. However, he made it look it was a collective decision by summoning Qaim Ali Shah and other party leaders to Dubai, where he maintains a house that was also used by the late Benazir Bhutto.

There was no way the PPP could have refused the extension to the Rangers, but it has developed a habit of stalling the process every time the time limit expires apparently in the hope of extracting some concessions from the military leadership that commands the Rangers. Also, this gives a feel-good message to the PPP rank and file that the Sindh government is in control and that the Rangers need its permission to operate in Karachi.

It looks this was the occasion for which the PPP leadership had waited to replace Qaim Ali Shah, who wasn’t performing well on account of old age and was increasingly seen as weak and indecisive. If the media reports about his age are correct, he will turn 88 in September this year and at this stage of life people have long taken retirement in most professions except politics. The Saeen, as he was sometimes referred to, was different as he seemed timeless and ready to continue serving as the chief minister. However, he had lately become forgetful and prone to committing mistakes about names and places while making speeches. His bloopers were eagerly picked up by the media, particularly the TV channels that are forever in need of such funny occasions to attract viewers.

Qaim Ali Shah was never really an independent chief executive of the province due to the need for him to look up to the PPP bosses and accept their decisions and recommendations.

In a remarkable political career spread over more than 50 years, Qaim Ali Shah witnessed many important events and became a repository of nobody knows how many secrets. His career encompassed the rise and fall of the PPP and the transition of its leadership from the founder Zulfikar Ali Bhutto to his political heir Benazir Bhutto to Zardari, the pretender to their legacy, and now Bilawal Bhutto Zardari. A generational change occurred in the top PPP leadership, but Qaim Ali Shah remained a constant and is still around. The longevity of his political career and his permanent presence in the corridors of power was largely due to his loyalty to the Bhuttos and later, by extension, to the Zardaris.

The difference in age of Qaim Ali Shah and his successor Murad Ali Shah could be gauged from the fact that the latter was born in 1962 when the former was serving as chairman of District Council Khairpur under military ruler President Ayub Khan’s Basic Democracies (BD) system. Murad Ali Shah was five years old when Qaim Ali Shah joined the PPP launched by Bhutto in 1967. And three years later in the 1970 general election, Qaim Ali Shah won his first of seven electoral victories from his native Khairpur by capturing the National Assembly seat in a contest in which he was pitted against seasoned politicians. He went on to become federal minister for industries and Kashmir affairs.

His six other victories were for the Sindh Assembly while his only loss was against his perennial rival Ghous Ali Shah, another former chief minister and also quite old, in the 1997 general election when the PPP was routed all over the country. Following that loss, the party leadership compensated him by getting him elected as a member of the Senate. This meant that almost throughout his half a century stay in politics, he occupied one or the other public office, mostly in positions of power and seldom as an opposition lawmaker.

Qaim Ali Shah, a lawyer by profession who had come into contact as a student with the senior Bhutto at the S M Law College Karachi where the latter was a teacher, never wavered in his loyalty to the party and its leadership. He suffered imprisonment, but refused to quit the party when several senior PPP leaders including Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi, Ghulam Mustafa Khar, Makhdoom Khaliquzzaman and Mir Hazar Khan Bijarani abandoned it following General Ziaul Haq’s military coup against Prime Minister Z. A. Bhutto.

General Pervez Musharraf’s rule was another testing time for the PPP like the PML-N, the main target of the military ruler, but Qaim Ali Shah stood his ground as he knew the PPP was there to stay despite Musharraf’s efforts to weaken it through defections.

As the chief minister of Sindh on three different occasions, Qaim Ali Shah performed as the political situation at the time demanded. However, he was never really an independent chief executive of the province due to the need for him to look up to the PPP bosses and accept their decisions and recommendations. In recent years, his bosses ranged from Zardari and his sister Faryal Talpur to Bilawal and it is unlikely he would have refused any instruction coming from them. As a seasoned politician, he was willing to take orders in order to stay in power. In fact, he and the Governor of Sindh, Dr Ishratul Ibad Khan, served for so long and became so well-entrenched that they seemed indispensable.

Though Qaim Ali Shah has been replaced perhaps with an eye on the 2018 general election when the PPP under Bilawal is hoping to perform better than in the 2013 polls, his career in politics hasn’t ended yet. He is still member of the Sindh Assembly and would continue to be consulted by the two party heads, Zardari and Bilawal as the PPP provincial president and a loyal and experienced politician.

Shah the loyal