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Politics, Karachi Style

I have a blog post on ForeignPolicy.com’s AfPak Channel on the recent violence in Karachi.

Here’s a snippet:

“The Arabian and Indo-Australian tectonic plates meet near Karachi, the Pakistani port city inhabited by at least 15 million people. But in recent weeks, Karachi has been reeling from violent seismic activity along its ethnic and political fault lines — not the collision of geological plates nearby….”

Click here to read the rest.

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Words of the Day: Consensus and Reconciliation

The national reconciliation and consensus bus in Pakistan continues to move forward at a steady pace. Today, the country witnessed two, potentially historic, meetings: the first between senior military and civilian officials, and the second between the People’s Party (PPP) and long-time rival Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM).

KAYANI BRIEFS CABINET AND POLITICIANS ON FATA
This morning, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ashfaq Kayani gave a briefing on the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) to senior Pakistani officials and politicians at the prime minister’s house.

Attending the session were not only Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani and cabinet members Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and Defense Minister Mukhtar Ahmed, but also leaders of the coalition government parties not currently in the cabinet or parliament, including Asif Zardari, Nawaz and Shahbaz Sharif, Asfandyar Wali, and Fazlur Rahman. It seems as if Pervez Musharraf was not present, but he did meet with Kayani separately.

Fazlur Rahman, speaking to GEO News, said the briefing was followed by a free and frank discussion among the participants. He said there was a consensus that negotiations were an important part of the solution to the challenges in FATA. Audio-less video of the briefing session showed a normally demure Kayani speaking in a fairly engaged fashion.

The meeting, which seems to have been initiated by Gen. Kayani, indicates that both the civil and military leadership would like to develop a uniform security policy. Also, it suggests that political and security decisions will be the product of civil-military dialog, with the elected leadership holding precedence. Gen. Kayani has been keen to adhere to constitutional propriety. Senior Pakistani journalist Nusrat Javed said the meeting also demonstrates that the Musharraf-established National Security Council is effectively done with.

It has taken almost two months to form a governing coalition, select and elect a prime minister, and compose a cabinet. In and before this period, U.S. military officials have made almost weekly visits to Gen. Kayani, hoping to secure commitments from him that would withstand a potentially obdurate civilian government. But such an arrangement would be untenable as it would pit the army chief of staff against the civilian leadership.

Gen. Kayani’s well-timed briefing can, hopefully, empower the civilian leadership to engage one another, the public, and foreign governments in an informed discussion on how to resolve the crisis in FATA.

PPP-MQM RECONCILIATION
After the morning meeting, People’s Party Co-Chairman Asif Zardari made his way to Karachi, where he met with senior leaders of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM). Zardari said a prayer at the grave of the brother of MQM chief Altaf Hussain and then went to Nine-Zero, the MQM’s headquarters, in Liaquatabad.

Details of the talks have been sparse, but the PPP and MQM leaders presumably discussed a broad rapprochement and, more specifically, the modalities of the MQM joining the federal and Sindh governments.

Relations between the two parties in the past two decades have been bloody. Political and ethnic violence has plagued Karachi, once among Pakistan’s better cities. Reconciliation between the PPP and MQM could help improve the quality of life in Karachi, an overcrowded metropolis.

However, coalition government members PML-N and the ANP have expressed strong reservations against bringing the MQM into the federal cabinet. Given that Zardari has been careful not to alienate his coalition partners, it’s likely that they endorsed his meeting with the MQM.

Once the talks ended, Zardari and Altaf (via telephone from London) spoke at a press conference/rally. Significantly, both admitted to having wronged one another in the past, exchanged apologies and pleas for forgiveness. In a symbolic display, senior MQM leader Farooq Sattar gave an offering of a Sindhi cap and shawl to Zardari, who then placed he Sindhi cap he was wearing on Sattar’s head.

Zardari also spoke of the costs of PPP-MQM conflict, noting “lost opportunities” in the past. He said his generation “lost a long period of time,” but that “nations can rise from ashes.” He added: “If it could be done in Nagasaki, it can be done here.”

The PPP co-chairman said that unnamed “enemies…know how to tear the country apart, but we know how to build it.” This day, he said, would be a watershed moment in Pakistan’s history; it would be noted as the day that Pakistan’s largest party came to Karachi to ask for forgiveness.

He ended his speech with an eclectic: “Long live Bhutto. Long live Altaf. Long live Pakistan.”

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The Second Battle of Islamabad

captisl10409290711pakistan_politics_isl104.jpgIslamabad, once Pakistan’s most serene and perhaps sedating city, is now at the center of its political storm. In the summer, its Red Mosque lived up to its name after days of gruesome violence left dozens killed and more injured in clashes between security forces and militants-students affiliated with Abdur Rashid Ghazi.

Today, the violence has shifted to the Election Commission, located (quite ironically) on Constitution Avenue. The Lawyer’s Movement gathered outside the Supreme Court to continue their protests against Pervez Musharraf and his bid for re-election. A few hours into the protests, they made their way toward the Election Commission headquarters, which has superseded the Supreme Court as the center of political contention.

The EC HQ was off-limits to them. Islamabad has been under a high state of alert, but the locus of the security presence was around the EC HQ. As lawyers (and media following them) made their way toward the cordoned off building, they were met with severe violence at the hands of state security apparatus.

The violence toward the media has been complemented with a television blackout in the Rawalpindi-Islamabad area. This violence occurred while Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz remained inside the Election Commission headquarters (trapped for a bit) along with Interior Minister Aftab Sherpao, Chaudhry Shujaat, Farooq Leghari, Mushahid Hussain, and Arbab Ghulam Rahim. Farooq Sattar, a senior Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) leader wasn’t so lucky as he was outside of the gates of the EC HQ, and was beaten up by a group of lawyers. This is a dangerous development, perhaps opening the gates for MQM-led violence against lawyers and the opposition (especially the Jamaat-e Islami) in Karachi. Rather than controlling his political opposition, Pervez Musharraf has perhaps catalyzed a broadening of political violence into Pakistan’s largest city.  Moreover, he’s relinquished the slight increase in credibility he received yesterday after the Supreme Court’s decision in his favor.

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Editor:

Arif Rafiq, a Washington, DC-based consultant on Middle East and South Asian political and security issues. [About]

For Media and Consulting Inquiries:
E-mail // Tel: +1(202) 713-5897

On Twitter:
@PakistanPolicy

On the Radio:
Arif Rafiq regularly appears on the John Batchelor Show Friday nights from 09:30-10:00pm Eastern Time. Tune your dial to 770AM in New York or 630AM in DC. The show appears on affiliates in other cities. Listen live online at WABCRadio.com.
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