President General Pervez Musharraf’s military-led regime had to go to extraordinary lengths before and after the 10 October 2002 elections to place Sindh under its control. With the help of top leaders from the ruling Pakistan Muslim League (Quaid-e-Azam) (PML-Q) in Islamabad, including Prime Minister Zafarullah Jamali and senior intelligence officials, the difficulties were surmounted and a provincial setup extremely favourable to Musharraf eventually emerged. Even after taking 67 of the provincial assembly’s 168 seats, the Pakistan Peoples Party (Parliamentarians) (PPP-P), the single largest group in the house, had to be content with sitting on the opposition benches in the company of the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, an alliance of six religious parties.
Well before the general elections, the military regime had initiated the process of forming client parties and coalitions in Sindh. Some of these are the provincial offspring of national parties that were born with military assistance. Others were manufactured locally by Islamabad’s factotums and their underlings. The PML-Q is an instance of the former species. The PML-Q, otherwise known as the “king’s party”, emerged in the wake of deposed Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s exile to Saudi Arabia in 2000 through a deal that is yet to be made public. The majority of PML (Nawaz) politicos left the party and formed the Quaid-e-Azam league, which openly supported the bloodless military coup of General Musharraf and got political largesse in return. This national symbiosis naturally extends to the provinces as well and therefore Sindh has its own branch of the kings party.
Since the PML-Q could not on its own deliver Sindh to the military regime, special arrangements had to be made at the provincial level. As a first step Islamabad helped to orchestrate the rise of political to counter the influence of the Benazir Bhutto-led Pakistan Peoples Party, (whose parliamentary wing is called Pakistan Peoples Party – Parliamentarians) in its stronghold. The most significant of these creations was the Sindh Democratic Alliance (SDA). Bureaucrat-turned-politician, Imtiaz Shaikh formed the SDA in mid-2001 after resigning from a senior government post. In launching the party he secured the support of a clique of feudal lords and bureaucrats on a common anti-PPP stance. The group initially called itself an alliance of politicians and included the National Peoples Party (NPP) led by Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi, a feudal baron and veteran politician. Imtiaz Shaikh, who in the early 1990s was the right-hand man of the late chief minister, Jam Sadiq Ali, whose tenure was characterised by political victimisation and fiscal misappropriation, undertook a massive propaganda campaign to prepare the ground for transforming this loose alliance into a political party. Irfanullah Marwat – the son-in-law of former President Ghulam Ishaq Khan, an advisor to the Jam Sadiq government, and an accused in the alleged rape of two PPP workers – also joined the SDA. Ironically, one of the two PPP workers who accused Marwat of rape, Raheela Tiwana, subsequently shifted political allegiance and eventually joined the SDA before going on gain a ministerial post in the provincial government. Such are the dynamics of military inspired party formation in Sindh.
The SDA, which had been consolidating its base for more than a year prior to the October election, was recognised as a political party only three months before the general elections. Among other reasons, this ensured that the party was held on a tight leash through the period that it was taking shape. In the meantime, the SDA and five ‘mini’ political parties – the NPP, the Millat Party (led by former president, Farooq Leghari, who had dismissed Benazir Bhutto’s government in November 1996), the Sindh National Front (led by Bhutto’s estranged uncle, Mumtaz Bhutto), the Balochistan National Movement (BNM) and Pakistan Awami Tehrik of Allama Tahirul Qadri – came together to contest the elections under the banner of the National Alliance (NA). (The BNM and the Pakistan Awami Tehrik subsequently broke away and contested the elections separately.) NPP president Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi, despite being in London after practically retiring from politics, became its chairman. Former cricketer, Imran Khan – now heading his own party, the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf – had been a vocal supporter of General Musharraf. Though he then went on to part ways with Musharraf over the President-General’s dubious 30 April referendum, he was nevertheless thought to be a part of the NA.
Given that it was made up of small parties with no grassroots networks to speak of, Islamabad felt that the NA would not be strong enough on its own to serve the centre’s agenda. Hence, the NA was expanded into the Grand National Alliance (GNA) with the inclusion of the PML-Q. The difference between the two alliances is that the NA was an electoral alliance like the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), but the GNA is a looser arrangement in which the PML-Q could still contest elections on its own and later draw in partners on its own conditions.
Even after this consolidation Sindh still remained a riddle, since without the support of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), a party of the Urdu-speakers dominant in Sindh’s urban centres, it would be difficult to gain electoral control of the province. The military regime had already established a working relationship with the London-based, self-exiled MQM leader, Altaf Hussain, who had supported Musharraf during the April referendum, though many MQM cadre abstained from the voting after two former MQM parliamentarians, Nishat Mallick and Mustapha Kamal Rizvi, were murdered in Karachi. The final element of the military’s electoral strategy was to clinch the support of the MQM. Hussain was promised the lion’s share in a future provincial setup, including a Sindhi governor of his choice. The MQM – tired of struggling with its own militant cadre for many years – decided not to miss the train. With this, Islamabad’s strategy fell into place.
Thwarting the PPP
In late June 2002, four SDA leaders were inducted into the provincial cabinet under former governor Mohammadmian Soomro. The SDA had achieved an almost ideal atmosphere in which to contest the 10 October general elections – four of its leaders held posts in the provincial cabinet and KB Rind, brother of leading SDA figure Asghar Rind, had been appointed chief secretary of Sindh. “The chief secretary’s appointment and large scale transfers and postings of bureaucrats in various government departments were a part of the regime’s game plan to provide a congenial atmosphere to help the newly-surfaced party give a tough time to the PPP”, explains a senior bureaucrat. These hypothesis seems to be confirmed by the activities of the SDA ministers soon after assuming office. They ensured the transfer of many District Coordination Officers (DCOs) and other senior officials, particularly from places where PPP leaders were mayors. A virtual war started between the minister and the nazims (mayors) that lasted until the elections.
The military government introduced a controversial Legal Framework Order (LFO) and Benazir Bhutto-specific election laws that prevented her from contesting elections. Interestingly, Maulana Azam Tariq of the banned Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, despite facing more serious charges and several convictions, was allowed to contest election from inside prison. Further, the MQM and pro-government parties were allowed to conduct election rallies, while the PPP was forbidden from holding large public meetings. The campaign was generally agreed to be among the most unimpressive in history of elections in Pakistan. During the polling, many opposition parties’ polling agents were ejected from polling stations. In Sindh’s Khairpur and Thatta districts, there were some polling stations where turnout exceeded the total number of registered voters. Independent newspapers published photographs showing workers from pro-government parties and election staff stuffing ballot boxes with fake votes.
In Karachi, the MMA shocked the MQM in many constituencies in the early phase of polling with impressive turnouts. But the MQM approached the powers-that-be and got polling time extended by three to four hours and ‘saved’ most of its seats. “We had swept Karachi in the night, but when we woke up next day we saw that the losers had defeated us overnight”, Jamaat-e-Islami secretary general Syed Munawwar Hasan said. These pattern of ad hoc extension of deadlines was to be repeated later during the period that the government was being formed.
Election results put the PPP out in front with 67 seats in the provincial house. The MQM bagged 41, the PML-Q 15, the National Alliance 14, the PML (Functional or Pagaro faction) 13, the MMA 12, the Mohajir Qaumi Movement 1, while independents garnered five seats. With 10 seats, the relative strength of the MMA has increased, marking the first time a religious party has been represented in the provincial house since 1985. The PML(F) or Functional Muslim League (FML), led by Pir Pagaro, spiritual leader of Hurs, was able to build on its base in Sanghar and Khairpur districts to finish near the middle of the pack.
In the wake of the 10 October elections, no party, including the PPP(P), was in a position to form a government on its own. The PPP(P) had almost cobbled together a working coalition on the eve of the provincial assembly’s scheduled opening on 28 November. Pir Pagaro rejected the NA’s candidate and early front-runner for chief minister, Arbab Ghulam Rahim, and announced his support for the PPP on 27 November. That same day, the MMA’s leadership also intimated its support for a PPP-led government. However, also on 27 November, Arbab Rahim, after receiving a call from Islamabad, held a press conference at his residence and “requested” the president to postpone the opening session indefinitely because there was a “deadlock” in Sindh. Only an hour after that ‘request’ the session was postponed for an indefinite period. “This was the cruelest example how to deprive people of their mandate”, lamented PPP Sindh president Nisar Khuhro.
The ‘rescue mission’ arrives
Perhaps in an attempt to break the “deadlock”, the president called for the Sindh Assembly to open on 12 December. At that time a dozen aspirants drawn from the PPP, the NA, the PML-Q, the FML and the MQM were in the running to become chief minister. At first, the GNA – the partnership between the PML-Q and the NA – nominated Arbab Rahim, but Ghous Bux Mehr and Liaquat Jatoi of the PML-Q, who had been appointed as federal ministers, rejected Arbab’s nomination by the GNA. Ghous preferred Ali Mohammad Mehr, the eventual winner, while Liaquat supported his own younger brother, Sadaqat Jatoi. Former president Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi then secured NA backing for the nomination of his son, Arif Jatoi, as an alternative to Arbab. However, Arbab’s supporters within the SDA and PML-Q rejected all three proposed replacement candidates and wanted either Nadir Akmal Khan Leghari of the Millat Party or Ali Bux (alias Pappu Shah) of the PML-Q as the candidate if Arbab was dropped. Pir Pagaro proposed Muzaffar Hussain Shah as his candidate and rejected Arbab, though he indicated he would consider withdrawing Shah if the PML(F) formed a government with the PPP(P). The MQM, in turn, proposed to the GNA that its nominee, Syed Sardar Ahmed, a former bureaucrat, be fielded as joint candidate for the top slot. Pir Pagaro agreed but other possible coalition partners refused.
Dozens of meetings among various political parties to sort out the alliances failed to produce an agreement, and Islamabad stepped in to settle arrangements. The ‘rescue mission’ started with the arrival of PML(Q) leader, Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain and the principal secretary to President Musharraf, Tariq Aziz, on 10 December in Karachi. They contacted the MQM leadership and Pir Pagaro, PML(F) leader. Shujaat Hussain told journalists after his arrival that he had come “to perform his party obligations”. His intervention came at the moment when the GNA local leadership had failed to convince the MQM to withdraw its demand for the chief minister’s post. The situation was serious for the PML(Q) leadership because Pagaro, whose party holds 13 seats in the provincial assembly, had supported the MQM candidate as well.
Political circles buzzed with gossip of Tariq Aziz’s meetings with Pagaro and the MQM. The MQM leadership stated several times that it had supported the Jamali government in Islamabad on assurances from General Musharraf that some MQM demands, in particular allowing the opening of party offices in the so-called ‘no-go’ areas (localities of Karachi’s eastern and central districts dominated by the MQM’s breakaway militant faction, known as the Mohajir Qaumi Movement or Haqiqi). After a two-hour-long meeting, Shujaat Hussain got the MQM to withdraw its candidate from the list of chief ministerial aspirants and promised to give a governor of its choice in the province. Accordingly, Isratul Ibad, proclaimed offender with a reward of three million rupees on his head, was offered the governorship, overruling the objections of the intelligence agencies.
But the MQM’s withdrawal from the fray further highlighted differences within the GNA, and Arbab Ghulam Rahim was anxious to exploit them and come out on top. He was considered a close friend of Tariq Aziz and political circles speculated the Aziz might offer his support to an Arbab candidacy. The struggle took on a new dimension on 11 December with the arrival in Karachi of Prime Minister Zafarullah Jamali. Despite persistently denying that he was involved in the province’s political negotiations, he openly assisted his party leader and the president’s top aide to form a dispensation in Sindh favourable to Islamabad. Jamali held a meeting with Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain on the day of his arrival at the state guesthouse, just 24 hours before the first assembly session was set to begin. NA leader Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi made contact with the PPP(P) the same day hoping advance his son’s candidature.
A meeting among GNA parties and the PML(F) lasted until the early hours of 12 December and produced a seemingly miraculous outcome. During the meeting, all aspirants were successfully ‘tamed’ and 31-year-old Ali Mohammad Mehr of the PML(Q) emerged as the consensus candidate. After settling that, the rescue team, now assisted by two senior officials of the country’s premier intelligence agency, the ISI, turned its attention to the PPP(P). The first parliamentarian in this party of Parliamentarians who “decided according to his conscience” to strengthen the pro-regime PML(Q) setup in Sindh was Razzaq Mehr, who announced his support on 12 December. The next day, a MMA female member, Sakina Bano, and the PPP(P)’s Manzoor Panhwar, Mehboob Bijarani and Naseer Khoso defected to the PML(Q) after a meeting with the federal interior minister, Faisal Saleh Hayat, himself a well-known defector from the PPP. The MMA leadership said Sakina Bano defected because her husband, an engineer in the Pakistan Telecommunication Company, had been threatened. The MMA’s Abid Sunderani and the PPP(P)’s Manzoor Shah were the final targets of Islamabad’s political fabricators. With that settled, the finishing touch was administered with the offer of 12 portfolios to the MQM, including that of home, which is typically held by the chief minister. Additionally, the MQM received assurances that one of its ministers would be the senior minister, and the departments of finance, excise and taxation, local government, industries and planning and development were promised to the MQM.
The distribution of power
Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, Tariq Aziz and Jamali had also developed a formula, obviously without consulting the future chief minister, in which the NA would get three ministerial posts and one advisors post, the PML(F) would take two ministerial posts, and the PML(Q) would keep four ministerial and one advisory posts. Under the plan, the PML(F) and the NA were given the posts of speaker and deputy speaker, respectively. After the plan was finalised, the NA not only refrained from nominating a candidate for the deputy speaker’s post but also did not inform the treasury benches of this until the deadline for the filing of nominations. Since the ruling alliance was not in a position to field a candidate at that late stage, the way was clear for the joint nominee of the PPP(P) and MMA to capture the post unopposed. It was at this stage that old tricks were pulled out of the bag. The governor intervened on the request of the treasury benches and extended the deadline for filing nominations, thereby enabling SDA member, Raheela Tiwana, to occupy the post. For the Patriots, the formal self-designation of defectors from the PPP(P), the deal they struck did not turn out to be as lucrative as it had been in Islamabad when Jamali was cobbling together a ruling coalition at the national level. They were promised three departments. So far only one of the three has been awarded. For the moment they will have to be content with administering the livestock portfolio.
During the entire process of putting a government together, the role of chief minister, Mehr appears to have been minimal. “Consulting the chief minister on the formation of that Sindh cabinet is not an issue”, said a close aide of Shujaat Hussain in Karachi. He added, “The formula according to which parties have been promised portfolios had already been decided at a meeting held before the inaugural session of the Sindh Assembly”. With or without the chief minister’s influence, differences of opinion on the formula continued to make headlines throughout December. The NA demanded the finance department but the MQM refused to hand it over. The NA’s demand for the revenue department also proved to be futile, as it had been promised to the PML(Q)’s parliamentary leader, Altaf Unnar, in accordance with the formula.
Frustrated, the NA requested the speaker to allocate separate seat arrangements for it in the provincial assembly and threatened to quit the coalition. Against that backdrop, Musharraf, who was in the provincial capital at the time, held meetings with the governor and the chief minister. On the following day, 2 January, the provincial information department received notice at 2.30 pm that the provincial cabinet would be sworn in after one hour. After the swearing-in ceremony, the chief minister did not hesitate to say that President Musharraf had “guided” him and his party to form and run the government. But, during the introductory meeting of the ministers with the governor and the chief minister, held at the governor’s house, NA leaders quickly demonstrated their displeasure with the distribution of portfolios. They demanded control of the education and revenue departments, threatening to withdraw support to the government if their claims were not met. At several NA parliamentary meetings, discussions centred on whether to follow through on the threat and join the opposition PPP and MMA ranks.
As a result on 3 January, Tariq Aziz again arrived from Islamabad, held meetings with all the coalition partners at the chief minister’s house and decided to adjust the formula. The education department, which the SDA, as a part of the NA, had wanted entrusted to its president, Imtiaz Shaikh, was given to the SDA’s Irfanullah Marwat. By that point, Marwat and the rest of the SDA party leadership had virtually parted ways. Shaikh became an advisor without portfolio while the revenue department was given to the PML(Q)’s Altaf Unnar. During these negotiations, the chief minister was present in meetings but apparently played no role in decision-making. “He [Mehr] said to me that he was bound to follow what his party leadership and top people in Islamabad had devised in a formula before the formation of his government”, said a PML(Q) leader speaking on the condition of anonymity.
Winners and losers
Most analysts agree that the MQM, as a party, and Irfanullah Marwat, as an individual, played the government-formation game well. But many believe that the nerve-shattering, prolonged power game in Sindh is not over yet. Despite being the single largest party in the provincial assembly, the PPP has definitely lost out by failing to make it to power. Inside the multi-party coalition, the NA – and the SDA, in particular – consider themselves to have fallen short. In the elections, SDA president Imtiaz Shaikh, who was being projected as the frontrunner for the chief minister’s post, lost in Shikarpur district to the PPP(P)’s Agha Tariq, thanks to Shaikh’s ‘ally’, PML(Q) provincial president, Ghous Bux Mehr, who openly backed the PPP(P) candidate. That was the first shock for the SDA. The SDA’s Arbab Ghulam Rahim was then briefly promoted as a prospective chief minister until Pir Pagaro dismissed that idea by leveling a racist barb at Arbab, allegedly referring to him as a “black crow”. He went on to say that he would even prefer to support his bete noire PPP(P) in order to defeat Arbab. This came as the second shock for the SDA. The party then promoted Jatoi’s son, Arif Mustafa, as the NA nominee for the top slot, only to be out-maneuvered again, this time by Ghous Bux Mehr when the MQM announced its backing for the tribal lord Ali Mohammad Mehr.
All this stung the leadership of the NA, especially the SDA members. Nonetheless, an uneasy calm between the NA and its coalition partners has held thus far, though SDA minister, Arbab Ghulam Rahim, immediately upon taking oath, said that the NA had not given up its request to the speaker to be allotted separate seats. “We are National Alliance ministers and that significance we will maintain at all forums”, Arbab said. After the distribution of portfolios, the SDA, in practical terms, has lost its position of power. Excluding Marwat, who broke with the SDA leadership, it has one minister and one advisor. There is general consensus that the MQM has had the last laugh. In addition to placing its convener, 38-year-old Ishratul Ibad, as the provincial governor, it acquired control over many plush ministries and, best of all, served up a chief minister with no political profile. “The MQM has bargained better than in it has in the past”, a PML(Q) leader admitted. “It is virtually running the government”.
Democracy, Sindh style
In the by-election held on 15 January, Ali Nawaz Khan Mehr, the youngest brother of chief minister Ali Mohammad Mehr, contested from Ghotki district seat and won more than 176,000 votes out of 285,000 cast – swamping his PPP(P) opponent, Abdul Latif Shah, who polled 3,000 votes. During the election, all union councils had been asked to use their resources generously to mobilise voters, prompting Abdul Latif Shah to practically withdraw from the contest in protest. A similarly ludicrous situation involved Imtiaz Shaikh, who bagged a surprising 93,000 votes. Shaikh had secured little over 16,000 votes in October from his native district Shikarpur, in his loss to the PPP(P)’s Tariq Pathan, who got 19,000 votes. “This over-enthusiasm by those more loyal than the king has exposed how the manipulations were designed”, Benazir Bhutto spokesman Farhatullah Babar says. “This has really helped us to show how our people are cheated”.
Similar reports of massive landslide results were reported in other contests involving PPP(P) candidates. In Khairpur district, where three of the party’s workers were killed in a clash, reports suggest that the PPP(P) candidate was prevented from running an open campaign. Here the PML(F)’s Syed Javed Ali Shah secured more than 128,000 votes and defeated the PPP(P) candidate by a margin of 100,000 votes. Other accounts along these lines have also surfaced in some PML(Q) and NA victories over PPP(P) candidates. The by-elections results have raised many eyebrows since all government-backed candidates won with thumping majorities and the turnout far surpassed that witnessed during the general elections. PPP(P) spokesman, Taj Haider commented on the results with unconcealed scepticism, saying “Again, the people of Sindh were robbed of their choice to get their representatives to the assembly”.
Sindh´s new government
Ishratul Ibad, governor (MQM)
Ali Mohammed Mehr, chief minister (PML-Q)
Syed Sardar Ahmad (MQM)
Shoaib Bokhari (MQM)
Raouf Siddiqui (MQM)
Muhammad Adil Shaikh (MQM)
Yaqub Ilyas Maseeh (MQM)
Shabbir Ahmad Qaimkhani (MQM)
Muhammad Hussain (MQM)
Altaf Unnar (PML-Q)
Saeeda Malik (PML-Q)
Arbab Rahim (NA)
Irfan Marwat (NA)
Arif Mustafa Jatoi (NA)
Syed Sadruddin Shah Rashdi (PML-Q)
Chaudhry Iftikhar Malik (PML-Q)
Manzoor Panhwar (PPP-Patriot)
Aftab Ahmad Shaikh (MQM)
Aijaz Shah Shirazi (PML-Q)
A youthful line-up
Sindh is now headed by a 38-year-old MQM governor, Ishratul Ibad, and a 31-year-old PML-Q chief minister, Ali Mohammed Mehr. Ibad was in self-exile for over a decade after being driven out in an anti-militant campaign launched on 19 June 1992. Like MQM party chief Altaf Hussain, Ibad faced dozens of charges for serious crimes that the state withdrew before he returned the country and took oath as its youngest governor on 27 December. Interestingly, a case of extortion against him was still in court after he became the governor. The state withdrew it after a court served him summons. (Prosecutors say the government was not aware of the case.) He has pledged to abide by the MQM agenda of securing relief for suspected militants.
Ali Mohammed Mehr, Sindh’s new youthful chief minister, comes from a well-established Sindhi political family. Mehr’s relatives include the late Ghulam Mohammed Mehr, who earned a reputation for switching loyalties to curry favour with Ayub Khan, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Zia-ul Haq and Nawaz Sharif, and the late Sardar Ghulam Mohammed Mehr, a tribal chief and powerful political figure. The Mehrs are reported to be extremely wealthy, and Ali is said to have flirted with the idea of an alliance with the PPP(P) just days before the October election. Despite his youth, Ali has a decade of political experience, having been elected on a PPP ticket in 1993 to the national assembly and reelected four years later.
Sindhi speakers lose out
For the first time ever, the representation of Sindhi speakers in the provincial cabinet falls short of a majority. None of the seven MQM ministers, including Shabbir Kaimi, who won on a Mirpurkhas seat, speaks Sindhi. One MQM minister, Yaqoob Ilyas Masih, who holds the portfolio of culture and minorities, is a Punjabi speaker. Aftab Shaikh, the adviser for finance and the MQM’s deputy convener, speaks Urdu. Three of the eight PML(Q)-NA-PML(F) ministers are non-Sindhi-speaking – Irfanullah Marwat from Karachi (Pushto-speaking), and Chaudhry Iftekhar from Sanghar and Saeeda Malik from Karachi (Punjabi-speaking). The Sindhi-speaking ministers from PML(Q)-National Alliance-PML(F) are Arbab Ghulam Rahim (Thar), Sadruddin Rashdi (Khairpur), Arif Jatoi (Nausheroferoze), Manzoor Panhwar (Jacobabad) and Altaf Unnar (Larkana). Two advisers, Aijaz Shirazi of Thatta and Imtiaz Shaikh, also speak Sindhi.