HYDERABAD, Sept 4: While the Pakistan People’s Party has boosted its efforts to bring electables into the fold, the current pace of switching of loyalties by candidates expected to romp home in elections is making the poll scenario in Sindh interesting.

The recent meeting of the Mahar brothers of Ghotki point to the fact that the PPP is poised to neutralise its opponents ahead of general elections.

Despite opposition by local party activists in Ghotki district, the Mahars are being welcomed by the PPP co-chairman.

President Asif Ali Zardari is said to have entrusted his sister MNA Faryal Talpur and PPP Sindh president and Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah the task of mollifying party cadres.Electoral history shows that the Mahars have been switching sides off and on since the 1988 polls.

They were elected to upper and lower houses as independent candidates and on tickets of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and the PPP.

Recent electoral record indicates that Sardar Ali Mohammad Mahar, who served as chief minister for around two years in the Musharraf regime, beat with 23,667 votes his fellow clansman and PPP candidate Haji Ahmed Ali Mahar (359 votes) in the 2002 polls. In the last elections, the former chief minister was elected from NA-201.

Until recently an alliance involving the Mahars, the Shirazis of Thatta and the Jatois of Naushahro Feroze was in the making under the leadership of Pir Pagara, spiritual ahead of Hurs.

Two meetings were held and another one was due on return of Sardar Ali Gohar Khan Mahar, former district nazim of Ghotki, from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

The Mahars were approached by PML-N Nawaz Sharif earlier but they remained non-committal. Then came Sunday’s meeting with the PPP co-chairman.

“Perhaps the Mahar brothers are having second thoughts. Let them make their decision public. They haven’t communicated us anything,” said Sindh general secretary of the Pakistan Muslim League-Functional Imtiaz Shaikh.

He added that they had approached the PML-F for an alliance along with Ghaus Bux Mahar, the Shirazis and Jatois.

“We were going to name our alliance in a recent meeting. In Saturday’s meeting, Ghaus Bux Mahar and MPA Raheem Bux Bozdar didn’t accompany the Mahar brothers,” he added.

The PML-F is asserting itself in Sindh as the sitting Pir is visiting different areas. Tando Mohammad Khan’s Sarhandis and Mirs and Pappu Shah of Badin have joined the party so far as according to Mr Shaikh the party is exploring options. “It’s not a question of anti- or pro-PPP alliance. It’s all about political activity,” he remarked.

An upper Sindh-based political activist believed that the president’s strategy was that he should adjust individuals who might pose an electoral threat to the PPP. “So he is accommodating them. If the strategy worked, then elections on many seats in Sindh will be a formality,” he said.

Ghotki district has two MNA and four MPA seats. One each seat of MNA belongs to the Mahars and PPP’s Mian Abdul Haq aka Mian Mithoo while three seats of MPAs were bagged by the PPP and one by PML-F’s Sardar Raheem Bux Bozdar with the backing of Mahars.

Nasir Shah, a close associate of the Mahars, confirmed to Dawn that they had decided to join the PPP and so was his decision.

“Soon MNA Faryal Talpur and the Sindh chief minister will be visiting Khan Garh for a formal ceremony,” said Mr Shah, who served as district nazim of Sukkur as PPP-backed candidate in 2001.

He quit the PPP and was re-elected as district nazim of Sukkur with the Mahars’ support to beat Khurshid Shah’s son-in-law in 2005 elections.

The PPP has geared up its pace of election-related activity. The president has entrusted the job of political adjustments to Agha Siraj Durrani to consolidate the party’s position in its powerbase.

Mr Durrani met powerful individuals and was able to neutralise Altaf Unnar who was elected in 2002 on PS-35, beating PPP’s Ghulam Sarwar Siyal, in Larkana.

Mr Unnar was booked in an attempted murder case lodged by MNA Dr Azra Pechuho and sister of the president, in by-elections for PS-71 in February 2007.

A source close to the Mahars said that the PPP was also trying to woo MNA Ghaus Bux Khan Mahar, sitting Sindh PML president and federal minister.

“If he agrees to PPP’s proposal then such a decision might influence the Jatois in Naushahro Feroze.

“Mr Ghaus can’t announce such a decision at this point of time technically and that’s why he wasn’t present in Sunday’s meeting between the Mahar brothers and the president. Their talks are going on,” he said.

Political scenario is becoming clear in lower Sindh also. In Thatta district, the Shirazis are inching closer to the PPP as they saw it a better political option instead of the PML-N or the PML-F.

“We are having a final round of talks with the PPP and a decision will be announced within a week,” said MNA Ayaz Shirazi. He said that seat alone was not an issue. “Everyone expects respect. We want to be treated on a par with others. As far as the PML-N is concerned, the party does not seem serious in politics here [in Sindh]. I can’t follow Saleem Zia or Marvi Memon alone…. elections are round the corner and it [the PML-N] remains inactive,” Mr Shirazi added.

The Shirazis are comfortable in Thatta. They normally win at least one of the two national assembly seats. Shafqat Shirazi had won NA-183 in 1993 and 1997 general elections.

They bagged both seats on PML ticket in 2002 and Ayaz Shirazi won NA-238 as PML candidate in 2008 while PPP’s Abdul Wahid Soomro won NA-237 in the last elections.

In Tando Allahyar district, the Magsis pose a serious threat to the PPP. The PML-F and the PPP are maintaining contacts with them.

The Magsis first staked their claim to Tando Allahyar when Dr Irfan Gul Magsi won a UC nazim seat in 2001 party-less local government elections only to quit later in order to contest the 2002 general elections and become an MPA.

He served as Sindh minister twice in the provincial government, first headed by Sardar Ali Mohammad Khan Mahar and then Arbab Ghulam Rahim. His sister Dr Rahila Magsi was elected as district nazim in 2005 local government polls.

The Magsis have close family ties with Nawaz Sharif and that’s why Mr Sharif during his last year visit to the rain-hit areas had stayed at his residence in Hyderabad, causing the PPP to engage them in talks too.

Dr Irfan remained with the PPP as well in the mid-90s when he was made district president of the party. But he joined Pakistan People’s Party-Shaheed Bhutto following the assassination of Mir Murtaza Bhutto and then contested 1997 polls on a PPP-SB ticket from Tando Mohammad Khan.

“Yes, they did come to us to invite Pir Sahib over a lunch in Hyderabad at their residence. It will be held on Sept 18 when Dr Irfan Magsi returns from the US on Sept 16,” said Imtiaz Sheikh.

“We did go to Pir Sahib to request to pray for us as well and we will invite him over a lunch at our home,” said Dr Rahila.

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