EDITORIAL: Political heat rising - Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Source : http://dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=2011\03\15\story_15-3-2011_pg3_1

Prime Minister (PM) Yousaf Raza Gilani, while addressing a public rally in Multan, said his government would safeguard the rights of all the country’s institutions and at the same time not allow anyone to meddle in the government’s or parliament’s affairs. This statement, although on the face of it unexceptionable since the constitution lays down the purview and separation of powers of all state institutions, takes on new meaning in the context of the executive and parliament’s troubled relationship with the judiciary, which has found new issues and expression of late. For example, the short order of the Supreme Court (SC) declaring the appointment of Justice (retd) Deedar Shah as NAB chairman invalid evoked a strong reaction from the PPP in Sindh, including a strike and incidents of violence. The SC has since asked the authorities for a report on these events and questioned what if any action under the law has been taken or is contemplated against the ‘disruptionists’. Meanwhile there are reports that President Asif Ali Zardari’s desire to reappoint Justice Deedar may run up against the rock of the latter’s reluctance to offer himself for further controversy in this regard.

The PM also announced at the same rally that a Seraiki province would form part of the PPP’s manifesto for the next elections, whenever they are held. There has been some agitation of late in south Punjab, informed by demands for a Seraiki province as well as the restoration of the Bahawalpur State, merged into West Pakistan when One Unit was imposed. The PM’s proposed inclusion of the Seraiki province demand in the PPP’s manifesto for the next elections can be read as an attempt to kill two birds with one stone. On the one hand, when the largest mainstream party adopts the demand, it steals the thunder of the Seraiki nationalists, while on the other it further helps to consolidate its grip on its traditional stronghold in southern Punjab. Depending as this grip does on a feudal or large landowners’ political base, the proposal poses intriguing questions about whether this elite of south Punjab has swung over in favour of a Seraiki province.

Meanwhile, reiterations of the policy of reconciliation from the highest to the ordinary in the ranks of the government and the PPP notwithstanding, the political heat is rising on the national horizon. Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan and Federal Law Minister Babar Awan have indulged in a war of words, both levelling charges of ethnic/provincial bias against each other, and Awan going so far as to suggest that Nisar’s antics may well end up with the Sharifs being sent back to Jeddah. President Zardari, in the role of the good cop, has advised his Sindh Central Executive Committee members to speed up the proposed All Parties Conference to discuss the problems of the country, in the hope that this broad political consultation may help the government to take all or most political forces along in its efforts to grapple with the serious issues confronting the country. The president has also reached out once again to Nawaz Sharif to cool down the rising ire between the two erstwhile allies. Nawaz’s response can only be politely described as cool. The president has been bending his back to keep the MQM within the fold of the ruling coalition in a series of meetings in Karachi, whose outcome is still not clear.

In a return to the well known adage of no permanent friends or enemies in politics, the PPP has offered cabinet seats to the PML(Q), in a dramatic reversal of the PPP and the president’s own condemnation of the party for its role in the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. Rumblings of dissent in both parties against this joining hands with yesterday’s ‘foes’ notwithstanding, the move can only be interpreted as the PPP’s insurance policy against the weakening and threat of disintegration of the ruling coalition, which has already lost the JUI(F), is arguably on the verge of losing the MQM at the Centre and in Sindh, and has been unceremoniously dumped in Punjab. In love and war, it is said, all is fair. The increasing bitterness creeping into the national political discourse suggests that ‘war’, not love, is imminent. *

SECOND EDITORIAL: Karachi’s turf wars

News reports pouring in from Karachi suggest that the MQM has once again dug in its heels and is not responding to the PPP’s entreaties to remain a coalition partner in Sindh. Tempers of the MQM flared up once again when Sindh’s home minister said while addressing a gathering in Lyari that People’s Amn Committee is part of the PPP. In response, the MQM has said that Amn Committee is a body of extortionists and criminals and the PPP’s owning it means that it is patronising these elements. However, the PPP is not the only party that should be blamed for this trend. It was the MQM that laid the foundation of the bhatta (extortion) culture in Karachi, which was followed by other parties to preserve their respective turfs. The targeted killings in Karachi are the result of these turf wars. There are political tensions between Sindhis and Mohajirs and Pashtuns and Mohajirs, which also have a criminal dimension to them.

Despite MQM’s known resentment against Zulfikar Mirza, the gung-ho home minister of Sindh, it seems he intends to play the Sindhi nationalist card and make the MQM leave the coalition. However, his provocations go directly against what the central leadership is trying to achieve. There might be a strategy behind these provocations because he received a hero’s welcome in the Sindh Assembly after his address in Lyari. But this is still not clear, because the idea of removing Zulfikar Mirza to appease MQM has also been floated. One cannot say with certainty whether this will cool down the MQM or not, because Karachi’s largest political party seems to have made up its mind to part ways with the PPP, repositioning itself in the light of recent developments on the political scene. However, this should not translate into more violence than is already taking place in Karachi. The PPP, being the biggest party in Sindh, will have to take the lead to mediate between the ANP and MQM and also clear up its own differences to prevent further bloodshed. *

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