January Issue 2003

By | News & Politics | Published 21 years ago

After installing a prime minister of their choice at the centre by a margin of one vote, the king-makers from Islamabad rushed to Sindh to prop up a puppet chief minister in the province. In the process, the country witnessed unabashed arm-twisting, gerrymandering, political manoeuvering and horse-trading. And while no one was expecting fairplay, even in Pakistan’s thoroughly discredited political system, it was a bit over the top when the candidate of a party with barely 15 seats in a house of 167 members, was placed at the helm.

To add insult to injury, giving the PML(Q) the chief ministership of the province forced the establishment to agree to the appointment of the MQM’s (Muttahida’s) Ishratul Ibad Siddiqui, hitherto a proclaimed absconder, wanted in eight criminal cases, with a reward of three million rupees on his head, as governor of the province.

Certainly, installing a government of its choice in Sindh was not an easy task for the powers that be, considering that not only had the PPPP — anathema to the establishment — won the highest number of seats in the province, but also, there was no consensus among the other parties with representation in the house about the chief ministership. The PPPP has 67 seats in the house, followed by 41 seats of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, 12 seats of the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, 15 of the PML(Q), 14 of the National Alliance, 13 of the PML (Functional or Pagaro group), one of the Mohajir Qaumi Movement, and there are five independents.

Given the complexion of the assembly, it was a reasonable surmise that no government could be formed in the province without the support of the PPPP. However, the establishment was determined to stymie this. Thus, instead of calling a session of the assembly as per the schedule, every effort was made to delay it, in order to gain time to make dents in PPPP ranks by creating a forward bloc within the party, and establishing an alternate option.

That notwithstanding, the establishment’s dilemma was compounded when even the pro-establishment groups in the province refused to play ball. Determined to have their respective candidates assume chief ministership, each group threatened to sit on the opposition benches if their candidate was not considered for the slot. The MQM, for example, had nominated Sardar Ahmed as their candidate for chief minister; the Grand National Alliance (GNA) was determined to have Arbab Ghulam Rahim in the driving seat. In fact, according to insiders, Arbab Ghulam Mohammed, who won both, a National Assembly and a provincial assembly seat from Tharparkar, relinquished his NA seat after he was assured of all possible help towards attaining chief ministership by the Vice Chief of Army Staff (VCAS), General Yousaf.

Meanwhile, Pir Pagara opposed the candidature of Arbab Ghulam Rahim and fielded former Sindh Chief Minister, Muzzaffar Hussain Shah, as his party’s nominee for the CM’s post. Attributed to Pagara is the remark about Rahim, in apparent reference to his swarthy complexion, “He is a black crow and we cannot have a crow ruling the province.” When Pagara was pressurised by Islamabad to withdraw his demand and be more cooperative, he retorted, “I will be compelled to support the PPPP if I am pushed to the wall.”

The government’s dilemma was further exacerbated when the ISI-chief, Lieutenant General Ihsan, pitched Ali Mohammed Mahar as the PML(Q) nominee and assorted players in the game, including Prime Minister Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali, defacto Prime Minister Chaudhry Shujaat, Principal Secretary to the President Tariq Aziz, the ISI’s Maj-General Ihtisham Zamir, Information Minister Shaikh Rasheed Ahmed, Federal Minister Abdul Sattar Lalika, Secretary to the Governor, Sindh, Brigadier (retd) Akhtar Zamin and others arrived in Karachi and camped out at the state guest house to canvass for Ali Mohammed Mahar.

After much ado — including wholesale use of the carrot and stick — these power-brokers managed to secure the support of most of the groups, including the PML(F), which was promised the post of speaker of the assembly for its candidate, Syed Muzaffar Hussain Shah. However, Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi remained determined to instal Arbab Ghulam Rahim as the chief minister, and if that failed then to have his son Arif Jatoi be given the slot. “Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi rejected the nomination of Mahar because the GNA had been assured that their candidate would be given chief ministership of the province in exchange for the alliance’s support to Zafarullah Jamali,” says an insider.

According to reports, the senior Jatoi had an angry exchange with Tariq Aziz, who is also the secretary of the newly formed National Security Council. “Jatoi walked out of the meeting with Aziz saying they could not get along,” says a source.

Soon thereafter, Jatoi called an emergency meeting of the GNA, comprising the Sindh National Alliance and the Millat Party. He informed them about the incident with Aziz and reportedly asked them to consider forming a government with PPPP without the blessings of the establishment. However, barring the four candidates from his party, the rest of the GNA components apparently told Jatoi in unequivocal terms that they were not prepared to challenge the establishment. Defeated, Jatoi thus finally agreed to support Mahar’s candidature.

Next on the king-makers, agenda was tackling the MQM (Muttahida). They started parleys with the MQM, but the latter was not willing to come cheap. They demanded a governor of their choice in the province, a cleaning up of the so-called ‘no-go’ areas, and at least 12 ministries in the provincial cabinet. Eventually, overruling the reservations of the intelligence agencies over the candidature of the MQM’s Ishratul Ibad Siddiqui as governor, the establishment agreed to accept all the MQM’s demands, and in return were assured of the latter’s support for the PML(Q) candidate, Mahar.

According to reports, the intelligence agencies had even communicated to the president and prime minister separately that Ishratul Ibad was wanted by the Karachi police in several criminal cases, specifically two in the New Karachi police station, which were registered against him soon after the army launched its ‘clean-up’ operation in 1992, four in the Khwaja Ajmer Nagri police station, and one case each in the Nazimabad and Jauharabad police stations. General Musharraf and PM Jamali were also informed that Ishratul Ibad was a proclaimed offender in the Major Kaleemuddin kidnapping case, and the Sindh government had put a price of three million rupees on his head.

Nonetheless, well informed sources disclose that before he relinquished office, Governor Sindh, Mohammed Mian Soomro, sought the list of cases against Ishratul Ibad from the provincial home department, following which the cases against him were withdrawn.

However, despite cobbling together all of Sindh’s alternative groups in their bid to form a government in the province, the government could still not manage to get the required numbers. Hence, the push to create a forward bloc within the PPPP and MMA. This was not an easy undertaking. Members of both parties proved difficult to lure away. Insiders disclose that the PPPP leaders went as far as extracting an oath of allegiance under the Quran from its members. But, the establishment was determined to divide and rule, either offering handsome incentives for the PPPP and MMA MPAs to change their loyalties or threatening them to do so. To an extent, it worked. “I personally know that at least two of the four PPPP members who defected have received at least 10 million rupees each for changing sides, plus the assurance of ministries in the provincial cabinet,” says a source. Interestingly, the fact that money was used as an instrument of coercion was corroborated by Arbab Ghulam Rahim himself, one of the main allies of the government. He told newsmen how some people had offered to “invest” money on his behalf to help him become chief minister. “I told them I didn’t want to set dirty trends in politics, and so refused their offers point blank,” he said.

As for the strong-arm tactics employed by the king-makers, PPPP-backed MPA from Hyderabad, Zahid Bhurgari’s ordeal is just one example. Bhurgari was picked up by ISI sleuths in Hyderabad. According to him, “They kidnapped me from my home and took me to their office where they proceeded to beat me up because I refused to change loyalties.” Another member of the PPPP from Jacobabad, Sohrab Sarki, was offered a hefty sum for defecting, but when he declined, his elder brother Zulfikar Sarki was booked in a murder case. Furthermore, the police also sealed both his petrol pumps in Jacobabad. “Vote for our candidate or be ready to face the consequences,” he was told. He too refused to change his loyalties.

The four PPPP members who switched over to the government side, include Mahboob Bijarani, Sardar Manzoor Panhwar, Manzoor Shah and Naseer Khan Khoso. Sources disclosed that each of the four have Damocles’ swords hanging over their heads. Two are presently under trial in the murder case of journalist Shahid Soomro, while the others have served in past governments as ministers and reportedly are implicated in various cases of corruption. It is to escape indictment in these cases — the incentive provided by the power brokers — that these men reportedly decided to change sides.

Likewise, according to the MMA, two of their MPAs, including Sakina Bano, switched over to the treasury side because of government pressure. “Sakina’s husband is a government employee and she was told her husband would lose his job if she didn’t go along,” says Maulana Shah Ahmed Noorani, a central leader of the MMA.

Finally, after they were assured of the required results, the government, which postponed the Sindh Assembly session at least twice, finally called the session after a delay of two months.

However, although it has managed to instal its own men in the posts of speaker, deputy speaker and Sindh chief minister, there is still no guarantee that Sindh is a settled affair because of internal conflicts within the ruling coalition.

As per the government formula, the GNA was supposed to file the nomination papers of its candidate for the deputy speakership of the house. However, not only did it not file the papers, it did not intimate the treasury benches of this fact until the eleventh hour. As a result, no one from the treasury benches could file the nomination papers within the stipulated time, and Abdul Rehman Rajput, a candidate jointly fielded by the PPPP and MMA, stood unopposed. Subsequently, the official party intervened through the governor and got an extension for three hours which allowed it to file the nomination papers of Rahila Twana and ultimately have her elected as the deputy speaker.

Likewise, when Younas Khan, the only MPA from the Mohajir Qaumi Movement, wanted to return home after the session was over, the MQM (Muttahida) demanded he be arrested, failing which they threatened to boycott the proceedings. Buckling under the pressure, the local police barged into the assembly premises and arrested Khan. Three policemen pulled him by the hair out of the bus he was hiding in and savagely dragged him into a police van. He was taken to an undisclosed destination. Two women members of the provincial assembly were also rounded up at this time.

Interestingly, Arbab Ghulam Rahim, an important member of the ruling coalition who leads his party in the house, himself criticised the police action. When the opposition parties tabled a motion in the house, condemning Younas Khan’s arrest from the assembly premises, he was the only member from the treasury benches who supported the motion.

Having formed the government and garnered for itself, by hook or crook all the key posts, the Mahar government’s greatest dilemma, now is keeping it together. This will be a particularly daunting task since most of the 89 members on the treasury benches are now demanding ministries. It would be a tough proposition for any chief minister to keep everyone happy in such a situation, but Mahar is particularly weak. Just how ineffective Mahar is can be gauged from his response to those who approached him agitating for ministerial posts. Said Mahar, “The most I can do is to take you to Islamabad and arrange a meeting with those who helped induct me as chief minister.

Mahar’s predicament is compounded manifold by the fact that he is in by a razor-thin margin. How his chief ministership plays out remains to be seen, but few are placing bets on his success.