PPP, MQM decide to forgive and forget By Fasahat Mohiuddin
The News, April 3, 2008
Zardari visits Nine Zero after 20 years; Altaf describes Qaim Ali Shah as ‘Sindh CM’, calls for foiling conspiracies; committee formed to discuss political changes, future line of action
KARACHI: The PPP and MQM leaders announced that they were willing to forgive and forget the ill-will of the past and start anew to foster peace and democracy in Sindh and Pakistan.
In a stirring address outside MQM headquarters Nine-Zero, Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari, after being accorded a rousing welcome earlier, promised a brighter future for the coming generations of the province and the nation. Prior to Zardari’s speech, Altaf Hussain, in his address, said that the two parties had started a new journey together.
Zardari, along with a high-powered delegation, visited Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) headquarters, Nine Zero, in Karachi, on Wednesday to hold talks with the latter’s leadership. As a result of the talks, the parties have reportedly formed an eight-member committee, four members from each side, to discuss the political changes and future line of action.
While the meeting between the top brass of Sindh’s two largest parties rekindled the chances of the formation of a coalition government in the province, there was no hint of it by either party’s leader after emerging from the meeting.
However, after the closed door meeting, Altaf, addressing the crowd by telephone, in an interesting insinuation, addressed Qaim Ali Shah, the PPP candidate for chief minister, as the “Chief Minister of Sindh” despite the fact that the election to this effect was to be held next week. This was a clear hint as to what direction the talks had taken.
Altaf and Zardari spoke for at least 15 minutes over the telephone in the closed-door meeting. The atmosphere after the two parties’ leaders emerged from the meeting was electric, which was accentuated after Zardari and Altaf both promised a stronger friendship between the two parties.
Altaf asked for a one-minute silence to honour the sacrifices of the late PPP chairperson Benazir Bhutto, after which he prayed for the departed soul. Altaf said that the two parties have started a new journey together, adding that in the past, conspiracies had been hatched to pit the MQM and the PPP against one another. However, he said, their coming together would foil all conspiracies.
He also gave special thanks to Rehman Malik for his efforts to bring the PPP and the MQM together. The urban-rural divide in Sindh, said Altaf, will come to an end for the prosperity of the province and the nation.
He also said that he had requested Zardari to allow the MQM to visit Garhi Khuda Bakhsh on April 4, the death anniversary of PPP founder Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, to offer Fateha at his tomb, as well as the grave of Benazir Bhutto. Throughout the speech, Altaf referred to Zardari as “Asif Bhai.”
Zardari also presented Dr Farooq Sattar with a Sindhi cap, personally placing it on his head, after which the latter gifted an Ajrak to the PPP co-chairman. Zardari, speaking to the crowd once Altaf had finished his address, started off with the slogan ìJeay Altaf Hussain.î He said that the PPP had forgiven the MQM and that they wanted the MQM to forgive them for all that happened in the past. There is no bitterness with each other today, said the PPP co-chairman.
In addition, he said that the MQM and the PPP will also forgive those who have made the two fight in the past, adding that their revenge will be to change the system so that democracy and peace will prevail for the years to come.
Zardari said Benazir feared for Pakistan and that he was there at Nine-Zero to complete the late-chairpersonís mission of reconciliation and the triumph of democracy. He said that the onus was on the political forces of today, such as the MQM and the PPP to make sure that Pakistan was a prosperous nation for the sake of Bilawal, Bakhtawar, Asfia (Benazir and Zardariís children) and Hafsa (Altafís daughter).
Pakistan, said Zardari, finds itself in a crisis today, but, he added, the PPP-MQM friendship will take the country out of this crisis together. The speeches of the two were marked with a number of slogans by the supporters of both parties, including ìAsif-Altaf, Bhai Bhaiî ìJeay Altaf Hussainî and ìBhutto Zinda Haiî
Zardari left Nine-Zero at a quarter past midnight. Zardari arrived in Karachi at 8.20 p.m. on Wednesday, and was received at the Jinnah International Airport by Governor, Sindh, Dr Ishratul Ebad. Zardari first visited the Yasinabad graveyard (Shuhada Qabristan) to offer Fateha. His car was showered with rose petals all the way from Mukka Chowk up to Nine-Zero, where he finally arrived at about 10 p.m., amidst tight security, to a huge reception, by a large crowd carrying both PPP and MQM flags.
There was heavy security at the site and a brief jostle broke out between the PPP and MQM security teams as to who would accompany the leaders inside the premises where the meeting was to be held. The PPPís own security, which accompanied the partyís leadership, was called ëBilawal House Securityí and was wearing black shirts. The security team consisted of 40 men in total and headed by Bilal Shiekh.. The MQM security was wearing shirts reading ëHumara KarachiÖ MQM security.í
The media was not allowed inside. The reason behind this, as announced by MQMís Haider Abbas Rizvi and Faisal Sabzwari, was for ìsecurity reasons.î The high-powered PPP delegation, which was headed by Zardari, also included Dr Zulfikar Mirza, Murad Ali Shah, Qaim Ali Shah, Pir Mazharul Haq, Rehman Malik, N.D. Khan, Nabil Gabol and Fauzia Wahab. They met the MQM team headed by Dr Farooq Sattar and comprised Sheikh Liaquat Hussain, Abdul Rasheed, Anwar Alam, Babar Ghauri, Adil Siddiqui, Ashfaq Mangi and Sardar Ahmed.
The last high-level meeting between the two parties took place 20 years ago, back on November 21, 1988, after which the MQM and the PPP entered into a coalition government at the Centre. The government lasted only a little more than 11 months.
Previously, on February 28, right after the 2008 general elections, a PPP team headed by Qaim Ali Shah had visited Nine-Zero. However, that meeting bore no fruit, and, in fact, it compelled the PPP leadership to accuse the MQM of not according it (PPP) a proper welcome and not sending its top leaders to the meeting.
A Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid delegation that visited Nine Zero a few days later was accorded a rousing reception, more so than that given to the PPP. It also involved the MQMís top leadership, which further fuelled the misgivings between Sindhís two largest parties. The PML-Q, which was a coalition partner of the MQM in the previous government and suffered a heavy defeat in the elections, was represented by its President, Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain.
However, on March 21, in an unexpected move, Zardari called the MQM chief Altaf Hussain in London and requested him to withdraw their prime ministerial candidate, Dr Farooq Sattar, in favour of the PPPís Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani. The MQM obliged, maintaining that it did so unconditionally and that it did not want to be part of the coalition government in exchange.
While the move fuelled speculations that the formation of a government was on the cards as a result of the move, the MQMís consistent denial that it wanted a part in the ruling coalition coupled with the continuous reservations expressed by the PPPís allies, the PML-Nawaz and the ANP, clouded any such forecasts.