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The Zulfiqar Mirza saga

The Zulfiqar Mirza saga

OLD allies turning foe is not a rare phenomenon in our political culture. Politics and vendetta go together. But the spectacle of masked police commandos in civvies beating up the supporters of Zulfiqar Mirza and smashing vehicles on the Sindh High Court premises in Karachi took reprisal to a new low.

Over the past several months, Zulfiqar Mirza has been at the centre of an exciting soap running on every TV channel enthralling audiences. His harangue against his old buddy was sure to get high ratings. The sight of him vandalising a police station and heavily armed guards patrolling his farm in Badin made the former Sindh home minister a big attraction in this country’s theatre of the absurd.

Unsurprisingly, his allegations against Asif Ali Zardari, his former leader and friend, have generated intense controversy.

Read: Rangers escort Mirza home on SHC order

Yet, what happened on the court premises was utterly shameful and the use of masked police commandos was surely unlawful. They appeared to be more like a private militia than law enforcers. The way they fled with the appearance on the scene of the Rangers raises several questions about their real identity.

Once arguably the most powerful man in the Sindh government, Mirza is now under the protection of federal agencies. He is facing more than a dozen cases under anti-terrorism laws. The chief minister has even threatened to send his case to the military court that has been formed to try hardcore terrorists.

It was surely not Mirza’s rowdy behaviour at a police station in Badin that provoked such an extreme response from the provincial administration that is hardly known for its competence or love for the rule of law.

Read: Police raid Zulfiqar Mirza's Karachi residence, arrest supporters

It shows clearly that it hurts more when an insider spills the beans. What started as a bitter personal feud between two estranged friends has now taken an ugly political turn. Mirza is angry with Zardari for reportedly taking away two sugar mills that the former president had bestowed on him. He is also unhappy over the betrayal by his party of Uzair Baloch and his Lyari ‘peace committee’, a criminal gang that the former home minister had armed and patronised.

He was upset with the PPP’s alliance with the MQM too. A dejected man now, Mirza is up in arms against his benefactor and ex-patron and appears willing to go to any extreme to seek revenge. Have we not seen this happening before in the country’s politics? Surely, this battle may have further serious ramifications discrediting the party leadership.

Fehmida Mirza’s entering the fray in support of her husband has given the fracas a more serious political turn. As the former speaker of the National Assembly and a sitting MNA, she enjoys far greater respect within the party, certainly more than her impetuous husband. Her involvement has further widened the cleavage in the party.

Also read: Zardari laundered money through Ayyan: Zulfiqar Mirza

Zulfiqar Mirza was seen by many as a ‘partner in crime’ and his disclosures about widespread corruption and the growing business interests of Asif Zardari, his sister and cronies would obviously be taken much more seriously. There may be nothing new in the litany of charges. Yet coming from a former close associate gives these charges more credence and support for an impartial investigation into the matter.

Charges of Zardari owning several sugar mills in Sindh and having a growing real estate empire could have a ring of truth to them. Zardari has faced corruption charges in the past as well, that he dismisses as politically motivated. It still needs to be investigated as to what is the source of his wealth.

One is justified in asking where that wealth has come from, especially since he is a former president and a national leader. These charges cannot be just dismissed as fabricated and politically motivated. There are many other such questions that have resurfaced due to the Mirza saga.

Mirza has made similar charges of corruption against many provincial ministers and Zardari’s cronies. When ministers drive Bentleys and turn billionaire overnight it is bound to raise eyebrows. Even hardcore PPP supporters complain about the rampant corruption and ineptitude in their government.

The Mirza affair has exposed the fault lines in the PPP that is fast losing its last stronghold in Sindh. A dysfunctional government is now resorting to strong-arm tactics to silence dissent. Mirza may not be a serious challenge to Mr Zardari, but the bickering and public polemics have further weakened the party that has already hit a new low.

Zardari may be known as a shrewd operator and a great survivor, but tackling Mirza will be a serious test of his skills. Mirza’s own reputation may not help him emerge as a major force, but the spectacle of police commandos beating up his security guards and journalists covering the event has damaged the party more than anything.

Not surprisingly, the speculation of governor’s rule has gained currency as the law and order situation in the province, particularly its capital Karachi, is close to complete collapse. The Sindh High Court incident has further reinforced the widespread perception of a politicised police force. Police officers are transferred so often that it is hard for an honest and non-political officer to survive in office.

So when the police itself gets involved in unlawful action, who is going to investigate incidents such as the recent ones? Mirza may have defied the law and he should have been dealt with according to the law. But what happened at the Sindh High Court was a bigger crime.

The politicisation of law-enforcement agencies is the biggest threat to the democratic system. Mirza may be a rogue but his allegations against top party leaders and ministers must be investigated. The law must not be selective and should certainly not be misused to settle scores against political rivals and dissidents. The Zulfiqar Mirza saga has escalated the freefall of the PPP.

The writer is an author and journalist.

[email protected]

Published in Dawn, May 27th, 2015

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