“We are exactly on the right track,” a top military commander stated, when a PPP leader tried to change the subject at Monday’s Apex Committee meeting with the country’s top military brass and civilians present to discuss how to handle Karachi and Sindh.
This comment came as another army general had called the Sindh government inefficient and inept. And according to some TV reports even the word “impotent” was used.Such strong words, with the entire Sindh and PPP leadership present, including Asif Ali Zardari, must have left the politicians stunned and aghast but no one could raise a voice as the set-up was a well orchestrated, calculated and calibrated move to get control of matters, fast slipping out of everyone’s hands.It was calibrated with a series of events held in a sequence within a few hours.
General Raheel left even his mother’s soyem rituals and flew to Karachi before even the PM. He went to the Rangers HQ first to tell them he had full confidence in their work. He stated so loudly.
This confidence in Rangers was a message after the recent spate of political statements against the Rangers by MQM chief Altaf Hussain who had just decided for his own reasons to join forces with Asif Ali Zardari, thanks to Mr Rehman Malik.
Then the army chief camped in the Corps HQ and the PM came there for a briefing. Symbolism was at work. That necessitated a closed door meeting between Nawaz Sharif and Asif Ali Zardari who was definitely conveyed the sense of the brewing mood and storms and probably asked to take a couple of valiums before coming to the Apex meeting. He sat almost speechless and CM Syed Qaim Ali Shah looked stone-faced when TV cameras caught him.
Governor Ishratul Ebad, who represented the MQM, or so it can be claimed, was the only one who could have presented the MQM point of view on the Baldia fire JIT report and other Karachi issues. He went along with Pindi more than Altaf Bhai.
Army chief Gen Raheel did not mince words. His officially reported statements were ominous: “Karachi operation would be continued without discrimination against all criminals irrespective of ethnic, political, religious and sectarian affinity.”
“Political consensus and follow-up were must to capitalise the space created for enduring peace. Political expediency could not generate apolitical response. Crimes should be dealt as apolitical.
Broad-based consensus and harmony were must to capitalise gains in theoperation. Better coordination between Law Enforcement Agencies (LEAs) and the intelligence agencies was a must.”
“Police must be empowered as an apolitical and effective force.Postings should be made without any interference, through the Apex Committee. The operation should be carried out with transparency and sincerity of purpose.”
“Karachi played a great role in the country’s economy. Peace in Karachi means prosperity for the entire country. Meaningful efforts were needed to ensure peace in the city. The Rangers’ operation in Karachi has created an environment for sustained peace and stability.”
Each of these statements carries a load of meanings and follow-up actions can be quickly imagined. In other words, the Sindh Government will be neutralised and Pindi will now have a direct say through the apex rule, to state it simply.
It was at this point that Mr Zardari quietly asked a party leader to raise the issue that the meeting was getting off the track. Snap came the reply from the top. No we are right on track.
So the stage has been set for a much larger operation with the army taking a direct part in deciding who will run the province, and Karachi, especially on matters that are security related and critical for the economy. That leaves the political government hands and feet tied.
The seriousness conveyed by the army brass to politicians, especially in such a blunt and brazen way, must have come after it was felt that the politicians are masters of slipping away from the net after making commitments in top meetings. An example is the issue of military courts.
Where does this leave the federal government? Mr Nawaz Sharif will have to go along to slap federal rule on Sindh if even this Apex Committee system fails, or is sabotaged by scheming plans of PPP and MQM.
If that does not happen and army/rangers go for a large-scale operation in Sindh, through the three smaller Apex Committees, virtually the province will be run by Pindi.
In any other democracy or civilian rule, where the elected governmentsand the representatives of the people had moral authority and were competent, nothing of this sort could happen, or be tolerated.
But since the political elite of Pakistan is weak and selfish, its failures written large on every signboard, the tragedy is that they cannot say a word when the generals give a shut-up call or take over matters in an unannounced manner.
The Karachi meeting is also a red alert for the Nawaz Government.If Sindh can be given this harsh dose and the generals succeed, even partially, Punjab is next where similar issues, but on a much larger scale, are waiting to be handled.
How will Asif Ali Zardari take all this? He may be planning his strategy but his friend and insider Zulfikar Mirza has already unleashed himself, publicly stating what no one could otherwise whisper. Bilawal is underground and no one knows how the other Bhutto babies and family is doing and thinking. So we may soon see Mr Zardari in a Dubai or London hospital.
Another important factor that will now be watched is if this Apex Committee Rule also fails to make an impact what will the army, the rangers and some politicians do, jointly or separately?If nothing works or is allowed to work, it would be the end of the game for all. If they succeed, people will regain confidence. But most of the unwanted and corrupt politicians will have to be made an example to achieve this.