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Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Lord save us from our ‘protectors’!

Muhammad Umer
Lord save us! This was the prayer that sprang to my lips as I heard Home Minister Zulfiqar Mirza unabashedly declare at a public gathering in Malir on Sunday: “If all members of the People’s Aman Committee are criminals, the home minister is a criminal too.” He wasn’t done shocking us as he went on to admit a direct link between the ruling Pakistan People’s Party and the People’s Aman Committee (PAC). “In view of the sacrifices rendered by its members, I today announce that the People’s Aman Committee is an affiliate of the PPP.” 

What the PAC is all about is general knowledge. It is certainly not about the people. Nor does it have anything to do with Aman. At best, it’s a group comprising Lyari’s criminal elements — and now PPP activists by Mirza’s own admission — whose name has frequently been mentioned by people who have suffered at the hands of extortionists and kidnappers. Of late, a number of shopkeepers and traders have complained of gangsters belonging to the PAC visiting them regularly to extort money. Mirza’s admission must also have come as a shock to those who lost their near and dear ones to a carnage in the Shershah scrap market in October last year when gunmen went on a shooting rampage killing 13 innocent people, all belonging to an ethnic group, in a bid to terrorise the shopkeepers into giving them extortion money. That bloodbath left imprints pointing the accusing finger at the People’s Aman Committee. That was partly why the PPP had been dissociating itself from the PAC before its home minister finally admitted on Sunday that the committee was in fact an affiliate of the party. 

Political observers are not in two minds about the credentials of Mirza as home minister. People have been witness to his bitter diatribes against the MQM, a key coalition partner of the PPP in Sindh and at the Centre, which has once again threatened to quit the coalition, with its leaders saying that the PPP must choose either Mirza or the Muttahida. The MQM had earlier all but separated from the government after Mirza alleged in December last year that 26 of its activists involved in target killings had been arrested. It’s not that other political stakeholders in the province are without any blame; they have also contributed to the mess we are in. The people are also increasingly weary of the MQM’s ritual condemnation of the home minister’s statements, its threats to part ways with the ruling coalition and its eventual return to power after much firefighting on the part of the federal government’s troubleshooter, Rehman Malik. The only victims of these political games are the hapless people of Karachi. But what Mirza said at Sunday’s public gathering, and how he said it, was most worrisome. Here was a home minister openly declaring without any qualms that the People’s Aman Committee was part of his party and that he would not care a fig if he was also labelled a criminal along with its members.

But what really took the cake was the standing ovation given to Mirza by several PPP legislators when he entered the Sindh Assembly on Monday. The legislators, including women, welcomed him by thumping desks and chanting slogans “Long live Bhutto” and “Long live Sher-e-Karachi”. 

The home minister is supposed to protect the life and property of all in the province. He is supposed to be a law-abiding citizen to be able to command the respect of law enforcers. He should be also caring and sensitive. But Mirza’s doings hardly fit this description. 

Sindh seems to have been abandoned to criminals, including extortionists, kidnappers and rapists, who are being protected by various groups vying for more and more territorial gains, especially in Karachi. The lawlessness appears to be spreading as if it had been licensed to do so. Wouldn’t we be much better without this so-called protector of our province? It’s unlikely that the PPP will remove him. It’s equally unlikely that the MQM will tolerate him any further. The PPP heavily depends on the MQM to survive in power. It can choose to ignore its coalition partner’s complaints at its own peril. 

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