Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Business Recorder editorial July 26, 2016

Change of guard The Dubai meeting of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) leadership has decided to show octogenarian Chief Minister Sindh Syed Qaim Ali Shah the door. The ‘surprise’ decision could have been anticipated since in recent days the air was full of speculation that a change was coming. Of Qaim’s three terms in office, the second one, 2008-13 was the only full one. In the current term, his ministry was beset with a whole series of new problems to add to the perception of ineffective governance that dogged his footsteps in earlier stints. Amongst these new problems, the Rangers operation against terrorists and criminals in Karachi perhaps proved the reef on which Qaim’s ship finally foundered. The issue of the extension of the Rangers’ mandate reared its head again and again, complicated further by the recent incident in Larkana in which Home Minister Anwar Siyal got implicated as a result of his brother Sikandar Siyal’s attempt to come to the rescue of Asad Kharal, arrested by the Rangers on corruption charges. This highlighted the desire of the military-backed Rangers to have their mandate extended not only in Karachi but further to all of Sindh. The perception is that Asif Ali Zardari, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and the senior leadership of the PPP were dissatisfied with Qaim Ali Shah’s handling of the Rangers issue, in which they found him too ‘soft’ and pliable. However, just as Qaim could not defy the will of the security establishment without risking the Sindh government per se, it remains a moot point whether his successor will be able to do any better. Given Karachi’s importance as the industrial, commercial and financial hub of the country and the decades old unrest, terrorism and crime that held the city hostage, the establishment’s impatience with ineffective civilian governments fed into the pressures applied and visible, especially since 2013, on the Sindh government. In this obtaining scenario, it is unlikely his successor will not face the same scenario. In addition, there has been a widespread perception that Qaim was largely a ‘showpiece’ chief minister, and that the province was actually being run in all important respects by multiple power centres, all roads from which eventually led to Asif Ali Zardari abroad. If Qaim Ali Shah was squeezed between the rock of the establishment and the hard place of multiple power centres dictating affairs in Sindh and answering only to Asif Zardari, what is the guarantee that his successor will not face the same fate? In a meeting in Karachi of the PPP leadership chaired by Bilawal after returning from Dubai, the decision has been taken to induct former Sindh finance minister Murad Ali Shah as Qaim’s replacement. Since the PPP enjoys a comfortable majority in the Sindh Assembly, it will have no problems in getting Murad Ali Shah elected as the new chief minister. However, Murad Ali Shah’s new assignment may not prove a bed of roses despite the confidence reposed in him by the PPP leadership. For one, the chances of being reduced to grist in the mill of the tensions between the establishment and the multiple centres of power answering only to Asif Zardari mentioned above remains a real risk. Second, many senior PPP Sindh leaders regard relatively young Murad Ali Shah as their ‘junior’. Whether they, and the powerful families and communities they are drawn from will be willing to serve unreservedly under him and offer him their full support remains a moot point. With two years to go to the next elections, the PPP in Sindh sees its already dwindled political fortunes nationally further weakened by the ineffective governance of Qaim Ali Shah over the last eight years in Sindh, its last remaining bastion. To engender some momentum going into the next elections, the PPP wants to switch its strategy from the ‘back foot’ (defensive, visionless, adrift) style of Qaim Ali Shah to a more aggressive ‘front foot’ posture. Whether the PPP will be able to successfully negotiate the ripples this is likely to produce in its relationship with the security establishment and use the 'victim’ card successfully if the latter moves against it, remains an open question that only time can answer.

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