January issue 2016

By | Newsbeat National | Published 4 years ago

Khawaja Hassan, lawmaker and opposition leader of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) in the Sindh Assembly, is known for his expertise in the legal and monetary aspects of public administration and has been giving a tough time to the treasury benches with his scathing criticism of their bad governance, financial corruption and lack of accountability. 

Hassan joined the MQM student’s wing, the  All-Pakistan Mohajir Students Organisation (APMSO), in 1988 while he was a student at St. Patrick’s College, Karachi. Later, he joined the MQM and was elected member of the Sindh Assembly for the first time in 2008. He served as advisor and then member of the Sindh cabinet in that tenure, as the MQM had an alliance with the Pakistan People’s Party(PPP). He was re-elected for the second time in 2013, was appointed deputy parliamentary leader of the MQM and is currently the opposition leader in the Sindh Assembly. 

His speech in the 2015-16 budget session of the Sindh Assembly was hailed by all the opposition parties for its constructive feedback. 

Newsline spoke to Khawaja Izhar Ul Hassan after the MQM’s landmark victory in the recent local government elections, about the party’s future strategy to reclaim the powers of the local bodies.

The people of Karachi have thrown their weight behind the MQM once again, on account of your performance in 2005-2009. You must be relieved that the local bodies (LB) elections have finally been held after a long battle with your former alliance partners, the PPP?

We have fought a long battle indeed, but if you remember, our differences with the PPP on the local government issue arose in the final year of Mustafa Kamal’s term as City Nazim (Mayor) Karachi, when the city government’s funds were suspended by the provincial government. When his term was completed and the PPP was not willing to continue with the system, we ran a countrywide campaign demanding the LB elections, forcing President Zardari to announce that 2011 would be the year of the local bodies elections. But the PPP did not keep their word, and it only came after the Supreme Court of Pakistan stepped in that they relented. However, in all the provinces, the system has unfortunately become subservient to the provincial governments, and Sindh provides the worst-case scenario.

Obviously, you are very unhappy with the present local government system. What is the bone of contention?

As I have already mentioned, the provincial governments were compelled to follow the directives of the Supreme Court of Pakistan and hold the polls. But the court’s directives have not been followed in letter and spirit, and it could lead to contempt of court charges against the provincial governments in the future. The Supreme Court had stressed on the implementation of article 140(A) of the constitution in establishing local governments. [Article 140(A) states that “Each province shall, by law, establish a local government system and devolve political, administrative, and financial responsibility and authority to the elected representatives of the local governments.”] The article clearly mentions handing over of political, administrative and financial authority to the local governments, but instead the PPP have curtailed the powers and shifted the responsibility of tackling the issues and dealing with the people’s discontent to them.

How do you plan to reclaim these powers in order to be able to address people’s problems?

During our campaign in the recent elections, we informed our constitutuents about these challenges and have asked them to bear with us and wait for us to deliver, as we have done in the past. We have plans in place to get these powers back, and we have been assured of support by other political parties as well.

In the last term too, you have had an uneasy relationship with your ally at the centre and in the province, which translated into violent protests and shutter-downs in the city. Do you see another face-off in the coming days?

We have a well thought out plan for the coming days. In the first phase, we will introduce an amendments bill in the Sindh Assembly. We are aware that we do not have the required numbers in the assembly, and that the amendments will be opposed and shot down by the majority. We will follow it up by passing resolutions in favour of our demands in the elected district councils in Karachi, Hyderabad and Mirpur Khas, wherever we enjoy support, and we expect others to support us. We will demand administrative and financial powers for the elected local bodies.

In the second phase, we will knock at the doors of the Sindh High Court, calling for an explanation of Article 140(A), and we will approach the Supreme Court of Pakistan to inform them of the manner in which the local bodies’ polls were conducted on the honourable courts directives; it must look into the matter of the respective provincial governments denying devolvement of administrative and financial authorities to the local bodies as well.

In the third phase, we will go to the masses and conduct massive demonstrations in support of our demands.

Newspapers have referenced Wikileaks and reported that US diplomats were told by some PPP members and others that MQM would resort to violence if their demands at the negotiation table were not met?

These are mere accusations. What the PPP and others were doing in the past years have been attributed to us. We have enjoyed political power from 2002 onwards, but we never used our political clout against our opponents. When Naimatullah Khan of the Jamaat Islami was mayor of Karachi and sustainable development work was being carried out in the city, we did not interrupt it and continued from where he had left. But look at the PPP — when they came to power, they stopped the development funds of the city governments and did not announce a single mega project for the city during those seven years. They were backing gangsters in the city and had connections with them at the leadership levels.

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Let’s look at it from another angle. Since the Rangers and police operation began in September 2013, the ratio of violence and crime in the city has dropped and peace has returned, but what role did the PPP play in the entire process? Now, there is no MQM in power, the PPP does not have to negotiate with them or hold them responsible for any disruptions. There has been no violence, no shutter-down for the last two years. The Rangers exercise control, and the army is monitoring them. Everything is hunky-dory. But what measures has the PPP taken for Karachi in the last two years?

In the ongoing tussle between you and the PPP, is it the people of Karachi who will end up as the sufferers?

Is it necessary that all development in Karachi take place only when the MQM is in power? Why not the PPP or the PML-N when they are in power? None of the two have announced any mega-project or any package for the city. When it comes to the PPP, they do not focus on the urban centres, they are anti-urban development. As for the PML-N, they have billions to spend on Lahore, but nothing for Karachi, as they do not have any stake in this city. Coming to the new contenders, the PTI, despite spending billions on media projections, their politics in Karachi boil down to a single-point agenda, which is primarily anti-MQM. Had the PTI spoken in favour of the Karachiites, they might have been able to sustain the support they got in 2013.

If you must do politics in Karachi, come and own it; ask the centre and the province to give the city its due share.

Waseem Akhtar, the MQM’s choice for mayor of Karachi, in his press briefing offered to include all political parties in the consultative process. How will rival political parties and other ethnicities be included in the process?

All local governments are expected to do development work, build infrastructure and facilitate people living here. There should be no discrimination on a political or ethnic basis involved in this issue. The very spirit of development work requires that one avoid politicking and conflict, and keep one’s political opponents on board.

There is an ongoing tug-of-war between the Rangers and the Sindh government on the issue of whether the former should be assigned any special powers. Would you care to elaborate on the MQM’s stance that the Rangers’ powers be extended to the whole province of Sindh? 

I think people across the country must appreciate the fact that we supported the assigning of special powers to the Rangers, though we have had our grievances against their high-handedness. Our workers were nabbed, many of them went missing, and some were killed extra-judicially, but we do understand that wherever there is an operation, whether it be Swat or FATA, complaints against them will emerge. There are possibilities of mistakes, chances of human error. We have had our reservations regarding it.

The National Action Plan (NAP) should not be a Karachi Action Plan; it should go beyond Karachi to include the rest of the province as well. Terrorist acts have taken place recently in Sindh, as have sectarian killings. Financial crimes such as kidnapping for ransom and cases of land grabbing, too, are rampant. Violence and intimidation against religious minorities have widely been reported. Hindus have migrated or been internally displaced owing to the kidnappings and forced conversions of their daughters. Hundreds of Hindu families have shifted to India; the poor and the dispossessed have had to move to Karachi and Hyderabad.

Even the Rangers have asked for their powers to be extended beyond Karachi, as many terrorists and criminals have moved to other parts of Sindh after  their hideouts in Karachi were raided.

How would you explain the war of words between your party and the Rangers? Would it not have been more appropriate to present your case through a proper forum instead of taking it to the media?

We had proposed the formation of a grievances redressal committee for the same purpose, but the political government should have dealt with the issues on the other side. The responsibility for what has been happening lies squarely on the shoulders of the government.

Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah has, on several occasions, stated that he is the captain of the Karachi operation. If that were indeed so, why is he attempting to curtail the Rangers’ powers now?

Qaim Ali Shah claimed to be captain when action was being taken against others, and now he continues to stick to that claim merely to save the skin of his party members and bureaucratic officials close to them. They [the PPP] have, in fact, never taken ownership of the Karachi operation.

This article was originally published in Newsline’s Annual 2016 issue.

Ali Arqam main domain is Karachi: Its politics, security and law and order