A hostage to the MQM


Zardaris ill-gotten pelf stacked away in Swiss banks has become the bane of the PPP and the entire political system. The PPP-led government which had an opportunity to rid itself of dependence on the MQM has reportedly accepted the ethnic outfits demands instead of reaching an understanding with the PML(N) which could have consolidated the system and helped PPP complete its tenure.

Not that the PML(N) has not done its bit to push the PPP towards Altaf Hussain. Some of the demands presented by Mian Nawaz Sharif early this week targeted Zardari directly. Gilani would not have been able to get them accepted by the PPP. The implementation of the NRO within weeks was among the least palatable demands as it implied the reopening of Swiss cases by the PPP against its own co-chairperson.

The points were presented in the form of non-negotiable commands followed by an ultimatum with a strict timeframe of the sort a winning general dictates to the leader of a vanquished force. What is more, there was a perception based on past experience that the demands were in fact only the first installment of commands and constituted a thin edge of the wedge. Further there was no assurance that if some of the demands were accepted the PML(N) would join the coalition instead of continuing to keep the minority government in an agony of doubt for the next two years by lending it outside support only.

The PPP and MQM happen to be on the same page as far as the implementation of the apex courts decision on the NRO is concerned. Hundreds of MQM workers and leaders face jail terms if the verdict on the NRO was to be implemented in letter and spirit. The demand to remove corrupt ministers could also hurt the ethnic party. This brings the PPP and MQM together.

But will the MQM really return to the fold? On the face of it, the party had left the coalition in protest against the January 1 hike in petroleum prices. It is widely understood however that it had a number of other demands, considered more vital by its leadership, that it had not put up openly. In case these are accepted, the party can return to the coalitions fold without losing face as it could maintain that it had succeeded in getting its major demand accepted.

The MQMs return would again make the ruling coalition a hostage to the ethnic party. It will have to continue to cater to whatever demands the party makes in the next two years.

But will the government accept the partys real demands? Hints have been thrown by MQM leaders that they deserved more ministries at the center and in Sindh. The MQM also wants Zulfiqar Mirzas head. There are demands for the acceptance of MQMs bill on Local Bodies instead of the one prepared by the PPP.

The ethnic party also wants early Local Bodies elections. It is understood that it is pressing for other unspecified demands as well, the acceptance of which could make the PPP lose its vote bank in Sindh. While an understanding with the MQM seems to be on the cards, it may be scuttled if the MQM insists on getting all the points on its agenda implemented. Will it yield ground when it is being treated as the last straw the PPP is clutching at?

In case an understanding cannot be reached with the MQM, the PPP will have to reconsider whether it has to cut a deal with the PML(N) or the PML(Q) to survive. As things stand, the PPP has more common points with the Q League than with the PML(N). Unlike Mian Nawaz Sharif, the Chaudhrys are not bothered about corruption; and being the architects of the NRO, they are not pushing for the implementation of the Supreme Courts judgment on the defunct law.

But accepting the PML(Q) as a new bedfellow is rife with serious consequences. The Chaudhrys are more interested in Punjab than the center. To oblige them, the PPP will have to say good bye to the coalition with PML(N) and agree to give the post of the chief minister to the PML(Q) in case Shahbaz Sharif is replaced. A move that brings down the current set up in Punjab could lead to unforeseen consequences for the system as it would force the PML(N) to say good bye to the posture of a friendly opposition.

In case attempts are made to destabilise the Punjab government, Mian Nawaz Sharif will be forced to go all out for fresh polls, an idea he has so far opposed. He would consequently start mobilising the public against the government by raising issues like inflation, unemployment and corruption. With an eye on the next elections, he could also revert to the politics of marches and shutter-down strikes reminiscent of the 80s and 90s.

There will be another, equally important, change in the PML(N)s policy. Nawaz Sharif who till recently was not willing to talk to the PML(Q) now maintains that in case of the PPP refusing to accept his demands, he will take his suggestions to the opposition and try to seek their support. This implies that the PML(N) could open up to the Chaudhrys and the MQM also.

It is a matter of conjecture if Pakistans politics would have been any better if the PPP was not riveted on saving Zardaris money and his skin. What seems to be amply clear is that an ugly confrontation between the PPP and PML(N) is inevitable in days to come.

The writer is a former academic and a political analyst.