EDITORIAL: The PPP-MQM reconciliation
Perhaps the greatest blessing that fell to the share of Pakistan on the day of the Birthday of the Prophet PBUH was the understanding reached between the PPP and the MQM. The significance of this coming together of the two big parties of Sindh will become clear with the passage of time. Mr Asif Ali Zardari, the architect of this new relationship, made it very clear why he wanted the MQM riding together with his party: he wanted urban and rural Sindh to live in peace, with mutual cooperation added, to save the national economy from being jeopardised by political disorder.
The MQM has responded by instructing its senior politician Dr Farooq Sattar to stand down as the opposition’s agreed candidate for the post of the leader of the house in the National Assembly against the PPP’s nominee for PMship. The two parties were engaged in negotiations in Dubai following which the nominated PPP chief minister of Sindh Mr Qaim Ali Shah had taken a delegation of his partymen to the headquarters of the MQM in Karachi. Both parties conferred with their allies before taking the step.
Mr Zardari did not move towards the MQM without “taking permission” from the leader of the party’s coalition partners — whom he called his “senior” partners — Mr Nawaz Sharif, Mr Asfandyar Wali and Maulana Fazlur Rehman. Similarly, Mr Altaf Hussain discussed the projected move with the leader of the PMLQ, Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain. The consent given by both sides of the political divide in the parliament has consequences which must be studied carefully. One easy reaction expressed over TV was that the development denoted the terminal phase of the isolation of President Pervez Musharraf. But there is almost a certain indication of a contrary development.
The MQM has been a consistent ally of the president over the past five years. Compared to the PMLQ, it was more in agreement with the liberal agenda of the president. Because of its control of urban Sindh it was a critical factor in maintaining a balance of “response” against the strong presence of the religious parties and seminaries in Karachi. If ever there were two parties with comparable political ideology, they were the MQM and the PPP. But the MQM aroused hostility among parties that are now committed to a coalition government in Islamabad. The ANP was greatly incensed at what it thought was violence of the MQM against its rank and file in June last year when the deposed chief justice of Pakistan Mr Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry tried to visit Karachi.
The PMLN was likewise upset with the MQM because of Mr Nawaz Sharif’s contacts in the APDM and support to the lawyers’ movement. When Mr Zardari began to negotiate with him the possibility of a PPP-PMLN government at the centre, Mr Sharif actually made any agreement conditional to “keeping the MQM out”. One can only understand the latest development as a climb-down from his earlier position. The same can be said about the ANP. Does this mean that acceptance was given on the understanding that the entry of the MQM in the coalition would isolate President Musharraf and make him “leave the country”?
It could be the other way around: a lower-profile president can be “lived with” as the strongest-ever-in-history coalition — which now looks like a national government — takes matters in hand. The MQM has not reneged on its support to the presidential position on the restoration of the deposed judges and is more inclined to support the PPP’s position on the independence of the judiciary than the PMLN’s position on the restoration of the judges. Those commentators who had condemned President Musharraf’s delay in convening the national and provincial assemblies should now realise that the latest grand reconciliation could not have taken place without the delay — a delay that could actually be “sympathetic” and not a “conspiracy in the presidency”.
Mr Zardari has stated that he is reaching out to the rejectionist camp too. He sent a delegation of his senior PPP politicians to meet Mr Imran Khan to condole the death of the latter’s father and to invite him to join hands with the PPP. This could only mean a persuasion to fight a by-election and become a member of parliament. A similar gesture to Mr Aitzaz Ahsan, president of the Supreme Court Bar Association, is expected to be made. The lawyers’ community has already asked Mr Ahsan to enter parliament through a by-election and break from the movement’s rejectionist posture.
Tomorrow when the National Assembly convenes to vote in its leader, the new prime minister is likely to be a key politician from southern Punjab. This will soften a number of “unfriendly” politicians in Sindh and southern Punjab. Mr Zardari has shown remarkable statesmanship in putting together a national coalition that no one could dream of a month ago. *
SECOND EDITORIAL:Bigots in Hangu
The town of Hangu in the NWFP was “shutter-down” on Friday as Eid Miladun Nabi was celebrated by the local Muslim population. Why was the city dead? Because someone had started firing weapons in the streets to prevent the local Shia community from observing Nauruz, an ancient Iranian festival that is a part of the Shia culture in the Tribal Areas.
This year Eid Miladun Nabi coincided with Christian Good Friday, Hindu Holi and Parsi Nauruz. As the media carried messages of goodwill to the minority communities, the bigots of Hangu maintained their old tradition of attacking the Shias on the occasion of Nauruz. This is a consequence of the decline of Pakistani culture under the spur of a narrow-minded faith. Those who wish to destroy Pakistani culture are armed and use violence. They also use religion to strengthen their cause. Standing up to them is the war that Pakistan will have to fight if it wants to survive. *