How provincial of you

PPP gets into dirty fight for power in Sindh v Centre

How provincial of you
If you have been watching the Pakistan Peoples Party, you would not be wrong in thinking that it has been struggling on several fronts in recent months. By making certain choices, it has certainly achieved its goal of empowering the Sindh government (the party has the majority to rule), but in the process, it has also angered the Establishment (Islamabad) and taken on the courts. These developments are motivated by what is ostensibly the party’s desperation to protect itself politically from becoming irrelevant and stop haemorrhaging supporters in upper Sindh.

At the heart of this power struggle is the 18th Amendment to the Constitution that ostensibly gives the provinces the right to self-govern in certain areas. In the PPP’s struggle for survival it has wanted to get rid of two things: the top cop Islamabad chose and the accountability watchdog that goes after its people with corruption cases.

Rejecting IG

One of the Sindh government’s head-on collisions with the Centre has been in a fight over removing Sindh Inspector-General of Police AD Khawaja, the federally chosen top cop in the province. Since April 6, the Sindh High Court has stayed or prevented the removal of IG Khawaja from his post by the Sindh government, which had surrendered his services back to the federal government on March 31. Essentially, that was a thanks but no thanks, we don’t want him.

In another development that is part of this picture, on July 9, the Sindh government empowered its home minister, Sohail Siyal, to make transfers and postings of senior police officers—something that is the IG’s job. Thus, the PPP stripped the provincial police chief of some of his most crucial powers.

There was a reason for the PPP wanting its choice of IG and not Islamabad’s. The PPP’s Sindh government had asked the IG to allocate 20,000 police recruitments to its jiyalas. It was worried about non-Sindhis getting the jobs on merit. Recently more than 1,500 women and men went to the Counter-Terrorism Department and Rapid Response Force. According to one rough estimate, more than 60% of them are non-Sindhi-speaking. The IG refused. These jobs were monitored by a committee that had members from the Establishment. There are other reasons why a ruling party would want a pliable police chief given the elections are around the corner.

The government has been unable to do much more given the court orders to keep IG AD Khawaja in place. This case has thus, emerged as a major litmus test. The PPP has been reactive. It wants an end to the stand-off with the courts and Establishment (ie Islamabad) but it wants a solution on its own terms. This conflict has not brought it anywhere closer to achieving its goals.

Removing NAB

The Sindh government is also in a tug of war about wresting power or jurisdiction of the federally run National Accountability Bureau (NAB), the accountability watchdog. Instead of a federal bureau, the Sindh government wants its own body to investigate corruption in the province.

The PPP took the matter to the Sindh Assembly before CM Murad Ali Shah’s cabinet approved it. On July 3, the Sindh Assembly passed the ‘anti-NAB bill’, which seeks to revoke NAB’s power in the province. Opposition members were against it, saying the bill was hastily passed after NAB declared it was investigating corruption in different departments. (NAB is conducting inquiries and investigations against more than 600 people, including 15 lawmakers, mostly sitting MPAs belonging to the PPP, in Sindh.) Sindh Governor Mohammad Zubair objected to the bill and returned it for review. The governor noted that the province’s efforts to repeal federal accountability laws go against the interest of the people and it is beyond the provincial government’s authority to nullify it. Nonetheless Sindh Law Minister Ziaul Hassan Lanjar was of the opinion that under Article 116 (3) a bill becomes an Act, “if the governor fails to give his assent the second time within 10 days”.

Earlier on, in a letter, the Sindh government had told all its departments and authorities that with the withdrawal of the National Accountability Ordinance (NAO), NAB could not open new inquiries and cases. It told them to stop cooperating with the federal anti-corruption agency. Had the act been approved, NAB could go after only federal government employees in Sindh.
Controlling the police force and NAB was also important to curb dissent in the party. Recently a number of electables, including Baloch-dominated rural landlords in upper Sindh have been extremely unhappy of late and Asif Ali Zardari had to visit the area to prevent them from leaving the party

And so, by August 10, Sindh officially ended the jurisdiction of the National Accountability Bureau Ordinance, 1999 in Sindh. NAB will be replaced by a Sindh Accountability Commission. By the way, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has done the same by already setting up its own Ehtesab Commission through an Act of its provincial assembly in 2014. By August 16, however, the Sindh High Court told NAB to keep working.

By far these are the most pressing debates brought to light with the application of the 18th Amendment. Just to be clear: both federal institutions (the office of the IG and NAB) are supposed to be empowered by the Constitution. But the same is true for the claims of the Sindh government. The Sindh government considers the court’s verdict in the IG and NAB’s cases an example of judicial overreach that override the very constitutional changes that the 18th Amendment made in 2010 to strengthen provincial autonomy or right to self-govern.

The passage of the 18th Amendment to the Constitution in 2010 meant that the provinces were granted more powers to rule themselves. This gave rise to more feelings of regionalism (or a common sense of Sindhi identity). This and the PPP’s electoral defeat in the other provinces and shrinking political space in Punjab caused the party to start reflecting. One reflection was that perhaps the party needed to protect the interests of the Sindhi elites and the middle class more. It needed to carve out a larger space for its politics by sidelining the Sindhi nationalist circles. Hardline nationalists from the separatist Jeay Sindh Muttahida Mahaz are under attack and others are trying to rally behind the PPP as it is being portrayed as the party with the larger interest of Sindhis at heart. It certainly benefits the PPP that nationalist groups have never done well at the polls.

Controlling the police force and NAB was also important to curb dissent in the party. Recently a number of electables, including Baloch-dominated rural landlords in upper Sindh have been extremely unhappy of late and Asif Ali Zardari had to visit the area to prevent them from leaving the party.

Run-up to 2018

The nexus between politicians and the provincial bureaucracy has grown stronger during the PPP’s longest time in government (almost a decade since 2008). A close working relationship between politicians and bureaucrats is considered key by the PPP leadership to succeed in the upcoming election.

This will be the PPP’s third bid for power in the upcoming elections in 2018. Its campaign cannot depend on its performance so far, especially in rural Sindh. It will have to rely on blind support and promise of patronage and perks. It is working on the faces in rural politics who can affect the PPP’s chances at the polls. It doesn’t seem the same problem with its urban politics as its rivals have been thrown into disarray because of the long-running Karachi operation.

The PPP has certain advantages in Sindh. First, it has a clear majority in the law-making forum, the Sindh Assembly. It also has support from rural Sindh parties (excluding urban Sindh). Its coalition with the MQM broke up in 2014. And it has the 18th Amendment which it can use as a shield to accomplish certain things. Don’t be fooled into thinking, however, that the PPP has suddenly become altruistic when it comes to provincial autonomy. There is a reason why it is championing the movement of power from the Centre to its turf.

The Sindh government’s plan of attack is to weed out unnecessary intervention from Islamabad and turn the table on opponents in urban areas. At least for the time being, the Sindh government doesn’t want to mess with the Rangers as it is already attacking two other institutions, the IG and NAB. And this is why it did not put on hold the extension of the paramilitary forces’ stay in Sindh, which needs to be ratified each quarter by the provincial authorities.

As for other central departments, however, the PPP has big plans to marginalize their influence. It should, however, expect some push back from Islamabad, which may band together PPP rivals from urban political forces such as some factions of the MQM, Jamaat-e-Islami and Tehreek-e-Insaf. The Sindh government has been at loggerheads with the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation. What does Islamabad do? The prime minister announces a special package of Rs25 billion for Karachi and Hyderabad, as the Sindh government offered these cities very little in its budget for 2017-18. By the way, the PM was supported by MQM-Pakistan in the National Assembly for the top slot.

Most of the opponents to the PPP’s strategy are entrenched in the urban centers and can form electoral alliances with some rural forces for the 2018 election. What the Sindh government is doing these days has the potential to make it vulnerable to strong opposition from urban Sindh. If anything, it gives PPP adversaries ammunition in the Center, in urban Sindh and in other provinces.

The writer is an independent researcher and can be reached at