Hyderabad issue should not destroy the government

Today’s report in Dawn that MQM coordination committee is collecting resignations of ministers and advisors is troubling. At issue is the restoration of the old Hyderabad district, which was split into four districts by Gen. Musharraf in 2005 at the demand of Dr. Arbab Ghulam Rahim (MQM) who was then Sindh chief minister. The question today, though, is whether MQM’s reaction is the most effective way of addressing their concerns.

The present government is formed with a majority coalition that includes PPP, MQM, ANP, JUI, and some independents. There are 124 MNAs of PPP and 25 MNAs of MQM. Without MQM, the coalition government will not stand. So, by collecting resignations, MQM is threatening to topple the entire government – all over the issue of Hyderabad district.

The issue has arisen from a speech by PM Gilani at a PPP convention on Saturday. Actually, no decision has been made on this issue.

Federal Minister for Petroleum and Natural Gas Syed Naveed Qamar said that the decision to restore Hyderabad to its earlier status as a single district has not been taken as yet.

Minister Syed went on to note that before any action is taken, alliance partners will of course be consulted and only a consensus decision will be agreed to.

Naveed Qamar said that the Pakistan Peoples Party always takes on board sentiments of locals and alliance partners when making such a decision.

The party in this case, he said, will follow its tradition of negotiations and move ahead after consensus is forged between the two parties.

Sindh Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah has also said that any decision must be made with consensus agreement, and that there is no unlilateral decision by PPP.

MQM is upset about the announcement that a proposal is being considered, but its reaction appears to be too extreme for the circumstances.

Sources in the MQM told Dawn that its ministers and advisers had submitted their resignation to the coordination committee which would send them to the authorities concerned “at an appropriate time”.

“We will take every possible measure to resist any change in the current status of Hyderabad and Karachi. Why should we support a government which is not willing to take us along,” a member of the coordination committee said.

The sources said that a strategy to mount pressure on the government in phases had been worked out by the committee during marathon sessions held simultaneously in Karachi and London. In the first phase, ministers and advisers belonging to the MQM would resign but its parliamentarians would continue to support the government because the party did not want to derail the democratic process, they said. However, if the government unilaterally revived the old status of Hyderabad the MQM would join the opposition in parliament, the sources said.

In a nation of 170 million people, disagreements will come up from time to time. Certainly, MQM has the right to raise objections to proposals for reinstating Hyderabad district, and certainly these objections should be respected by PPP. But these objections should not be made as threats to derail the democratic process. Actually, if MQM were to use this option, they would be putting themselves in a worse position. Who could trust a partner that will abandon them when there is some disagreement? If MQM derailed the government, it would likely find itself with no better partner than it has today.

Coalition parties are like brothers living under one roof. Sometimes your brother’s snoring may annoy you, but the solution is not to burn down the house. Obviously the issue of Hyderabad is very important to MQM. PPP leadership appears to be showing some respect for this by making public statements that no decision has been made, and that no decision will be made without consultation and consensus. Certainly there must be some discussions already taking place to defuse the situation. MQM should also provide some assurances to those of us who do not have access to Ministers’ drawing rooms that the issue will be handled democratically and openly, and that they will please not burn down the whole house.

 

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