In a political party like MQM, where endurance and durability outwit everything else, Dr. Ishratul Ibad cemented his legacy as a survivor of inhouse politics by staying as the Sindh Governor of 12 long years. No former politician had lasted this long in the administrative office, although this wasn’t laidback. During his reign, he had to counter numerous attempts from his co-workers to get him replaced.
Until 2011, Dr. Ibad was nicknamed “the man of crisis” by MQM leaders with close ties to party chief Altaf Hussain because Dr. Ibad was considered a person who could always be relied upon in times of need. That was about to change. After 2011, the same folks now secretly accused him of being a traitor, a self-centered and corrupt individual who would betray the party by succumbing to PPP (Pakistan Peoples Party) for his selfish gains.
Dr. Ibad’s political career had a rather humble beginning. He started as a worker of the APMSO, the All Pakistan Muhajir Students Organization which was later renamed to All Pakistan Muttahida Students Organization. Back then he was a student at Karachi’s Dow Medical College. In 1990, he contested the general elections on a provincial assembly constituency as a candidate of MQM. Haq Parast group had his back and he became a minister for the Jam Sadiq Ali Cabinet. Two years later in 1992, an army operation against MQM ensued and Ibad went underground to avoid arrest, only to resurface in London a year later. There he obtained political asylum. While in proximity with Altaf Hussain, Dr. Ibad maintained a pretty low profile in the party until 2002, until he replaced Dr. Imran Farooq as the acting convener of MQM’s coordination committee.
After general elections of 2002, a power-sharing formula between MQM and the then leading party Muslim League Q ensued, and Dr. Ibad made history by becoming the Sindh’s youngest governor as a representative of then-president General Pervez Musharraf on December 27, 2002.
From then onwards, governments came and went but Ibad remained in the Governor’s house until 9 November 2016. After coming into power, Neither Asif Ali Zardari in 2008 nor incumbent PM Nawaz Sharif in 2013 respectively, felt the need to replace Ibad with any of their loyalists.
Dr. Ibad seldom responded to criticism and preferred to be a listener rather than a speaker. A heavy smoker, he used to keep his cards close to his chest. Throughout his stint, these qualities made him a master of the art of turning his foes into friends. Ironically, all these qualities also distinguish him from his leader in London.
The constitutional office requires the governor to have complete impartiality. Dr. Ibad however never shied away from the fact that he was an MQM nominee. During his early days as the governor in 2003, he launched an operation against the Muhajir Qaumi Movement- Haqiqi, MQM’s long-time nemesis, to clear areas which were known as ‘no-go zones’ back then.
MQM-H’s headquarters, Bait-ul-Hamza, situated in Landhi was brought down and while in the first two years, the entire leadership of the party was also arrested.
Due to his soft-spoken and well-mannered demeanor, Dr. Ibad was known to be ‘cool as a cucumber’ and a moderate voice of the party, and unlike any of the other key characters of the MQM which were usually impulsive. Because of this quality, the decision-makers of Islamabad and in the garrison city of Rawalpindi made Ibad their priority as they could deal with him much comfortably as compared to making direct contact with Altaf Hussain or any other party leaders.
For a decade, the administration of Karachi and Hyderabad as well as MQM’s political affairs were under the complete command of Dr. Ibad. All ministers of the MQM cabinet reported directly to him. Several late-night meetings with MQM leadership took place at Governor house with such regularity that rival political parties started accusing Ibad of using the monumental official residence as a sector office for MQM.
In 2011, the situation began to change drastically. During his 12-year reign as the governor, Dr. Ibad had to face the wrath of his London based leader several times. On at least three different occasions, Ibad was told to step down, resign and return to London. But every time either his resignation was met with rejection or external powers persuaded Altaf Hussain to let Dr. Ibad retain his position.
Especially in June 2011, when MQM chief Altaf Hussain tried to remove Dr. Ibad from his seat, his inhouse critics say that certain international powers, as well as some ‘uniform boys’, came to Ibad’s rescue. They ensured the return of Dr. Ibad by pressurizing Altaf Hussain to such an extent that within three weeks he had to ask Dr. Ibad to return to Karachi himself and continue his job as governor. But after this very incident, Dr. Ibad wasn’t known as ‘their own man’ by the MQM leadership. He was now called ‘their man in the Governor house’ instead.
Altaf Hussain reportedly told a news channel that he wanted Dr. Ibad gone but he was unable to do so since he thought this would enrage the army. Although recently, he clarified that Dr. Ibad had resigned from the MQM and the federal government was to decide whether to retain him as the governor or not.
While there are critics, there is no inadequacy of Ibad’s admirers in and out of MQM. They credit him for commandeering the party out of several political catastrophes. Specifically, the one mayhem in the city on May 12, 2007, after which no political party was even willing to talk to MQM.
It is said that MQM strongly and openly opposed justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, though he did not take any actions against the party. Not even after annulling the well-remembered National Reconciliation Ordinance just because of Dr. Ishratul Ibad.
A former MQM official referred to Ibad as a highly acceptable man and an asset to MQM. He also added that Ibad is a trusted and tested leader and his contacts can be very useful for the party’s interest.