During the last one and half years, the MQM’s role has been nothing less than an enigma. They are part and parcel of the power structure of the country. They have federal ministries albeit not as many as they would have liked. They have a significant share of the power in Sindh with the incumbent governor probably the longest serving governor of any province in the country. They had the city government under their control while currently majority of the administrators in various towns are backed by them. They also have enjoyed unhindered access to the President.
In the process of reconciliation started by the late MBB and continued by President Zardari, a number of efforts have been made to appease the MQM. The thinking was clear: living in the same province, PPP and MQM were natural allies! Beginning with a visit to graveyard of MQM activists, President Zardari did what MBB may not have done. The first one and half years of the coalition with the MQM was smooth but then problems began to arise with the dissolution of the Local Bodies in Sindh. Off course, MQM’s control over the urban centers is exercised through control of the local governments and the dissolution of the same became an ego issue. Along with the dissolution started a wave of crime spree that not many have been able to pin down: target killing. Who is behind these target killings is a million dollar question, but what is important is the people of Karachi and Pakistan are suffering. Killing of a few people shutters down the city. MQM can pinpoint the perpetrators as Pakhtoons backed mafias or Baloch gangsters, whereas the other parties can point that to MQM goons for the killings, but isn’t it possible that splinter groups within the MQM have been challenging the party bosses? Imran Farooq’s killing in the middle of a safe area of London and an earlier speculation that MQM may consider moving their central secretariat to Dubai can be considered harbingers of internal MQM problems.
What the MQM has been able to do very well to ensure their control and divert attention to its internal issues, it has tried to become a popular party supporting what the mindless media is trying to do. Firstly was the matter of NRO, where the MQM chief asked the President to consider giving sacrifice and then MQM’s open opposition to the RGST. On both the matters, the political actors of Pakistan nee Kamran Khan, Shaheen Sehbai, Ansar Abbasi, Shahid Masood, Tariq Butt, Saaleh Zafir, Talat Hussain et al had been praying that the MQM leaves the coalition and somehow the PPP government is shown the door. Off course, then they can always say, “We told you so!” and prove to the world that “We are king-breakers, if not king-makers”.
MQM has announced that it is resigning from its two federal cabinet positions and may decide soon on the provincial government. One thing they have said is that they will still sit on the treasury benches. The decision was probably good than bad. There was another important piece of news that was a major reprieve for the government where the IMF has extended the Standby Agreement with Pakistan for nine months. Why this is significant: RGST will not be implemented in a haphazard way, allowing the government to take all stakeholders on board. The government has been trying to use a parliamentary mean of doing the same as reported by noted business reporter, Khurram Hussain. He says that during Nawaz Sharif’s second tenure,
“In December 1998, President Rafiq Tarrar signed an ordinance raising the sales tax rate from 12.5 per cent to 15 per cent. The signature came a week after the government had been handed a laundry list of upfront actions required by the IMF board to extend a new loan to Pakistan.”
And continues in the same article that in the first year of Musharraf’s rule
“In the last week of May (2000), a tax survey had begun with the aim of distributing something like a million and a half forms in 13 cities across the country. Thousands of tax officials started canvassing homes, shops, businesses, industries and even schools. Accompanied by uniformed soldiers, they went door to door demanding information on the source and quantity of income, work address, number of members of the household, utility bills, and so on. Within days the ‘documentation drive’ as it was called, sparked a countrywide strike. On June 1 (2000), the first tear gas canisters were fired. Traders had taken out a small procession of a couple of hundred people in Multan that marched in the streets and chanted slogans against taxes and military rule. Rallies were banned in those days and the police baton-charged them, tear-gassed them, and took around 50 protestors into custody.”
Are we seeing any presidential orders? Are we seeing forcible registrations accompanied by military men? How much more accommodating as well as inclusive the PPP government can get?
I think all the political actors wanted the IMF to say bye-bye to Pakistan for their inability to impose the RGST. Their hope and game plan was: if the government imposes RGST, there will be protests, there will be strikes and the economy will be crippled or if the government didn’t impose the RGST, the IMF will exit and the PPP government will fail. It was an envisaged win-win for them. What they didn’t realize was that the effort of the government to bring in reforms in tax collection as well as making the necessary public opinion through parliament will be given a lot of weight. Now the government has at least nine months to bring all stakeholders on board as well bring things in order.
In his “report” of today, Ansar Abbasi has used the words that “MQM puts Gilani government on ventilator”. I personally think it is not the government that has been put on ventilator, it’s rather the commentators, analysts and political actors who have been given a new lease of life by giving them a ventilator in times of loadshedding! Off course, now they can come on TV and talk about virtues of MQM and JUI and how they can assist the people of Pakistan by leaving this government and send it packing. 2011 will have a great beginning.