The writer is an Islamabad-based security analyst
All political efforts must be made by the PPP leadership to reverse the April 13 breakdown of PPP-MQM talks. The people of Karachi, Sindh and indeed Pakistan
cannot afford a falling out between the two major political forces of Sindh. The MQM leadership’s assurance that it will support the PPP government’s correct policies in Sindh notwithstanding, this breakdown does not augur well. If the post-1989 political history of Sind is a guide, then an active PPP-MQM discord will strongly militate against political peace in Karachi and Hyderabad.
The PPP’s political reconciliation efforts led by its chairman Asif Zardari had, until the MQM pullout, been on a roll. The PPP has still not given up. It is continuing with its efforts to bring back the MQM into the fold of the Sind cabinet. Politically reasonable demands seeking power-sharing on the basis of a fair formula must be met, since that forms the basis of a workable coalition. Also, where possible, Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) must be taken to clear accumulated cobwebs of distrust.
While the compulsion for an MQM-PPP coalition government in Sindh is a compelling one, clearly a coalition ‘at all costs’ will be unwise. Any demand by either coalition member that could potentially undermine peace and security could in fact undercut the very purpose of building a coalition which is to promote political peace, purposeful policy-making, credible functioning of state institutions and efficient functioning of the government. Therefore while the PPP-MQM dialogue must be brought back on track it should not be done with the attitude that says it should be done no matter what the cost.
The MQM’s decision to pull out from what had appeared to be a ‘done deal’ is being viewed as a first reversal to the PPP’s national reconciliation. His effort to successfully manage a broad-based coalition at the Centre and in the provinces has been a feather in the hat of a formerly controversial Asif Zardari. Even his detractors concede that Zardari has deftly managed to advance the desperately-needed agenda of national reconciliation. In Sindh, he cajoled and convinced those within the PPP who were against a PPP-MQM coalition. At the Centre he reassured his principal ally the PML-N that an MQM-PPP coalition was necessary. The PML-N, with which the MQN had already established indirect contacts, conveyed its ‘no-objection’ to both the PPP and the MQM leadership.
Irrespective of whether the presidency or the Americans seek MQM partnership in the ruling alliance, this Zardari effort at reconciliation and at coalition-making with the MQM is essential from the point of view of Pakistan’s political stability. The MQM is after all a party which despite being perceived by many as one that resorts to terror tactics does enjoy peoples’ mandate. It now has seats both at the Centre and the provinces. Enlightened self-interest and pragmatic politics prompted the PPP leadership to seek a coalition arrangement.
What seemed to have been a smoothly progressing PPP-MQM dialogue, with intermittent telephonic contacts between chairman Asif Zardari and Altaf Hussain, got derailed soon after the April 9 burning and killings in Karachi. The MQM publicly identified the dialogue-breakers. These included the lack of hospitality in Naudero by the PPP leadership when the MQM arrived to participate in Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s death anniversary. The MQM gesture was indeed a grand one and their expectation of more hospitable PPP attitude is justified. The PPP’s explanation that the mourning ambience surrounding death anniversaries prevents extending proper hospitality is just lame. But for the MQM to go to the extent of pulling away from a near coalition arrangement because of this would be excessive.
The MQM’s second publicly stated complain against the PPP is the appointment of Shoaib Suddle as IG Sindh. Yet Suddle, a professional law-enforcement man carrying no burden of a sullied past, is a welcome appointee. The MQM’s complaint against Suddle is that he has committed excesses against the MQM and that there is great resentment within MQM supporters and especially among the families of those killed during Suddle’s earlier posting. On April 12, during the MQM-PPP negotiations, the MQM opposed the Suddle appointment who they blamed for extra judicial killings of MQM workers. This MQM assertion is in contrast with those who experienced, with the previous appointment of Suddle, the containment of Karachi’s bloody days.
The MQM’s third concern could be the petitions filed in the Sindh Election Commission tribunal seeking suspension of the election results in four constituencies of Karachi. The PPP has alleged election-day rigging by the MQM in these constituencies. The MQM, according to PPP sources, hopes that PPP will withdraw these petitions. The PPP has no apparent plans to do so.
In Sindh and, especially in Karachi, the writ of the state, indeed a credible and not partisan state, needs to be established. The PPP government also intends to conduct an inquiry into the May 12 and April 9 killings. Alongside these inquiries there are reports that MQM Haqqiqi, originally an offshoot of the MQM and now a strong opponent of it , will be allowed to resume its political activities. During the MQM-regime its political space was completely squeezed.
The new Sindh government’s agenda would be of concern to the MQM because it could politically undermine the MQM. Clearly the MQM’s perennial concerns, some flowing inevitably from its violent politics, have surfaced. The MQM could fear administrative hostility too; something that sections of the MQM did openly indulge in. But indeed what better way of preventing needless harassment and a fair deal for itself at the hands of the new Sindh government and administration, than being part of the government and administration.
The PPP will continue to re-engage with the MQM. It will be the MQM’s choice that will determine if a coalition is possible. The MQM’s leadership must re-engage. It must, with all its concerns view re-engagement as an opportunity to reorient its politics away from violence towards what has evidently been its strength; running an efficient administration and mobilizing public support for their public-government partnership for efficient governance.
The current ruling coalition, despite all its reservations, does genuinely seek to reintegrate the MQM in genuine, popular mainstream politics, without the crutches of the establishment and violence. This is a golden opportunity for the MQM to transition towards a popular law-abiding political party. There is much political space for a reformed MQM. As Pakistan’s mainstream political forces move towards self-reformation, the MQM leadership’s shunning of this opportunity for self-reform will be at its own peril.
Courtesy: The News, 16/4/2008