Engineered Betrayal

By: Deepika Jaitley

The MQM’s apparently populist maneuver of leaving the federal government rings of how the Leftist parties abandoned the United Progressive Alliance after the US nuclear deal.

A week after Altaf Hussain made an impassionate appeal to the obedient masses of Karachi whether they will support the MQM if it leaves the PPP-led government or not, the party that controls Karachi has finally decided to jump the wagon – despite overtures by President Zardari and Interior Minister Rehman Malik – ostensibly because of the ‘petrol bomb’, or price hike in the petrol cost throughout the country. It is common knowledge that the MQM and the PPP – erstwhile allies in the Sindh province as well as the center – were going through a rough patch, with insecurity and target killings rampant in Karachi, the economic situation of the country in the doldrums, the local government system (introduced thoughtout the country but specifically to conform to MQM’s requirements vis-a-vis governing Karachi) and the flurry of aggressive statements flying between MQM and the Sindh Home Minister Zulfiqar Mirza. Yet, everyone hoped that sense would prevail, and that the MQM would remain part of the PPP coalition.

The events of Sunday night remind me of how the Leftist parties opted out of the UPA coalition – and even initiated a vote of no confidence in the Congress-led government – after the controversial Nuclear agreement with the US. It was against the manifesto and policies of the CPI-M and other Leftist parties to allow more capitalist intervention in the Indian economy, especially if it meant greater partnerships with the West (read: the US). The NDA opposition spearheaded by the BJP was waiting any such fissure to capitalize from, but it failed miserably because of structural upheavals within the BJP top brass and its ideological connections to the Sangh Parivar. The Congress continued to govern with its allies, and gained a thumping majority in the pursuant Lok Sabha elections, courtesy aggressive politicking by Rahul Gandhi, India’s PM-in-waiting. Most commentators believe it was Rahul’s youthful and dynamic image – in contrast to Modi’s effective but controversially sectarian outlook – that led the Congress to such a resounding victory.

The same cannot be said for the PPP, in the case of a vote of no confidence, or in the case of the 2013 elections. The PPP has a very bad track record concerning good governance, handling of the economy, management of the war on terror (especially the internal security situation, which – surprisingly – was better managed during Musharraf’s time) and now, their relationship with their allies. The parting of ways with the MQM happened after PM Gilani sacked one of his ministers and one of the JUI-F coalition partner’s ministers for “administrative reasons” – the ministers had engaged in allegations of corruption against each other while still in office. It did not matter that the PM was right in pointing out that any intra-cabinet disagreements should be brought to the PM first and then taken to the media or the public. The JUI-F immediately pulled out of the coalition, asked for more cabinet positions if the government wanted it back in the coalition, and immediately jumped on the blasphemy law bandwagon – Maulana Fazlur Rehman took an aggressive stance by saying that the present dispensation was dangerous for Islam in Pakistan. Evidently, Maulana Fazlur Rehman felt more comfortable with the ‘ghairat’ brigade, a term coined by Pakistani bloggers and intellectuals about the so-called custodians of the faith and defenders of Islam in Pakistan.

It seems as if this ‘betrayal’ of the PPP has been engineered by the MQM to hurt the most wherever it can. First, the timing of the withdrawal – especially after the right-wing JUI-F left the coalition – has made the international community feel that the PPP isn’t fully up to its secular/left-leaning credentials, since it is scared of moving on the blasphemy laws and on releasing Aasia bibi, a Christian woman falsely accused of blaspheming against Islam’s Prophet Mohammad, and sentenced to death thereafter. Second, the MQM is never known as a trustworthy political ally, and Nawaz Sharif’s first term as PM – as well as the current trading of barbs between Chaudhry Nisar and Waseem Akhtar – has shown. Thirdly, the MQM was increasingly seeing the PPP as a competitor to its awesome sway in Karachi – the ability to conjure crowds of thousands if not millions to listen intently and respectfully to Mr. Altaf Hussain’s lunatic rants sitting in the comforts of his palace in Edgware Road. The MQM was arguably created by General Zia ul Haq – Pakistan’s hated Islamo-fascist dictator of the 70’s and 80’s – to break the PPP’s hold in Karachi, Sindh’s urban capital. However, the MQM transformed into a quasi-terrorist organization, controlling the mafias and the very lives of Karachi citizens.

The MQM could plunge Karachi into chaos at the beck and call of its ‘Quaid’ sitting in London and completely oblivious to the ground reality of Karachi; it could wantonly murder anyone in broad daylight if he or she was even suspected of saying anything against ‘Altaf bhai’; it could suddenly restore order and call for peace despite the murders of more than a hundred Karachi’ites each month in 2010. There were over a thousand deaths in Karachi till October 2010 alone – more than the casualties suffered by the civilian population in their fight against the Taliban.

A lot of speculation is afoot regarding the PML-N’s role after the PPP’s weakening at the federal level. Nawaz Sharif, the PML-N Quaid and supremo (the N in PML-N stands for ‘Nawaz’) has said that he is not a friend of the government, but he will support the system; a veiled threat towards disabling the government but letting it see through its current term. This means that the PML-N might not call for a vote of no confidence against the PM – not because it doesn’t like the PPP, but because it will have to nominate an alternative name for the PM, and finding such an acceptable person at least within the PML-N is a difficult task. This is why the PML-N isn’t as eager as the BJP was in July 2008. For one, the President – Asif Ali Zardari, Co-Chairman of the PPP – isn’t likely to ask the PM – another Co-Chairman of the PPP – to obtain a confidence vote from the National Assembly legislators. That, coupled with the absence of a viable and workable alternative for the PM slot, is reason to believe that the PPP may continue functioning as a minority government – if it is unable to bring the PML-Q on board, that is. The main drawback with a minority government is that if it fails on a money bill, like the budget that is coming up in June 2011, then the government may “automatically fall” according to the wisdom of Khawaja Asif, former Sports Minister and PML-N’s legislator from Sialkot.

Only time will tell what cards the PPP – or Mr. Zardari or Mr. Gilani for that matter – will pull out from their sleeves to play this hand.

This is a ZoneAsia-Pk Exclusive


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