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.
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.”