Not an ‘exceptional’ year

SINDH Police chief Mushtaq Mahar made headlines as much with his actions as with his lack of actions during the year.
SINDH Police chief Mushtaq Mahar made headlines as much with his actions as with his lack of actions during the year.

WHEN it comes to Sindh, just about everything is seen through a particular political lens by the rest of the country; more so by those at the helm of affairs in Islamabad and Rawalpindi. The year 2020 on that count was no exception. Be it the appointment of police chief, measures to deal with a global pandemic or even rehabilitation work after devastations caused by heavy rains, the provincial administration, ruling the province for the past 13 years, continued to come under heavy scrutiny.

True to at least similar extent is the fact that steps taken by the federal government is seen with great scepticism by Sindh. And, again, 2020 was no exception. As a result, a free-for-all political blame-game, threats of governor’s rule and sabre-rattling continued through the year.

The year began with a spat between the Centre and Sindh over the transfer of IGP Kaleem Imam, and ended with a full-blown political war that has the potential to go messier.

The year also saw the country’s top spy chairing meetings on civic issues of Karachi, wrapping up of the toothless elected local governments as Sindh became the only province where the provincial government allowed LGs to complete their four-year tenure, creation of a coordination body comprising federal and provincial ministers that led to the announcement of a Rs1.1 trillion mega uplift package and taking over of two Sindh islands by the federal government in the name of development.

But it was the coronavirus pandemic that exposed the duplicity of the ruling elite, both at the Centre and in the province, as every step they have taken in the name of public safety was actually just about politics. In March, for instance, it was the Sindh government that fiercely advocated a complete lockdown during the first wave, while the Centre voiced and practised categorical opposition to the shutdown of commercial activities.

By the time the second wave came around in late October, the two sides simply switched their respective positions, as the PPP by then had become part of the PDM alliance, and the Centre favoured tougher restrictions in an attempt to prevent the PDM from gaining any momentum.

Despite the tensions, however, it was worth watching Asif Zardari and sister Faryal Talpur spend the entire year in their palatial houses, and not behind bars. It was widely believed that Zardari had secured the relief on the basis of some tacit understanding that he would take a back seat and ensure that Bilawal would not cross any red line.

There were times during the year when it seemed like the PPP had become irrelevant for the establishment, but things changed as PML-N upped the ante by naming names within the security establishment in PDM’s public meetings.

The tilt of the establishment towards the PPP was pretty obvious in the infamous Karachi incident involving the husband of Maryam Nawaz whose conduct at the Quaid’s mausoleum was said to have violated the sanctity of the place. After a night-long behind-the-scene efforts, Capt. Safdar was arrested in a Sindh police raid at the couple’s hotel room. The PML-N pointed an accusing finger towards “unknown forces” who “kidnapped” the police chief to “get an FIR lodged against Safdar”.

When Bilawal demanded the army hierarchy to order an investigation into the incident, the army chief immediately spoke to Bilawal over phone, and tasked the Karachi Corps Commander to conduct an inquiry. While the prime minister was seen dismissing the incident with a laugh on national television, the ISPR announcement on Nov 10 that some ISI and Pakistan Rangers officers involved in the incident had acted “overzealously” and that they had been removed, caused much embarrassment to the ruling elite at the Centre.

The fact that the PPP accepted the probe findings and the PML-N rejected them was once again an indication of the former enjoying a slightly better deal than the latter when it came to interaction with the establishment. Towards the end of the year, however, a Sindh minister suprised many by saying that the police chief had not been "kidnapped" by anyone at all!

Similar currents are likely to dictate 2021 in terms of Sindh-Centre equation.

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