Sindh’s Centrifugal Forces

Publisher and Managing Editor IKRAM SEHGAL wrote these articles for THE NATION which we are re-producing with thanks.

Within six weeks of re-entry into the body politic of the nation, democracy is performing in line with the general claim made by its detractors that most politicians of the Third World put self-interest over good governance as their primary objective. With the PML (Q) nominee for PM Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali barely passing muster with a heterogeneous mix of votes (including that of 10 “patriots” from PPP-P), the battle shifted to the Provinces. With the PML (Q) and MMA having quite a majority respectively, the governance of Punjab and NWFP was never in doubt. The situation in Balochistan and Sindh Provinces is another story! MMA may have got the immediate edge in Balochistan by winning over the nationalist parties but the vital ground of Sindh (and with it the prize catch of the cash-rich port city of Karachi) has become a veritable quagmire. No Party having a clear majority, it was either the PPP-P or the MQM that could lead a possible coalition of smaller parties or they could join together in a Provincial coalition opposed to the Centre. The smaller parties with the “swing vote” had different ideas, they thought it was their prerogative to name the Chief Minister. On that premise all possible permutations and combinations floundered and the Governor postponed the Sindh Assembly “Oath-Taking” Session indefinitely till matters got sorted out as to who had the clear mandate to govern. The possible options are mind-boggling enough to call into question the core character of the political parties in the fray, do they in fact have an ideology or are their ambitions confined only to coming to power by any means, fair and foul?
Maulana Fazlur Rahman has been living in the heady bliss that he was Ms Benazir’s first (and only) choice to be PM. That was conveyed not only directly after the elections and was repeated ad nauseum by Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan. Imagine the good Maulana’s seething anger when he discovered what everyone and his uncle already knew, she was only using him as a willing pawn to blackmail the military regime. Hell hath no greater fury than a Maulana scorned by a woman (and a politician at that), the PPP-P may well live to repent the games Mohtrama has been playing with the JUI (F) Chief’s emotions, more importantly, with his aspirations. Her scathing denunciation of MMA, a far cry removed from her stance availing at the end of October when the PPP-P and MMA were close to forging a coalition was very ill-received by the MMA leaders. Keeping intact her normal posture of “doublespeak” for different audiences, Ms Benazir now feigns that she was always against the “fundamentalists”. The hard fact remains she was always ready to bed them politically as long as she got what she wanted, mainly that NAB charges against her husband and herself dropped. Since the military regime called her bluff (and it is believed Uncle Sam also showed annoyance over her evolving coalition plans), she has scrambled from one political option to another in trying to hold the Federal Regime hostage to her designs. Once Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali was past the first post, PPP-P fell back on trying to hold their Sindh bastion.
While Pir Pagaro is still doing what he does best, trying to cut the best deal for himself, he is presently vacillating between flirting with the GNA, the PPP-P and/or the MQM or a combination thereof. A third factor has come into play, the MQM’s frustrations on entering their rival Haqiqi’s strongholds, known universally as the “no-go” areas with the help of Rangers and Police. Instead of being welcomed by open arms, the MQM found that Haqiqi support ran fairly deep. The MQM wanted the Administration to give the heads of the Haqiqi leadership on a platter. Not being obliged, the MQM made what could be a fatal strategic error, they withdrew support from the Federal Government, refusing to accept the GNA nominee for CM Sindh, Arbab Ghulam Rahim, alias “desert crow” as he is maliciously called by Pir Pagaro). The Sindh Democratic Alliance (SDA) did make a few inroads in PPP-P’s rural stronghold, not anywhere large enough for them to seek the top Sindh slot.
Mohammadmian Soomro has been a sorry revelation, micro-handling his own political agenda in supersession of macro-governing the Province and thus contributing to the clouding of Sindh’s political future. A personable man who is always a better PR man rather than a banker, his political heritage is impeccable. While glad-handing all and sundry with dinners and receptions paid for by the State may take you quite a long way politically, the acid test of responsibility lies in taking difficult decisions. That unfortunately has been lacking. One cannot please everyone while running a difficult Province like Sindh, can only be done at the cost of good governance. Barring exceptions like the Sindh Ministry of Finance where the brilliant Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh has performed far beyond one’s expectations Sindh has generally suffered on account of an indifferent, meandering administration. With the political deadlock in Sindh coming to a head, Governor’s Rule seems imminent. That being so, President Musharraf should kindly look around for someone who will deliver, those who have the ability to rise above themselves for the greater cause of the nation. The President must face a hard reality, Mohammadmian Soomro may be a nice man, as Governor Sindh he has been an unmitigated disaster.
As the political scenario is unfolding, it is clear that the loss of MQM’s support will not unduly affect the Centre. Having been in the political wilderness for long, the Maulanas do not lack political maturity. The MMA may not join the Government but they will not collaborate with those who will bring the Government down. Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali has thus ample time and the strength of incumbency on his side.
While the MQM had full right to seek the Sindh CM slot, being the second major party after the PPP-P in the Province, they have made a strategic mistake by spurning Jamali’s coalition. The Federal Government will not fall but the MQM’s chances for a CM-slot will have been drastically reduced by their being labelled as “unreliable” possible partners. This is tragic because if Sindh Province falls under Governor’s Rule and there is another election MQM will be marginalized even further. This time around they barely fought off the MMA in more than a dozen seats, what happens if the MMA and GNA join up in coalition in the Sindh urban areas prior to the ensuing elections? The MQM are still the urban representatives for the Province of Sindh, they may have to pay a high price for the privilege of trying to eliminate the Haqiqi. In the run-up to the election one was impressed by the maturity of their approach, before taking such a drastic decision as the 180 degree turnabout they did, the MQM should have taken into consideration the political consequences. Such strategic blunders in the past had put them out in the political cold, a political re-think of their place in the Sindh sun is necessary. If they have to go with the PPP-P in an urban-rural coalition then they need to do so without demanding conditionalities which they know PPP-P cannot deliver. On the other hand if there is a patch-up with the Centre, then they should not be ready to leave the Alliance at the drop of the hat. The MQM represents a sizeable urban population in Pakistan’s vital ground, for the sake of their followers (and the future of the Party) the leadership needs to come to terms with the hard realities on the ground.
The next week will be crucial for Sindh, if not Pakistan. The Sindh Assembly should meet so that the political forces can work without inhibition or apprehension. If the PPP-P as the majority party in Sindh can form a stable government, then it is their democratic right. To negate this right would invite political disaster of the most dire consequences. And if there is still a hung Assembly thereafter, then the President always has the option of instructing the Governor to hold fresh elections after imposing Governor’s rule. At the moment the political forces are brimming over in frustration, one cannot afford to let that seething anger boil over to the detriment of the vital interests of the nation.