|— Illustration by Zehra Nawab
Four years ago, Mirza came to public prominence in the most explosive way. In front of television cameras – with Agha Siraj Durrani tugging at his shirt and the Awami National Party’s Shahi Syed making failed attempts at restraining him – he made an impassioned speech against the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and its leadership. Soon MQM supporters were on the streets, holding protest rallies against him; 17 people were gunned down and 40 cars torched in the riots that followed.
Days before this anti-MQM tirade, he sat at the Karachi Press Club next to Zafar Baloch, who was then a key leader of the People’s Aman Committee (PAC) — a now defunct affiliate of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) in Karachi’s Lyari area. Mirza held the Quran on his head and claimed Altaf Hussain wanted to break up Pakistan at the behest of the Americans.
At the time, Mirza defended his childhood friend, then president, Asif Ali Zardari, against all allegations of corruption. Zardari was the smartest of all politicians; a former prisoner of conscience and a patriot whose only weakness was his association with “opportunists” such as Rehman Malik, he told a television talk-show host.
Since then, Mirza has been sidelined in the PPP, beginning with his forced resignation as Sindh’s home minister in the summer of 2011. His wife and son are still members of the legislative houses representing the party, but he is no longer its senior vice-president — a position he had held until a few weeks ago. Once overseeing the police and prisons in Sindh as a minister, he can now be seen hiding in courtrooms to avoid arrest.
Mirza, who first came close to Zardari when the two were students at Cadet College Petaro, has had an eventful life. The son of a Sindh High Court judge, Zafarul Hasan Mirza, he studied medicine, briefly served in the military, remained on the run from the law many years due to his alleged involvement in criminal activities, before turning up in Parliament as a PPP legislator from Badin. He is not a native to this lower Sindh district but owns huge tracts of land there, as well as a sugar mill courtesy Zardari, who helped him put together money for setting up his businesses. That much he acknowledges himself, but also adds that he has returned the favour both in cash and in kind, and perhaps more.
Pass by Mirza’s residence in Karachi’s Defence area and you will see his portraits adorn electricity poles on the street. In one of them, he is donning a suit, in another a Baloch turban and Sindhi cap and ajrak in the third. A big green-and-white flag drapes the entrance to the house, heavily guarded by his personal security staff. What is missing is the PPP flag from the premises or, for that matter, any other hint to his affiliation with the party.
Mirza has also tried to cash in on the omnipresent dislike for Zardari, blaming him for ruining the PPP and making money at the cost of the country. He has accused his former benefactor of sidelining Bilawal Bhutto Zardari from party affairs (“Et Tu, Brutus?” responded Bilawal with a tweet). Nothing seems to be working for Mirza, except court orders that have restrained the police from arresting him for the time being.
His journey away from the PPP seems to have become irreversible. His former cabinet colleagues are speaking openly against him, and party workers have brought out processions condemning his statements against Zardari. He roars and thunders in front of television cameras but there are no well-wishers around to tug at his shirt or gently push him away. He cuts a lonely figure in spite of his age-defying check shirts and cowboy hats — or perhaps because of them.
This was originally published in the Herald's June 2015 issue. To read more, subscribe to Herald's print edition.