Dr Arbab Ghulam Rahim, a former chief minister Sindh, is now a senior leader of the PTI. He has been a controversial figure all through his career, primarily due to his outspoken nature and for calling a spade a spade. However, as a prominent leader of Grand Democratic Alliance (GDA) and special assistant to the PM on Sindh affairs, Arbab has surprisingly kept a low profile. It was after a considerable gap that Arbab was seen at the forefront during the recently held Huqooq-i-Sindh march organised by the PTI, where he motivated the people with his fiery speeches.
Arbab started his political career at the grassroot level in 1983. He was later elected MNA and MPA four times from his constituency, PS-60 Tharparkar. Later he joined the PML-Q. However, after the PML-Q was defeated in the 2008 General Elections, Arbab left Pakistan to live in the UAE in a self-imposed exile.
Bol News speaks to Arbab this week about the current political situation in the country as well as in Sindh.
What’s the significance of vote of no-confidence, could it topple the government?
Dr Arbab Ghulam Rahim: In Turkey, people threw themselves under the military tanks to resist a coup against President Tayyip Erdogan. Our people, who want this government and Imran Khan to stay, should block the roads and should lie in front of the vehicles of the Opposition leaders so that they could not reach the Parliament to submit the vote of no-confidence. It was the US who wanted to oust the Erdogan government and the same is happening to Imran Khan where the US now wants to remove him for speaking the truth to his people.
I think the vote of no confidence is just like an axe which could cut or wrap up the system and overthrow the government. But let me tell you very clearly, that PTI still enjoys massive following among the masses and if the government is removed, PM Khan will come back stronger to challenge this corrupt system and will have more people behind him. It is, however, a fact that the PTI leaders who form the core team under PM Khan, despite being sincere to the party, are inexperienced in politics or lack guts to take things head on. While Imran Khan took on the system from day one and rectify things by eliminating the sifarish culture, the corrupt bureaucracy has resisted the change and has tried its best to fail the IK government. The existing system, unfortunately, is prevalent since the time of the British Raj and is so deeply entrenched that it will take several years to overhaul it completely.
Does PDM have the clout and mass appeal to send Imran Khan home?
AGR: No, because all the PDM leaders are only focusing on regaining power as rulers and are not genuinely concerned about the country’s future or the rights and interest of the voters. Unfortunately, in this country, the voters are unable to influence the elected representatives to take the right path and speak the truth. But the Parliamentarians should respect the mandate they get and think about people’s welfare, not of their own.
But as I said before, this is for the first time that people are continuously supporting Imran Khan. However, the party’s MNAs and MPAs are not happy with PM Khan because he works in the interest of people and wants his ministers to deliver in their jobs. On the other hand, the opposition parties are luring in the PTI allies and its MNA and MPA’s by offering them money, positions, party tickets and other kickbacks.
PTI’s graph has gone down due to its failure to fulfill the many promises it made. Comment?
AGR: Let me quote PM Khan here…he once said that his hands are tied but he would be doing his best to change things, to bring more reforms. He did realise that he could not deliver, primarily because the PTI could not get the sort of majority to form a full-fledged government and had to depend on the coalition partners. Besides that, key institutions such as the judiciary, the accountability watch dogs and others did not fully cooperate with him to bring the culprits and thieves to justice and to recover the looted money. Then PML-N supremo Nawaz Shah also managed to go abroad which was a setback for the government. In my opinion, Nawaz was afraid of meeting the same fate as the late Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. The government let him go because he appeared to be seriously ill.
It is a fact that Khan has gained in popularity in Punjab and Nawaz Sharif’s graph has been going down. I have been doing politics since 1983, but I have never seen such massive public gatherings that PM Khan has been holding of late. It is a confirmation that the people still love and trust Imran Khan and the vote of no confidence is just a conspiracy by the Opposition leaders who have their respective agendas.
As regards relief to the local people, a large number of families across Pakistan who are living below the poverty line have been getting Rs 12,000 during the Covid-19 pandemic without any discrimination under the Ehsaas programme – the flagship poverty alleviation initiative of the government.
Don’t you think the PTI and Opposition jalsas at D-Chowk could result in nasty confrontation?
AGR: Yes it is likely. Both PM Khan and the opposition parties want to flex their muscles and show their strength and if people of both sides throng to Islamabad at the same time, just anything could happen. It is possible that a third force could benefit from that confrontation to disrupt democracy.
How did PTI’s Huqooq-i-Sindh march go? Will it impact the party’s vote bank in Sindh?
AGR: It is a fact that the Sindh government has failed in protecting the rights of people in the province and in providing any sort of relief to them during its long 15-year tenure. This is criminal negligence, because after the 18th amendment, the PPP government had most of the departments completely under its jurisdiction such as police, health, education, revenue and others. It also receives funds from the federal government but has been reluctant to spend them on the province. I also feel that a large majority of the Sindh population is unaware of their rights and are being hoodwinked by the Sindh government which has been making false claims.
However, the overseas Pakistanis understand things much better due to their exposure and high percentage of literacy among them. They, therefore, stand by Imran Khan because of his vision to raise the nation in a solid manner and to rid the system of menaces like sifarish, bribery and corruption.
Having said that, I do feel that PTI could not do any significant work in Sindh during its tenure because it lacked a sound team to implement its plans as per the mindset and dynamics of the Sindh province. That is why people of Sindh are not convinced of the PTI’s credentials and its sincerity. The Huqooq march did make some difference as the PTI leaders did well to convey PM Khan’s ideology and his message to people of Sindh.
You see the dynamics of Sindh politics comprise two kinds; one is that the present PPP has been doing, which is cashing on the names of late Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and Benazir to remain in power, and the other that is being done by the influential individuals and the nationalists in the interior of Sindh.
I feel that the PTI, to some extent, has replaced MQM-P in Sindh’s urban areas but it still has some way to go before creating a solid impact in the interior of Sindh.
How do you assess the PPP’s long march to Islamabad?
AGR: Well, since the PPP had given the call for its march to Islamabad, it just completed the formality to reach the capital. It disgraced the people of Sindh as it brought mostly ‘bhang’ addicts with it to Islamabad and not many genuine supporters. It did not pressurise the PTI government in Punjab in any way. I feel that the PML-N still has the firepower to pressurise PTI in Punjab, just as JUI-F could pressurize the PTI government in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. But the PPP, which mainly comprises the waderas (landlords), does not have the sort of following and influence to pressurise the government in Punjab. All wise people know where PPP is standing. Sindh is infested with evils while corruption is rampant here. A cook steals chunks of food at the restaurant or home he is employed at, a driver pockets a sizeable share of money that he gets for fuel or maintenance of the vehicle, a farmer hides crops to sell them at a higher rate privately, thieves and murderers roam free without having any fear of law. This is today’s Sindh for you. If people themselves thrive on corruption, they will not support the PTI government. I have tried hard to reform the society in my own capacity while PM Khan is also doing the same at the top. I urge people to understand and draw a difference between evil and good.
How would you rate Murad Ali Shah’s performance as Sindh CM?
AGR: Syed Murad Ali Shah is a reasonablly good man but he might not have the right to suggest anything to Zardari or Bilawal. The province is ruled by the legacy of PPP’s Bhutto and by Zardari, but certainly not by Shah who is quite helpless. I don’t know much about him but I know his father Syed Abdullah Shah who was very different from Murad. Abdullah Shah was a man of principle and resisted many decisions taken by Asif Ali Zardari and Benazir Bhutto. I know for a fact that Benazir appointed Abdullah Shah as Sindh CM against Zardari’s will. Zardari, on the other hand, supported Pervez Ali Shah for the CM’s post but Bibi overruled it.
Can MQM make a strong comeback now that its supremo Altaf Hussain is out of picture?
AGR: To be honest, I do not think Urdu-speaking parties could serve people in Karachi and Sindh anymore. They had ample time to deliver in the past three and a half decades but they just squandered the opportunity. The Sindh government is also unable to deliver anywhere in Sindh but the PPP is able to secure votes for being Bhutto’s party and having deep roots here. The Urdu-speaking people want to get rid of the PPP-led Sindh government but have been misled over the years by Altaf and Company who exploited them to promote own agenda and often chanted slogans for a separate province. That hurt the people of Sindh and the Sindhis who saw this as a clear attempt to divide the province. That should not have happened. The MQM could have worked for betterment of education and development and should have created harmony and peace instead of inciting ethnic violence.