Making A Difference

Strategic Alliance

Altaf Hussain and Nawaz Sharif team up against the ruling PPP

Strategic Alliance
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The joint communique issued by the two leaders—PML(N) chief Nawaz Sharif and MQM supremo Altaf Hussain— in London last fortnight highlighted the "atrocities" suffered by the Mohajirs in Sindh, especially Karachi, and called for bringing about an immediate change of government "through a demonstration of the will of the people". The terse statement spoke of the national duty of the people to get the country out of the current mess.

But as far as the government is concerned, the move just promises to make things messier. Alleging that the opposition wants power through the back door, Bhutto said her government would complete its term, ending in 1998, and insisted that snap polls would be an insult to the people's mandate.

 Mushahid Hussain, PML information secretary, however, describes the pact as a step towards a solution to the nagging Karachi problem. The government, says Hussain,neither wants, nor is capable of, resolving the biggest crisis facing the country. He says Bhutto knows she cannot do without the MQM but is dragging the Karachi issue on to keep herself in power as long as possible. What the London communique envisages is a mass struggle to bring the government down "before incalculable damage befalls the country". While he does not say so, there is a feeling that the entente may presage the coming together of anti-government forces, including religious parties, in the next two months.

In fact, it was natural for Sharif and Hussain to have come together. While the latter is fighting his battles from London, Sharif and his family have been under tremendous pressure in Pakistan for alleged financial irregularities.

Besides, the move should not come as much of a surprise. Hussain had an alliance with Bhutto during her first term as prime minister, but they soon fell out. When Sharif became prime minister, the MQM was an important partner in his Islamic Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI) coalition, cobbled together by the army and the ISI. But when the army launched Operation Clean-Up in mid-1992 in Sindh against the MQM in the urban areas, and dacoits in the rural areas, much to Sharif's displeasure, the MQM split from the IJI.

Sharif has been trying to win Hussain back for some time now, albeit cautiously. The former prime minister has to watchthe mood of his strong Punjabi constituency which cannot digest the MQM's demand for a separate province. On their part, the Mohajirs have not forgotten that it was under the Sharif government that Operation Clean-Up was launched.

The opposition says the government has reached the end of its term and the US State Department's worry over "human rights violations" in Sindh is evidence of it. As a matter of fact, some observers feel that there is something curious in the timing of the US warning to the Pakistan government, telling it to talk things over with the MQM, in US diplomat Denis Simmons' meeting with an MQM team in Karachi and inSharif's meeting with Hussain. Some interpret this as a hint that the Benazir government should not take US support for granted. However, the government sees the US statement on Karachi as just an expression of its concern for its own investments in Pakistan's commercial and industrial capital. For, without peace, none of the MoUs, running into billions of dollars, can work.

Some political analysts have interpreted the Sharif-Hussain pact as a show of frustration—one last swipe at a government that looks set to complete its term. The MQM's desperation has its own reasons. It has been fighting the government forces for a long time and the battle shows no sign of abating and is becoming bloodier by the day.

Since wooing the Mohajirs naturally means losing the Sindhi vote for Sharif, Bhutto is going all out to court the disgruntled Sindhi elements. And while it is believed that both Sharif and Hussain are justified in blaming the government for its failures on many fronts, the planned mass movement may only cause more harm to democracy and the political system in Pakistan.

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