In February this year, People’s Party veteran Zulfiqar Mirza surprised everyone when he told a press conference at his farmhouse in Badin that serious differences had emerged between former president Asif Zardari and his son, the PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari.
The former minister continued to express his own differences with his longtime friend in the months that followed, accusing him of violence and corruption, and ultimately even of being involved with supermodel Ayyan Ali and the real culprit in the money laundering case in which she was arrested.
Zulfiqar Mirza’s mysterious falling out with his best friend and business partner has made headlines for months, but its origins are shrouded in mystery. Some said he had been assigned by Asif Zardari to attack him and his politics so that his son Bilawal could launch a new political career without the baggage of corruption and bad governance. Others blamed it on differences over the sugar mills that the two comrades owned together. Yet others said he was a mole of “the establishment” chastising the MQM and also criticizing the PPP for supporting it. But Zulfiqar Mirza says his difference with Asif Zardari are political, not personal.
Speaking to me at his residence, he said their differences had emerged a long while ago, but he had remained quiet, hoping his friend would “come back to the right path”. That did not happen, he says.
“There are two things that compelled me to oppose Zardari – the first, that he has led the People’s Party to forget their goal of avenging the deaths of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto, and the second, that he is cutting Sindh into pieces and selling it,” says Mirza. “Sindh is like an injured mother to me. He has been in power for so many years, but he has done nothing for the province’s development. That is my problem with him. It has nothing to do with business or personal matters.”
Mirza has been affiliated with the People’s Party since 1977, and says the Bhuttos were family friends. “When Benazir Bhutto returned to Pakistan from exile the first time, the entire PPP thought that it was time to take Bhutto’s revenge,” he asserts. “But unfortunately, she was not given enough time. And as her party struggled in politics, her husband Asif Zardari continued with his corrupt business practices.”
He alleges Zardari has taken the party over with a “fake will”. “When the People’s Party came in power, everyone expected him to avenge the killing of our leaders and work for the development of Sindh,” he says, “but instead, he began negotiating with the military, the opposition, and even Altaf Hussain. I had no option but to oppose him.”
The former minister first began speaking against his party’s policy when he was the home minister of Sindh. “There were so many atrocities being carried out against PPP workers, but I was not allowed to take action, because Zardari had made a compromise with the MQM. Therefore I resigned.”
Mirza said he regretted having been Zardari’s friend. “The biggest mistake in my political career was to become friends with Asif Zardari when we were studying at the Cadet College in Petaro 45 years ago,” he says. “I am now ashamed of our friendship.”
But the veteran politician has not given up on his party. “I will continue to oppose Zardari and his aides,” he says. “The PPP has no future in Sindh, except for Bilawal. But Bilawal Bhutto has to make bold decisions and overthrow his father.”
As Zulfiqar Mirza gets more and more air time on television because of explosive statements, a worried PPP has finally started a counter-campaign. “He is not fighting for Sindh, but for himself,” says Sindh Information Minister Sharjeel Memon. “He began making these allegations when his sugar mill was auctioned on the orders of Sindh High Court.” Memon says Zulfiqar Mirza is in no position to hurt the party, but says he is disappointed. “Dr Mirza was loyal to party when he was getting benefits from it. When that stopped, he became our rival.”
Independent analysts believe the differences between Mirza and Zardari are personal and not political. “Insiders say the only reason behind their disagreement is the ownership of mutual businesses,” says journalist and political analyst Sohail Sangi. He says there had been no formidable opposition to the People’s Party in Sindh despite their poor governance, and Mirza’s fallout with the party has been welcomed by PPP’s opponents. “But it is unlikely that he will cause a serious dent in their popularity,” says Sangi. n
Amar Guriro is freelance journalist based in Karachi