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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Logic of PMLN-MQM reconciliation

The Punjab chief minister and president of the PMLN, Mr Shehbaz Sharif, has begun what may be the most significant process of political reconciliation in Pakistan’s recent history. On Monday, he called on the MQM governor of Sindh, Dr Ishratul Ebad, in Karachi and stated publicly that he was in the city for political reconciliation with the MQM “because it was in the national interest” and that the “parties needed to move ahead together on major issues”. He made it clear that a meeting between Mr Nawaz Sharif and Mr Altaf Hussain was possible, thus defining his own meeting as the opening gambit for a new alignment.

Chief Minister Sharif announced his party’s abandonment of a 2006 all-parties resolution to boycott the MQM and, more significantly but indirectly, the annulment of the pledge given to the lawyers’ movement to morally indict the MQM on its “massacre” of May 12, 2007. He strengthened the hands of the MQM by handing over 50,000 metric tons of wheat — half of it free — to the governor “to help the province deal with the acute shortage of the commodity”. He later called on the PPP chief minister of Sindh, Mr Qaim Ali Shah, which may mark another milestone in the PMLN’s history of uneven relations with the ruling party.

The MQM too has come of age. It has emerged as the only truly secular party in the country. It was the only party that denounced the TV host whose discussion led to the killing of Ahmedis in Sindh last year and expelled him from the party. It has responded to the overtures of the PPP at the centre despite difficulties in Sindh at the hands of leaders whose memory of the “massacres” of the early 1990s is still fresh. With the PMLN at its side, it will increase its leverage, but all in a good political sense. In fact it is quite possible that, because of the MQM factor, the PMLN may finally sort out its problems with the PPP in Punjab. *Logic of PMLN-MQM reconciliation


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