Monday, September 5, 2011

Editorial Daily Times Sept 6, 2011

Rehman Malik’s request

Federal Interior Minister Rehman Malik has studiously refused to be drawn into a response to ex-Home Minister Sindh Zulfikar Mirza’s diatribe against him. Instead, it now transpires that he has written to the prime minister with a request to constitute a judicial commission to probe Mirza’s allegations. In the process, Malik hopes to have an opportunity to clear his name regarding the two arguably most damaging allegations against him: 1) so-called connections with target killers; 2) the alleged release of target killers under Malik’s instructions. When asked about this during an interaction in Lahore with newsmen, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani said he was considering the request. At the same time, the PM was careful and diplomatic when answering prickly questions about his two party colleagues. While he did not condemn, in fact was ‘soft’ on Mirza by appreciating his resignation from all offices before he launched his criticism, the PM was also at pains to defend his interior minister against Mirza. Interestingly, in answer to another question, Gilani hoped that the local bodies elections would be held before the next general elections. Ordinarily, this would have been an unremarkable statement, but given the context of the troubles in Karachi and the recent flip-flop over the local bodies system, it could be read by some as one more sop towards the MQM, which the PPP is trying once again to persuade back into the fold of the coalition. In the given situation, when Karachi and Hyderabad have been allowed the restoration of the Musharraf-era local bodies system, which advantages the MQM, the rest of Sindh is now under the restored commissionerate system! Wonders will never cease in this Land of the Pure.
The slaughter continues in the streets of Karachi, even as the beginnings of the fruits of the operation are becoming visible in the arrests of a handful of target killers. Meantime, despite the furore aroused by the Mirza attack on MQM, the overtures from the PPP to Altaf Hussain and his followers continue. Both the PM and Rehman Malik, the latter virtually the permanent bridge between the two sides, spoke to Altaf to inquire after his health upon his return home from hospital. Platitudes about upholding democracy and cooperating with each other were exchanged as usual. But that should not be taken to mean that all is well on this front. Reports of a meeting between the PPP emissaries former federal law minister Babar Awan and Sindh Local Government Minister Agha Siraj Durrani with Sindh Governor Ishratul Ebad point to continuing wooing efforts even though the wake of Hurricane Mirza has yet to subside.
What is not clear so far, and has led to much speculation in the media, is whether Mirza has acted entirely off his own bat or served some Machiavellian purpose of President Asif Ali Zardari in the troubled relationship with the MQM. One view is that Zardari and Mirza are practicing a ‘good cop, bad cop’ routine intended to pressurise the MQM into making concessions on the terms of engagement between the two sides. That only time will prove or otherwise. But there is no mistaking the enthusiastic response of the PPP’s Sindhi constituency and the Sindhi nationalists to Mirza’s outbursts against the MQM. Whether this will be sufficient to win back this alienated constituency, irritated over the perceived molly-coddling of the MQM in the name of ‘reconciliation’, too will only become clear over time. Meanwhile the latest Wikileaks revelations have laid bare the troubles between the PPP and the MQM over the last two years. The PPP’s complaint can be boiled down to MQM’s tactics of ‘escalating demands’ every time an agreement had been reached. Perhaps the new ‘line’ (if it is that) of the PPP is to pay its negotiating partner back in its own coin.

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