Footprints: The roars from BadinPakistan
THE coastal district of Badin is prone to both natural and man-made disasters, having experienced havoc wrought by heavy rains, a cyclone and the failure of the Left Bank Outfall Drain. At the moment, though, the stir is for a different reason: it’s a political cyclone resulting from Dr Zulfikar Mirza’s outbursts against his erstwhile friend and PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari, and the latter’s sister, Faryal Talpur.
On Wednesday, a long and dusty ride from Karachi takes me to Mirza’s farmhouse, which has been buzzing with activity since Sunday. On the way, I notice some half a dozen police vans and two or three armoured personnel carriers positioned along the road, with policemen in uniform as well as in plain clothes. But as you approach Mirza’s premises, it is to his armed guards, posted in pairs, that you must prove your identity.
Also read: Fehmida hits out at PPP govt, fears for Dr Mirza’s life
At the farmhouse, Mirza is just alighting from his land-cruiser followed by a stone-faced gunman from Parachinar who holds an MP5 submachine gun. The politician invites me and this newspaper’s district reporter, Hashim Bhurgari, in.
A group of people — mostly villagers from nearby villages, his own farm workers and supporters — are following him shouting “jiye Mirza [long live Mirza]”. Several dozen white plastic chairs are placed in a circle on one of the lawns. Dressed casually in a dark T-shirt, Mirza looks relaxed and shakes hands all around. Laughing, he says, “If there’s a thakka [the sound of gunfire], I will flee.”
“Our blood may achieve some worth if we lay down our lives for our quaid [Mirza],” says an elderly supporter. Mirza sits down to chat while going through the Sindhi papers. “Thousands were present here,” a supporter informs me. “They were sent back last night by saeen [Mirza].”
The farmhouse sports a thick plantation of trees and there are swans, ostriches, peacocks and ponies. It has been under police siege for the past few days after close to half a dozen FIRs were lodged against the former home minister for storming a police station and forcing the closure of shops.
Now, three women including PPP leader Sakina Turk join him. He receives them in line with the Sindhi custom of putting his hand on their heads — a gesture of respect. “We are facing two dogs that are barking at our lion,” shouts Turk in Sindhi.
Meanwhile, satellite vans of various television channels queue up. Mirza is simultaneously engaged by two channels for the afternoon bulletin. And he is not miserly in his praise for the media. “You were my first line of defence and are credited for saving my life,” he says. “It is a victory of the mazloom [oppressed].”
In the drawing room later, a photograph of a young Benazir Bhutto with her husband and children hangs on the wall. But our discussion is about what compelled Mirza to take such a strong position. “It all started when I [accepted the post of] home minister in the last government to honour the aspirations of my friend Asif, although I didn’t ask for it,” he says. “Later, I realised that I’d exposed myself and my family to all kinds of dangers just for tackling the MQM at his [Zardari’s] behest, and that I was being cunningly used. No, it’s not about the sugar mills,” he adds.
Subsequently, I speak to the employee of a shop that sells sugarcane juice. “There are two groups now,” asserts Noshad Ali. “He [Mirza] has standing here, that is for sure. Zardari has brought in Kamal Khan Chang, Taj Mallah [the complainant in one of the three FIRs lodged at the Badin police station] and Aziz Memon,” he says. He adds that Mirza has done development work here.
As we talk, customer Asif Kumbhar, a primary schoolteacher in PS-57, the constituency of Mirza’s barrister son Hasnain Mirza, chimes in: “He [Mirza] will win even if he contests independently today, I can bet on it. He has brought gas and electricity to Badin.”
But the elderly Mohammad Ismail Rahimoon has a different, though also common, take. “It is a fight over maal [money] between Zardari and Mirza,” he explains. “The PPP meanwhile has largely become a Sindh-based party, though it used to be a federal party. Asif mostly doesn’t react [to provocation] and exercises restraint, and that is how he made the PPP complete its five-year term.” But, he confidently adds, the formation of the 2008 PPP federal and provincial governments were largely due to the assassination of Benazir Bhutto.
Back at the farmhouse, journalists, cameramen and photographers from various cities have found a generous host in Mirza. For the past four days, they have been enjoying food and tea, taking selfies at the artificial lake inside the farmhouse. Some of them see themselves as self-styled advisers or media coordinators for Mirza.
After waiting for quite some time to cover MNA Dr Fehmida Mirza’s press conference, media personnel are told by Tanvir Arain (who was sacked from the PPP youth wing), to wrap up and follow her as she is going to check the status of the police siege on the road to Karachi. Satellite vans chase her black land-cruiser at breakneck speed, dust rendering everything invisible along the narrow passage.
Inside his house, Mirza walks with a stick. “I normally use it during my morning walk,” he explains. “Is there a ‘friends again’ possibility?” I ask him. “No way. I have burnt my boats to make a flame that will burn them as well,” comes his tart reply.
Published in Dawn, May 8th, 2015
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