Zulfigate: Mirza keeps Islamabad in a spin

Published: September 5, 2011
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PHOTO: INP

The old joke about Islamabad being half the size of Arlington Cemetery and twice as dead is supposed to be truer than ever during Eid.

I wouldn’t know because I wasn’t there. Neither, it seems, was anyone who actually matters. Interior Minister Rehman Malik was busy solving Karachi’s violence problem by doing his best Scrooge/Father Christmas impersonation and breaking little kids’ toy guns and then paying them thousands of rupees in compensation. Even young Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, in town for his summer vacation, ran off to China to attend a conference.

Islamabad might have been emptied of its transplanted residents but its mind was on operations – specifically those in Karachi. The gossip network had Zulfiqar Mirza and his performance art on its mind. A great deal of relief was exhibited by frustrated journalists who had always wanted to lash out against the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) but could never do so out of fear. Finally, they said, they could level all sorts of accusations against the party but get off scot-free because they would simply be quoting a politician.

Mirza has become a folk hero to those who have suffered through endless press conferences that do not feature the Quran as a stage prop and digressions about haleem. One foreign correspondent for an international newspaper, after hearing that Mirza had torn off his shirt at a rally in Lyari, said: “Clark Kent just became Superman.”

The spin anti-Mirza insiders in the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) are trying to disseminate is that he has gone rogue. One PPP member who has always had a hostile relationship with Mirza says that he had fallen in the trap of the ‘establishment.’ The PPP member compared him to former foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, specifically pointing out the part in Mirza’s speech where he had effusive words for the ISI. This, said the PPP member, showed that Mirza was a puppet being moved around by the GHQ.

Another anti-Mirza PPP member had a different take. He felt that by taking such a strong stance against the MQM and officially distancing himself from party policy, Mirza was staking a claim to the alienated Sindhi voting bloc.

Even though PPP dominates at the polls in Sindh (excluding Karachi and Hyderabad), there is significant support for nationalist parties. These Sindhi voters rarely turn up at the polls and Mirza could be trying to woo them for future support.

Given that even PPP insiders are floating different theories about Mirza’s motivations, it is fair to say that neither of these two accounts should be considered anything other than spin. Right now, the PPP’s guesses as to what triggered the Zulfiqar Zeitgeist are as good as ours.

Another thing no one in the PPP is either able or willing to explain is what President Zardari’s role was in the entire affair. A PPP senator, who was in Karachi over Eid, said that the president might abandon Mirza politically but would never do so personally.

This was in stark contrast to the outlandish gossip among journalists that Zardari had orchestrated the whole affair because:

a) he wanted to bring Rehman Malik down a notch or two

b) he was sending a message to the MQM

c) he did it just for kicks

No one may have much concrete information about Mirza but this last week has made clear that even at times when Islamabad should be dead it is sustained on life support by political gossip.

nadir.hassan

Nadir Hassan

An Islamabad based journalist who tweets at @Nadir_Hassan.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.