The battlefield called ‘Sindh’


Asif Ali Zardari and military




The visible tension between the PPP-led Sindh government and the General Raheel Sharif-led army was long predicted to spark into a huge fireball. Asif Zardari’s recent veiled outburst, purportedly pointed to army generals, did the work and ensuing developments showed the federal government was with the army. Without going into a debate on the veracity of the contents, Zardari’s speech gave an impression of a desperate man trying to hang onto the last vestiges of power available to him. Given the flights of condemnation pouring from allies in political corners, it is obvious that no one was on board.

It is possible that Mr Zardari might have consulted some important political leaders as it is not without precedent in Pakistani politics for leaders to say one thing in private and an entirely different thing in public. But, if so, Mr Zardari has been pushed into a dark alley from where escape looks difficult, if not impossible. As has been the case for years now, it is the PPP and the old guard that will suffer for Zardari’s overestimation of his own political grasp. That is extremely unfortunate. The one-time president offered a challenge which plagued the future of the Sindh government with speculation.

Moreover, the last-moment cancellation of Nawaz Sharif’s meeting with Mr Zardari caused political leaders to eye it with suspicion and forecast further nuisance. Was Mr Zardari’s speech in reaction to the operation in Sindh? Why did Mr Zardari try to malign the military leadership through his criticisms? Was it a reaction to a raid early this week on the Sindh Building Control Authority office by the Rangers?

According to a source familiar with the investigations, “The discovered links of corruption are leading to PPP leaders”. But, did Mr Zardari’s speech contain even one word challenging the validity of the corruption allegations made by the DG Rangers? No, it did not. It did not because there can be no possible public rebuttal of the allegations levelled against the Sindh administration. It also depends on how you define “operation”.

Senator Farhatullah Babar insinuated that the press statement issued by the Rangers director general was a response to the refusal of the Sindh government to grant “thousands of acres of land” to the establishment. Babar alleged that a crackdown on a government building preceded these events and that the two were not isolated incidents.

Now that the Sindh government has announced that the land will be given to army, where do things stand?

Some quarters say the mandate of the Rangers is to restore peace in Karachi and not to participate, influence or involve in administrative affairs, no matter how intellectually and administratively bankrupt that governance may be. Having said that, PPP’s continued incompetence is a glaring fact. What’s to stop the establishment from pointing it out? As someone who has admittedly a soft corner for the old PPP’s values, it is shameful that this new party has to hide behind clerical and procedural defences and threats of exposing the corruption of others rather than concentrating on putting its own house in order. Is it a secret that Zardari and his cronies are perfect examples of exactly what is wrong with a dysfunctional and ever-stuttering democracy?

The Sindh government holds the Rangers responsible for undermining civilian administration. Rangers, on their part, vehemently accuse political bodies of various crimes such as land grabbing, extortion and swindling of billions of rupees each year, which increases the crime toll in Karachi. Moreover, the PPP senator retorts, ” The Rangers are continuously, transgressing the force’s mandate to bring shame to the provincial government.”

Though tensions have long been prevailing between the Sindh government and the federal law enforcement agencies, these last two incidents were the crunch points.

PPP leaders are accustomed to criticising the Rangers for engaging themselves in affairs beyond their jurisdiction and for establishing a parallel authority against them. However, these allegations have been repudiated by both the federal government and the Rangers. Although the Rangers were called out to help the civil administration, they have been spearheading law enforcement in Karachi for many years. The strain was only intensified after the formation of the provincial apex committee which also included the local corps commander and the head of the Rangers under the National Action Plan.

A few highly placed sources give credence to reports regarding the mounting agitation between civil and military leaders in the apex committee meetings. Add to this, the Rangers and army officials themselves have taken up the responsibility regarding the widespread corruption and the breakdown of Karachi’s administration. However, the indulgence of Rangers into these affairs is justified by many analysts owing to crippling civil law enforcement agencies and the ineptitude of the Sindh government. The wedge between the provincial government and army was further widened due to the neglect of a continuous series of warnings by the PPP members and the provincial government.

Moreover, the Rangers have also achieved a chief motive of their crackdown, which was to provoke the ire of the MQM. Also, the vehement defence by the PPP of the Rangers’ action against the MQM and the alleged extra-judicial killing of the latter’s activists is considered to be very thought provoking. But, then the tables turned and the conflict intensified when the crackdown extended to the government officials themselves. Keeping in line with the opinion of security officials, the land scam in Karachi thriving under the direst patronage of the PPP members is the single most cause which has resulted in savagery between various political bodies involved in the turf war.

Another senator says, “Why don’t the Rangers tackle with the militant and sectarian groups, which is their basic priority?” As the situation of law and order was further exacerbated, businessmen and traders began to seek help from the military under the civilian rule.

Also, the civil administration became suspicious after the address of corps commander to the businessmen. All these events resulted in the solidification of suspicion that the noose was being tightened around the PPP leaders. This was further unveiled when a leading political analyst stated, “The attack by Zardari on the military leaders is only an impetuous move to ridicule any action by the Rangers against his close associates.” Although no reaction by the military has yet been made public, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his federal ministers rejected Zardari’s speech and refused him any support.

Mr Zardari, who has been preaching reconciliation for the last seven years, took a path of confrontation with the military establishment for wrong reasons. He has now restricted himself into a corner, as analysts say. It remains to be seen, though, how Mr Zardari gets himself and his party out of this situation.