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Missed Opportunities

It is May 26, 1993. The Supreme Court has just restored Mian Nawaz Sharif as PM of Pakistan. On the hill a lonely (and suddenly beleaguered) President waits with apprehension about his former protege’s next move. Ms. Benazir Bhutto similarly waits anxiously with her worry beads. If Mian Nawaz Sharif should choose to go to the President and make up as any politician in his place would have done in similar circumstances, showing magnanimity in victory, the game is over for her for some time. On the outside chance that the PM expands on his confrontation, there is hope yet. Riding the crest of success, Mian Sahib chooses the path of confrontation and thus takes the “laurels from his (own) brow and casts them into the dust”, to quote Churchill about Wavell after his defeat at the hands of Rommel in the desert. Next, having formed the Government after the 1993 elections and thus displaying its coalition majority, the PPP shows signs of political accommodation over the election of a compromise President, maybe even someone like Senator Sartaj Aziz from the PML(N). Again Mian Sahib’s hawks prevail, the PML(N) stands firm about a PML(N) President of their choice, seesawing between Gohar Ayub and Wasim Sajjad. Net result, PPP goes for its own candidate and we see the non-controversial and generally liked PPP stalwart Farooq Khan Leghari elected as President. Third flashback, President Leghari immediately resigns from the PPP in an effort to display genuine neutrality in his new role as President and journeys to Lahore, inviting Mian Sahib to tea in the Punjab Governor’s House and if not, requests to go over himself to Mian Sahib’s house in Model Town to call on the Leader of the Opposition, in fact leaning over backwards beyond the limits of protocol. Peevishness persists and discourtesy aside, the meeting has not yet materialised, two years later. In Mian Sahib’s political history, the field is strewn with missed opportunities, so many and so crucial that it would require much more than one single article to recount them. Teflon-like hide aside, one cannot keep on passing the buck to his Advisors.

Given the present Karachi situation and the grave danger that it poses to the existence of the country, the Leader of the Opposition has taken the initiative and called a Conference of all parties on Karachi. Given the foot-dragging of the PPP regime as far as negotiations with MQM are concerned, this is indeed a most welcome proposal to draw the MQM(A) back into the national mainstream. One should take the analogy of the ultimate symbol of terrorism, the air hijacker. Does one stop talking to the hijacker or does one immediately start talking to him in order to gain time and wear down his demands? While labelling MQM as terrorists may be a moot point in a city full of terrorist groups of various ilk and creed, the PPP should certainly not stop talking with the majority party in Sindh’s urban areas. To circumvent PPP’s obduracy on this issue, Mian Sahib took a political lead of great significance by calling this Conference and then proceeded to shoot himself in the foot by refusing to invite PPP.

Though it is quite doubtful that Mian Sahib will read this, for the sake of this city and the country, it is necessary to give a short political lesson on Karachi. The two main electable political groupings in Karachi are the MQM(A) and the PPP, with the PPP the smaller grouping with its safe seats in Malir (East) and Lyari (West). The third organised party in Karachi is the ANP but like the PML(N), JI and JUP (Noorani), in that order of electability, it cannot win any seats in Karachi on its own without support from other parties. With Syed Ghous Ali Shah as the PML(N) leader of Sindh, the credibility of PML(N) is quite doubtful, it is only carried on the populist shoulders of the popular Mian Nawaz Sharif. To compound his weaknesses, the unelectable Ghous Ali Shah interferes regularly in Karachi PML(N) politics and as such the PML(N) graph has gone down further low. The PML(N) Karachi hierarchy is in a holy mess. PML(N) stalwarts MNAs Capt. Haleem Siddiqui, Abubakr Shekhani, Dost Mohd Faizi, Ejaz Shafi, etc only got elected because (1) the MQM stayed out of the election and (2) the voters in these constituencies voted for the most potent candidate on the anyone-but-PPP philosophy. While Mian Nawaz Sharif remains personally very popular in Karachi, he is still far short of Altaf Hussain’s enormous mandate, albeit though it is concentrated overwhelmingly in a heavily populated area of the city’s Central District.

Mian Sahib must not forget that he chose not to stand up and exercise his prerogative as PM when a particular cabal of a few in uniform decided to target the MQM only in urban areas as opposed to the stated aim of eradicating criminals, which were present in almost all the political groupings as well as operating independently of any political creed. Once the PPP came to Federal and Provincial power, it stood to gain most on MQM’s decapitation by the Army. Some of the “geniuses” who conceived the 1992 urban operation to eliminate MQM are still in areas of authority and field command and are still advising the same to the PPP three years and countless lives later. The PPP has also inherited the Trojan Horse MQM(H) whose control has passed from the ISI to the IB after a very brief period with the MI. The new spate of bank robberies point to the fact that PPP’s PSF wing is increasingly being armed to the teeth in a reaction to its activists being targeted by the MQM(A). With elements of MQM(A) working directly under Indian control along with Al-Zulfikar and Jeay Sindh, the Army hierarchy sees definite cause in being apprehensive about MQM(A) long-term intentions. Needless to say, one of our outstanding national troubleshooters, Lt Gen Javed Ashraf Qazi, DG ISI, is extremely busy “solving” national problems. Having “successfully” tackled Afghanistan and Kashmir to the extent that Pakistanis have almost become persona non grata in these two areas, he is using his sure hand by making the issues more complicated in Karachi than they ever were. Of such is indispensability born and damn the graveyards it has created. In a sense, even the Armed Forces despite its greatest efforts to disassociate itself remains a party to the Karachi fray through some of its officers.

In such compelling circumstances, the non-extension of invitation to the PPP by the PML(N) for the Karachi Conference is foolhardy. The PPP is very much a party to the problem, physically as a political party and morally as the elected governments in Sindh and the Federal structure. In the same manner that PPP refuses to talk to the MQM, the refusal by the PML(N) to acknowledge that PPP is a major factor compounds a singular folly in our major political leaders in their stubbornness in not accepting ground realities, the modern version of Nero fiddling while Karachi burns.

In the meantime, the populace of this burning city waits with increasing frustration at this lack of vision and maturity in the nation’s primary leaders. One expects from them more measured policies. Instead of the great debate whether Karachi is or is not becoming another East Pakistan, let us focus on accommodation and compromise in a spirit of live and let live and not stoop down to recriminations and ego-trips that will bring this city to a stage of let die. As much as one eulogises Mian Sahib as a popular democratic phenomenon in the mould of the Bhuttos, father and daughter, unfortunately one also cannot but decry the many missed opportunities he has had to solve the many problems that bedevil this potentially great nation.


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