KARACHI: Tuesday’s strike by traders against the deteriorating law and order situation and the increasing trend of extortion in Karachi forced Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah on Wednesday to reshuffle his cabinet and let his proactive and controversial Home Minister Dr Zulfikar Mirza go on leave. Mr Shah himself will look after the home ministry. The chief minister announced the decision at the Governor’s House after attending the oath-taking ceremony of Sharjeel Memon, an MPA from Tharparker, as information minister. Governor Dr Ishratul Ibad administered the oath.
Mr Memon, in-charge of the PPP’s media cell, is said to be a close friend of Zulfikar Mirza and considered one of the active members of the ‘hawk group’ in the party’s Sindh chapter.
The information ministry has been lying vacant after Shazia Marri was made minister for electricity —a newly-created post. PPP’s Sindh Secretary General Taj Haider was looking after the information ministry as coordinator.
The chief minister told reporters that Zulfikar Mirza had applied for leave a long time ago to go abroad for treatment. “I have approved his leave application and during his absence I will hold the portfolio of home ministry.”
Mr Shah did not say how long the home minister would be on leave. Asked if the leave was a prelude to his joining the Senate against a seat vacated by Khatoomal Jeewan, the chief minister said there was no truth in the report.
He said he had met traders who complained about extortion and law and order problems, adding that in order to rein in the situation he himself had taken over the home ministry.
The chief minister said that restoring law and order and addressing traders’ complaints was the responsibility of his government and he had decided to take measures for improving the situation in consultation with coalition partners.
Dr Ishratul Ibad said the government had taken the traders’ strike seriously and the chief minister had issued strict orders for restoring people’s confidence in the government.
President Asif Ali Zardari had to intervene to keep the coalition intact, particularly with its main coalition partner Muttahida Qaumi Movement, which had threatened to part ways twice over the past 12 months because of remarks against it by the home minister.
The MQM also urged the president to implement his decisions and only the other day had given a 48-hour deadline to see what measures the government would take to improve the law and order situation before announcing its next strategy.
Political observers were of the opinion that the MQM’s ultimatum and traders’ strike had forced the chief minister to send Zulfikar Mirza on leave.