PPP & MQM in the dock

PPP & MQM in the dock
The PPP is in a royal mess. It was wiped out in three provinces in the 2013 elections because of its terrible performance in government and only barely managed to survive in its traditional stronghold of Sindh. But it hasn’t learnt any lessons because its provincial performance remains abysmal. In fact, it has reinforced an impression of incompetence, maladministration and corruption. But the PPPs misdeeds are catching up with it. The military establishment has set up a powerful platform in Sindh via the Rangers and the Corps Headquarters on the basis of a popular demand for law and order in the country's core city and started to target the PPP for corruption that funds criminality and terrorism. This does not bode well for the party and its government in the province.

The PPP accuses the military establishment of “targeting” its supporters in the police and administration, thereby transgressing the limits of power endowed upon the Rangers with the approval of the Sindh government under law. Faced with the prospect of non-cooperation and even roadblocks by the Sindh government, the military establishment has leaned on the PMLN federal government to legally empower the FIA and NAB to step in under the sweeping Protection of Pakistan Act and clear the way for them. This has provoked Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah to threaten to scupper their moves in Sindh. But if there is a bitter standoff between the military establishment and the PPP in Sindh, the federal government will be caught squarely in the vise, with adverse consequences for all protagonists.

The military establishment has taken a holistic view of the problem of criminality and terrorism in Karachi and Sindh. Apart from focusing on the usual TTP and RAW agents and suspects, it has targeted the MQM's militias and mafias. When it discovered their organic links with the leaders of the party it also roped them in. Simultaneously, it started a media campaign to discredit the MQM and provide de facto justification for its actions. Now it is applying the same tactics to the PPP. This has compelled Asif Zardari to counter attack in the same aggressive fashion as Altaf Hussain did earlier. But the dilemma of both leaders – one who has been in self-imposed exile since 1992 and the other who has scurried to the safety of foreign shores recently – is that their protests are falling on deaf ears in the corridors of power in Islamabad and in Rawalpindi no less than in the court of the people of Pakistan. Generally, Pakistanis perceive the MQM to harbour criminals and terrorists and the PPP leaders to be hugely corrupt and incompetent. Even more significantly, COAS General Raheel Sharif and DGISI Gen Rizwan Akhtar, who are personally overseeing their component of the National Action Plan against Terrorism, are rapidly acquiring the reputation of no-nonsense doers for whom charity begins at GHQ and Aabpara. This means that there is unqualified national support for the politico-military action in Sindh and not much sympathy for the PPP and MQM.

Nonetheless, there are certain political red lines that even a rare do-gooding military establishment should not cross in a civilian-democratic dispensation. Should push come to shove, the Sindh government may validly dig its heels in and oust the Rangers from Sindh. That would put unbearable pressure on Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to impose Governor’s Rule on the province. But that is easier said than done after the 18th amendment that requires either approval by the Sindh Assembly or support from both houses of parliament before such a step can be taken, an objective that is not likely to be easily obtained. It is also likely to fan the flames of Sindhi nationalism that has historically been eyed by RAW as a potential breeding ground for separatism like Baloch nationalism. A united front by the PPP and MQM against the PMLN will surely redound to the discomfort of the PMLN and the main beneficiary will be the PTI. That is why the Sindh chief minister, Qaim Ali Shah, has only given a one month extension to the Rangers' writ in the province, and that too after negotiating preconditions and ground rules for the same from the interior minister, Nisar Ali Khan, only hours before the deadline ran out on Wednesday.

The last thing anyone should want is to confer a renewed sense of victimhood on both these parties to cover up for their sins.
Of course, the best way out of this situation would be for the leaders of both parties to clean up their act so that the problem of terrorism and criminality and corruption goes away. But that is asking for the moon. Much better, therefore, for the military establishment to step back from transgressing the political freedoms allowed under law and constitution to both parties and focus on the other more direct dimensions of terrorism like sectarianism, separatism and religious extremism. Let the people decide the fate of all political parties in the next general elections.

Najam Aziz Sethi is a Pakistani journalist, businessman who is also the founder of The Friday Times and Vanguard Books. Previously, as an administrator, he served as Chairman of Pakistan Cricket Board, caretaker Federal Minister of Pakistan and Chief Minister of Punjab, Pakistan.