PPP and MQM clinch deal on LG system
KARACHI: Barring minor differences that might arise during the course of talks, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement was all set to rejoin the coalition led by the Pakistan People’s Party on Saturday night after hectic consultations first in Islamabad and then at the Governor’s House in Karachi.
The two parties – with the MQM represented by Sindh Governor Dr Ishratul Ibad and the PPP by former law minister Babar Awan and Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah – thrashed out a formula for the rural and urban areas of the province.
At times marred by differences, the talks at the Governor’s House were a follow-up to a meeting held in Islamabad between Dr Ibad and PPP’s troubleshooter and former law minister Babar Awan earlier in the day to sort out differences between the two parties.
Mr Ibad flew to Islamabad on Friday to hold a meeting with President Asif Ali Zardari in which the trade-offs for an accommodation were discussed.
Mr Awan flew to Karachi along with Governor Ibad after their meeting.
The meeting was aimed at finalising a legal draft for accommodating MQM’s demand for the restoration of district governments in Karachi and Hyderabad.
But before making it public, concurrence of President Zardari and MQM chief Altaf Hussain in London was being sought.
Television channels reported that Dr Ibad had a late-night conversation with Mr Hussain over the phone during which the MQM chief was briefed on the final shape of the ordinance being drafted to restore the local government system. The governor had yet to sign the ordinance by the time we went to press.
As the talks continued at the Governor’s House, provincial ministers like Local Government Minister Agha Siraj Durrani and Revenue Minister Jam Mehtab Hussain Dhar joined the participants of the meeting. Top bureaucrats like the Karachi commissioner and the law secretary also attended the meeting.
The Muttahida is not willing to let anyone eat into its power base in Karachi and Hyderabad and has taken a hard line against the government’s move to revive the commissioner system in Sindh.
It has opposed the termination of city district governments established under the Sindh Local Government Ordinance of 2001.
The Muttahida said that although it was against the commissioner system, it would suggest making it akin to the SLGO through amendments.
At a recent high-level meeting, the Sindh chief minister had hinted at accommodating the MQM’s demand, but made it clear that any amendment to the Local Government Law of 1979 would not lead to restoration of city district governments.
The major headache for the government is that it cannot afford to have two systems of the third-tier of government because it will institutionalise the rural-urban divide.
The PPP will find it hard to make the arrangement palatable to its supporters in the interior of Sindh.
A number of PPP leaders and activists were of the view that such a decision would lay the foundation of partition of Sindh which no one could accept.
Meanwhile, the Awami National Party’s Sindh chapter has opposed the reported move for a separate local government system for Karachi and Hyderabad and termed it depriving the people of the province of their rights.
The ANP said that restoration of the old system of Nazims would amount to a conspiracy against the people of Sindh.
However, it welcomed the inclusion of Shaheed Benazirabad district in Hyderabad division and supported the call for creating a separate district for Lyari.
Iftikhar A. Khan adds from Islamabad: The meeting between Dr Ibad and Mr Awan agreed to stop trading charges against each other, create political harmony and jointly work for peace in Karachi.
Sources told Dawn that the two sides had discussed a new local government law for Karachi and Hyderabad, adding that the PPP had softened its stance on the local government system in Sindh.
The commissioner system was revived in Karachi after the MQM parted ways with the government. The move evoked a strong reaction from the MQM which described its revival as a conspiracy to divide Urdu- and Sindhi-speaking people of the province.
The sources said the PPP was against the revival of the old local government system, but had shown flexibility on the issue and efforts were on to find a middle path. They said the proposed draft law was ready and its legal aspects were being discussed now, adding that the law would initially apply in Karachi and Hyderabad.
The sources said the two sides had agreed on an across-the-board action against criminal elements to ensure peace in violence-hit Karachi.
Talking to reporters after the meeting, Governor Ibad said that political and administrative steps would be taken for harmony and stability in Karachi and the rest of the country. He said the country was suffering because of political turbulence and steps would be taken to protect the country and its institutions. He was of the opinion that criminal elements were taking advantage of political differences to destabilise Karachi.
Mr Awan said President Zardari and MQM chief Altaf Hussain were working to strengthen democratic institutions and dialogue would be initiated to stop the blame game. All issues would be tackled with sincerity and the path of dialogue would be followed to move forward.
The PPP leader said the issue of return of the MQM to the government fold was not discussed. The meeting focussed on political and administrative matters.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani called PML (Functional) chief Pir Pagara on Saturday and apprised him of the ongoing negotiations between the government and the MQM.
The prime minister said the government would pursue its policy of reconciliation to protect democracy. He said the MQM had been a government’s ally and supported it on several important occasions, especially during the passage of the 18th Amendment.