By Salahuddin Haider & Shakil Shaikh
Published — Monday 10 December 2001
Last Update 10 December 2001 3:00 am
KARACHI/ISLAMABAD, 10 December — The Muttahida Qaumi Movement, the party espousing the cause of the Mohajirs in Pakistan, and suffering for that, felt for the first time relieved slightly after meeting President Pervez Musharraf in Islamabad on Saturday.
Not much light was thrown on the nature of talks by the official communique issued after the meeting which lasted nearly one and a half hours, and the outcome of which had been keenly awaited, not just by the party, but by its supporters also.
Officials, however, were quick to stress that the meeting had gone off well, and quite a substantial area was covered. The MQM delegation comprised top-of-the-line leaders like Aftab Sheikh, Nasreen Jalil, and Sheikh Liaquat Hussain. The reason they were picked for the parleys was that they were all deputy conveners, and also former parliamentarians.
The party sources remained silent on the nature of talks, asking, instead, the journalists to contact the leadership in London for elaboration. Former Sen. Aftab Sheikh did drop a broad hint about the meeting ending on a positive note when he told newsmen that Musharraf had promised sympathetic consideration of the points raised by the MQM.
Those in the government, however, were a bit more open and had no hesitation in admitting that the president listened to the party’s grievances patiently, and directed his staff to take note of these for follow-up action.
Musharraf thanked the MQM for the latter’s support to the government on the country’s Afghanistan policy. He acknowledged that the party had suffered at the hands of successive governments. He even admitted that the MQM vote bank had remained intact despite repression, inflicted on its from time to time.
He promised to look into the complaint that some of the ill-reputed police officers, who the MQM says held grudge against its supporters, were being brought back for posting in Karachi. Two of them, Zeeshan, and Ghazanfar Kazmi, were notorious for their rough and tough handling of people in custody. The people of Karachi had felt allergic to them. They were being patronized by some of their seniors who had held postings in Karachi, and were allegedly involved in brutalizing the party supporters and activists.
However, none of the side was willing to confirm government response to the MQM demand for a commission to probe into alleged police brutalities on the MQM activists. These officers emphasized that the MQM did look satisfied with the meeting. It at least felt that its viewpoint had been properly heard. The party had been complaining of lack of response from those in power.
Whether a new chapter can be written in government-MQM relationship, was difficult to predict, but it could be said now that the MQM would at least be safe for some time from a fresh crackdown.
The government sources said that the administration was not in favor of MQM’s association with Jiey Sindh Qaumi Mahaz, a radical party of the Sindh province, whose activities are disliked by the military. The Mohajir party, however, feels that it had to forge links with the native Sindhis in the larger interest of peace and tranquillity in Sindh, the province which has been in turmoil because of polarization on ethnic grounds.
Musharraf reiterated his government’s firm commitment to elections in October 2002. He conveyed to the delegation that the road map he had announced for the polls this year in August, was being followed in letter and spirit.