Rally to Save the NRO

Politics makes seemingly strange bedfellows.  But alliances are always based on interests.  

Pervez Musharraf and Asif Zardari called Altaf Hussain to give him props on yesterday’s rally to protest the desecration of Benazir Bhutto’s posters (which was vigorously condemned by Nawaz Sharif several days earlier).

There are also reports that last week Musharraf called Zardari after meeting with some Sindhi politicians to boost support for the Mr. 100% (Zardari).  Musharraf reportedly asked Pir Pagaro to coax Yousuf Raza Gilani, a relative, not to cause Zardari trouble.  

It all makes sense: Zardari is certainly following in the footsteps of the Musharraf of 2007, which, I think was the Chinese year of the [dumb] ass.  Nawaz Sharif was right today when he said, “It appears as if the spirit of Musharraf has entered Zardari.”  This is not a partisan argument.  There are quite a few senior PPP figures who believe the same.

Interestingly, Ahmed Raza Kasuri is also on the same page as Musharraf and Zardari.  That would certainly make Zulfikar Ali Bhutto happy.

The real danger from Zardari going down is that the PPP is unlikely to rise again.  And that would be a major blow to Pakistan’s quest for political stability.  The PPP is flawed and internally undemocratic, but it is a national institution and a important pillar for domestic stability.

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Breaking News: Altaf Hussain Resigns as MQM Chief

Altaf Hussain has resigned as leader of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM). His stated reasoning: his party failed to contain the violence in Karachi on Wednesday. In one incident, up to five lawyers were locked in an office room and burned alive.

Yet, rather than being conciliatory, Altaf is currently giving one of his characteristically bizarre speeches, lambasting the lawyers’ movement, Punjab, and the Muslim League-Nawaz.

I would take this news with a grain of salt. Altaf could be issuing an easily retractable resignation to rally his supporters. His move could be a crude imitation of Aitzaz Ahsan’s resignation from the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) on Tuesday. Regardless, Altaf will still be controlling the shots in the MQM.

Update: 11:54AM (New York) – For those of you who don’t know, Altaf Hussain heads the MQM from London and speaks to crowds in Karachi via telephone calls that are broadcast on speakers. In the middle of his speech, his telephone connection disconnected. Then, Farooq Sattar of the MQM said that if Altaf Hussain does not retract his resignation, the party’s entire coordinating committee and all of its elected legislators will resign. He said no one will leave the MQM headquarters, Nine-Zero, till Altaf calls back. And the Emmy goes to………

Update: 12:16PM – Altaf Hussain has called back. Apparently got a new calling card.

Update: 12:20PM – FYI, a 21-member Sindh cabinet took its oath today. Twenty were People’s Party (PPP) members and one was from the Awami National Party (ANP). No MQM right now.

Update: 12:23PM – Altaf Hussain has taken back his resignation. The whole charade lasted less than an hour. The crowd has been chanting his name for about five minutes. Great performance. Friday evening, prime time.

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Anne Meets Altaf

U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Anne Patterson was out of Pakistan during the visit of John Negroponte and Richard Boucher, purportedly on a vacation.  On her way back to Pakistan, she stopped by London, to visit none other than Altaf Hussain, head of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM).

During their visit, both Negroponte and Boucher also met the MQM in Karachi.  Washington would like to see the MQM play a role in the still emerging political setup. 

This is due to a number of reasons. 

One, the MQM is the only Musharraf-allied political party with a real base (aside from Pir Pagara’s band of Hurs).  The utility of Musharraf’s Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) has and will continue to decline. 

Two, the party is thoroughly secular.  Washington sees an ideological compatibility with the People’s Party (PPP) and Pervez Musharraf.  Nawaz’s nationalism and religious sentiments are troubling for some U.S. officials, though it should be noted he came back from exile with more hair on his head, not on his face.

Three, the MQM has strongly spoken in favor of the war on terror.  The party has often tried to leverage this anti-terror stance to gain foreign favor.  An example of such is in the video below in which Karachi mayor Mustafa Kemal tells former President Bill Clinton of his party’s support for the war on terror and Pervez Musharraf.  Kemal also derides Nawaz Sharif as supporter of mullahs.

There is nothing wrong with U.S. officials meeting the leader of Pakistan’s fourth largest political party, though its record of violence is deeply troubling.  Moreover, the timing of the visit makes Washington’s intentions questionable.  Patterson’s meeting occurs as the PPP and MQM are coming closer, which some suspect as a way for the PPP to ditch, or at least check, the PML-N.  Many will view the Patterson-Altaf meeting as yet another example of Washington’s attempts to determine the political setup in Pakistan.  And there’s little to indicate otherwise.

Pakistan desparately needs, and most Pakistanis desire, a healthy relationship between the PPP and PML-N.  If Washington helps terminate their infant coalition, then it will not only encourage Nawaz Sharif to pursue an agenda even less consistant with that of Washington’s, but also increase his popularity and public resentment of the United States.  Sharif could find himself back in the prime minister’s house.  Though Negroponte oft speaks of a desire for a long-term relationship with Pakistan, the prospects of such could be nill within a year’s time. 

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

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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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