September Issue 2011

By | News & Politics | Published 13 years ago

Smiling now and belching fire a moment later, thundering like a ferocious tiger in Karachi and crying like a helpless child in Hyderabad, with the Holy Quran on his head and vitriol on his tongue, Zulfiqar Mirza has been firing salvos against hitherto out-of-reach targets. Whatever he may think of his performance, the people at large didn’t find it either edifying or even amusing.

It is possible that not everything in Mirza’s free-style diatribe is correct, but to dismiss it as being totally untrue would not be fair. However, more important than the content of his wail perhaps are his motives and the consequences to himself, his party, conflict-ravaged Sindh, and the crises-ridden state of Pakistan.

One cannot make a precise and adequate statement about Mirza’s feverish campaign. The first motive one looks for in such situations is personal. Was Mirza unable to overcome what he might have considered as his humiliation or betrayal by the party when he was removed from the provincial home minister’s gaddi and told to cool his heels abroad? Did he feel that the steps taken by Rehman Malik or his gendarmes were undermining his position in some key areas of Karachi or his electoral base in Badin (by giving the nationalists a chance to regroup), or his status in the party’s hierarchy in Sindh or at the central level?

Another motive could be Mirza’s desire to help the PPP regain the ground it might have lost by buying the MQM’s support on the latter’s terms. Did he want to assure the Sindhi people that they had not been deserted by his party — at least not by a strong section of the provincial leadership?

Finally, there is a possibility that the storm petrel of the Sindh PPP honestly believed that the party’s policy towards the MQM was harming Pakistan’s interest and that it had become necessary to bring certain matters into out the open.

Unfortunately for Mirza, his tactics do not guarantee success in achieving the stated objectives. If he thinks the campaign against violence and anarchy in Karachi should target only non-PPP groups, he is manifestly in the wrong. For one, to be partisan in such matters is morally wrong and politically disastrous and, for another, meeting violence with violence alone has never worked. The restoration of peace and progress not only in Karachi but Sindh as a whole demands a strong compact on peaceful co-existence between the old and new Sindhis. One is certain there are large bodies of people on both sides that realise this but cannot find ways to beat the culture of politics based on violence, thuggery and the patronage of criminal gangs. The people who follow the MQM cannot be denied their share in the management of affairs, and if the party is lording over its constituents through the cult of violence and fear, as is being alleged, non-violent means of winning the people’s trust will produce better and more durable results rather than confrontation and saber-rattling of the sort staged by Zulfiqar Mirza. Indeed he may have helped strengthen the MQM, whose members have a history of closing ranks whenever they feel threatened.

Likewise, the PPP will not be able to repair the damage wrought to its position in Sindh merely by whipping up anti-MQM feelings. The ways to retain their following are known to mature members of all political parties, and if the PPP high command is unaware of them, Mirza’s mock-heroics will not help it in overcoming this fatal flaw.

As for Zulfiqar Mirza’s own electoral future or his place in the party chambers, the final word for quite some time is likely to remain with the central high command, which could become even more powerful if plans to throw the PPP out of government materialise before the polls are due. The day when the PPP manages to democratise itself and party workers or middle-ranking leaders like Mirza could influence major policy decisions still seems far away.

Mirza’s venomous attack on Rehman Malik could be a case of one’s rivalry with one’s mirror image. Both have boundless ambition, both have inflated views of themselves, and neither of them has discovered the value of silence. Whatever Mirza’s case against Rehman Malik, he seems to have chosen the wrong forum. As a result he has caused more harm to his party than anyone else.

One of Mirza’s allegations against the MQM chief is that he offered a foreign government assistance if the latter could contribute to clipping the ISI’s wings. There is nothing unusual or uncommon about the plea for eliminating or reducing the ISI’s role in national politics, other politicians are desirous of the same. But seeking a foreign power’s help or even referring the issue to it, is another matter, and the people have a right to demand an answer. However, one does not know whether Mirza’s reference to the ISI and the MQM leader was inspired by hubb-i-Ali (love of Ali) or bughz-i-Muawiya (rancour against Muawiya) and thereby may hang quite a tale. Anyone who appears to be carrying a brief for the ISI is unlikely to escape censure and controversy.

Likewise, nobody should be surprised if somebody thinks that the US wants to see Pakistan dismembered because some people claim to know more about US intentions than the Americans themselves. Even if the US or any other western power wants guarantees of its access to a stable, well-managed port city of Karachi in emergencies, it cannot be blind to the unpredictable consequences of depriving Sindh of Karachi, to say nothing of the chaos in the region in the event of Pakistan’s disintegration. The Pakistani people should be clear that they will not be able to save the state merely by blaming external hands for all of their travails. The key to securing national integrity lies in their own hands.

Thus all that Zulfikar Mirza seems to have achieved is, firstly, he has provided grist to the mills of his party’s enemies, something the PPP cannot afford at this point. Secondly, he has done considerable disservice to democracy. As it is, the common citizen is fed up of self-serving political parties and their purblind leaders. Their denigration by insiders will destroy whatever little trust in democracy the people still have. The East Bengal legislators who made a murderous attack on the deputy speaker in 1958 had no intention to call upon the military to take over, but their act helped the Iskander Mirza-Ayub Khan clique to strangulate democracy and set a pattern of authoritarian rule that we have not been able to bury till today.

Mr. I.A. Rehman is a writer and activist living in Pakistan. He is the secretary general of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan Secretariat.