Rapid political developments are taking place in SIndh province at the moment which would have far reaching impact on the outcome of 2018 national elections and future complexion of the government in the province. Presently, indubitably the ruling party of the province, Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), is in control of the province and its government as well as most of the district governments. The PPP has also gained strength in urban areas of province due to the banning of Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) after the anti-Pakistan statements of its founder in August 2016 and the emergence of MQM-Pakistan led by Farooq Sattar, the (former?) henchman of Altaf. The ostensible splitting of MQM into London or Altaf and Pakistan or Sattar factions has provided a new lease of life to the PPP in urban Sindh. In these areas the PPP has been steadily losing ground to the MQM for the last three decades.
The banning of MQM-Altaf in Pakistan and the weakening of the party has also psychologically unchained the Urdu-speaking communities of urban Sindh to consider other political options. These communities have been politically and forcibly made dependent by the MQM-Altaf on the party so that they should and cannot look to some other political party. This psychological unshackling of the minds of the Urdu-speaking communities of Sindh would have far reaching impact on the future political scenario of the province. However, factionalism in the MQM not only has created political space in urban Sindh for the PPP but also for the Pak Sar Zameen Party (PSP), led by former mayor of Karachi, Mustapha Kamal Pasha and, more importantly, for the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). The PTI got the second largest number of votes in the May 2013 national elections from Karachi, once considered as a bastion of the MQM. Albeit, the PTI due to extremely weak organizational structure and rifts in Sindh could not maintain its new-found ground in urban Sindh. Resultantly, it has been woefully struggling to get more votes in by-elections. Due to the weak organizational set-up of the PTI in SIndh more and more people in urban Sindh have been moving towards the PSP, which presented itself as an alternative to the mainstream MQM.
But because of PSP support to Hammad Siddiqui, the main accused of Baldia factory fire incident, in which more than two hundred workers were burnt to death, questions are being raised on the PSP. The PSP which so far has been trying to present itself as a clean party and against the “terrorism” of the MQM, if found involved in supporting terrorists then it may also lose support of the Urdu-speaking communities as well as other ethnic groups, who have suffered tremendously due to terrorism by the MQM and other parties including the PPP and the ANP. It may be recalled that it was the Supreme Court of Pakistan (SCP) special bench on the Karachi violence which during the hearing had remarked that all the political parties of Karachi were involved in terrorism and had especially mentioned the names of PPP, MQM and ANP. The list did not include the PTI.
After the recent revelations by the MQM-Pakistan estranged member of the National Assembly, Salman Mujahid Baloch that the MQM-Altaf was behind the Baldia factory fire, has created a lot of problems for the MQM-Pakistan and the PSP. In a letter to DG Rangers Sindh, Baloch revealed that the factory fire was triggered by one Hammad Siddiqui and he was getting directions from top leaders of the MQM. The situation may reverse the dwindling prospects of the PTI in urban Sindh yet again. The timing of the emerging situation just before six months of the next elections will be consequential.
In rural and interior Sindh, the PPP, as said earlier, is well in control. There still may not be a big political challenge to the PPP there, but the incumbency factor and the political psychological factor and adverse governance by the PPP could result in a doomsday scenario for the PPP. The winds of change in Sindh seem to be blowing with the PTI holding massive public meetings in Sukkur, Hyderabad, Obaro, etc. The way the inhabitants of Sindh are rallying to the PTI in recent weeks is quite surprising. Even before the 2013 elections unlike the rest of Pakistan, where the PTI was holding huge public meetings, the party could not gather a worthwhile number of people in SIndh. In fact, the PTI, if one recalls, had organized a few rallies before the 2013 elections in Sindh. Much of its focus was on the Punjab and on Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. This was a grave mistake which Imran Khan and his party committed because Sindh has always been extremely important from the federal politics point of view and its role could be instrumental in forming the next federal government. Realizing this, the PTI has started holding public meetings and rallies in every part of Sindh, including the remotest areas like Obaro. This would definitely prove beneficial for the party.
Imran Khan’s consistent stand on the Panama corruption case and the disqualification of former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, on the basis of Khan’s petition in the SCP, would also have its impact in Sindh. More than that, the worst ever performance of the PPP government in Sindh would also play a critical role in the next elections in Sindh. However, in order to woo away voters from the PPP or to attract non-voters in Sindh, the PTI and other provincial opponents of the PPP would have to forge an alliance. At the moment, certain key Sindhi parties that have been against the PPP are Pakistan Muslim League-Functional (PML-F), Awami Qaumi Party of Ayaz Pallijo and the group led by former PPP interior minister, Zulfiqar Mirza. If all these anti-PPP forces could forge an alliance it would constitute a very tough challenge to the PPP. Here it may be mentioned that the Sindh National Front of Mumtaz Bhutto has merged the party with the PTI.
It should be remembered that whatever the situation that would emerge in the rest of Pakistan during the electioneering for the next elections, would have its impact, although to a lesser extent, in Sindh. This time Sindh province may deny the PPP a hat-trick of government in the province, as the general mood of change in the country may also ultimately engulf the province.