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Balochistan’s Relentless Power politics!


By Imtiaz Gul

Weekly Pulse, July 29, 2013


Chief Minister Malik Baloch is a democratic nationalist. Despite enormous craving for taking Balochistan out of its current mess, the doctor-turned politician seems helpless – at least as of now – in the face of daunting challenges rooted in the social and political structures. He is attempting to prioritize education and health on his development agenda. The budget 2013-14 that he presented promises a manifold increase in the allocation for education i.e. from a paltry four to an unprecedented 24 percent. Dr.Baloch is also trying to enforce discipline among absentee doctors and teachers. Lists of such officials are being compiled and he himself is randomly visiting schools and hospitals to make his presence felt. 

But in the wilderness that is called Balochistan, Dr.Baloch is clearly a hostage to power politics, the favourite pastime of the Nawabs, Sardars and Mirs – the three epitomes of a conservative tribal culture that thrives off conspiracy, crime, collusion and collaboration. 

A drive through the provincial capital reflects the dire straits that Balochistan is in; for omni-present intellectual poverty among the ruling structures, the resultant poor governance and lopsided economic priorities, Quetta certainly comes across as microcosm of the myriad problems that the province reels under in addition to an almost permanent sense of insecurity. 

Broken roads, even in the cantonment area, no traffic lights even on main streets, and a vehicular chaos on the roads tell the story of neglect and high-handedness that most people blame on the deadly combination of the military establishment and the pro-establishment sardars, nawabs and mirs. 

And, according to the popular narrative, this mighty combination remains the biggest hurdle in the way of cabinet formation. That is why a sense of frustration is already setting in among all and sundry. 

“We are looking up to Nawaz Sharif for untying this knot and pave the way for the cabinet,” said Tahir Bizenjo, the secretary general of Malik Baloch’s National Party. 

While the NP and Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP) appear to be comfortable with slightly less than 50 percent of the seats, they face an ascendant Pakistan Muslim League-N, with the arrival of turncoats and remnants of the Musharraf era. 

With the PML-N numbers in the provincial assembly surging above 20, the Pashtoon-Baloch nationalists feel hamstrung by the power politics that Sharif’s party is indulging in. Sardar Sanaullah Zehri, whom the Sharifs had dissuaded from the chief ministerial slot, has upped the ante, and kept luring independents into the N-League. 

Israr Baloch, a student activist from Naseerabad, bemoans patronage of turncoats by Islamabad and the military establishment. “Almost all past governments mostly comprised turncoats who had neither any political commitment nor any vision for the socio-economic progress of the people.” Unquestioned allegiance and obedience of Sharifs or Zardaris and the establishment was the only criteria for their political elevation, he underlined. Sharifs had done well by keeping Sardar Zehri from the contest for the chief minister’s office, yet they seem to be backing down from their earlier slogan of change and hands-off approach. 

The present conditions have given way to a widespread perception that the PML-N is dragging its feet on the cabinet formation in Balochistan by allowing Zehri to lap up turncoats and thus ratchet up pressure on the coalition that, despite massive flaws in the electoral process, rode on a wave of renewed optimism for the province. Accompanying this perception is a chilling sense of despondency that stems from decades of predominance exercised by Islamabad /Rawalpindi over Balochistan. 

And the ruthless reign of terror by state and non-state actors – anti-shia bombings, reprisals by Baloch Republican Army, Balochistan Liberation Front as well as the Balochistan Liberation Army, the abduction-execution-dumping of Baloch political activists, and attacks on government/FC interests - only compound the situation further for the new government. 

To deal with rampant organized crime, sectarian and political violence, the Balochistan Home Department has recommended an increase of 15,000 to 20,000 new personnel in police, 10,000 to 15,000 in Levies and similarly 15,000 to 20,000 in the Frontier Corps. 

Currently, the Balochistan police and constabulary comprise about 35,000 personnel, while the military-led FC strength reportedly stands at about 50,000 personnel. 

The police controls only five to ten per cent of the provincial territory, while about Levies 20,000 operate in B areas, the so called rural areas of the province. 

The entire security apparatus comprising over 105,000, backed by intelligence agencies, has clearly failed in curbing crime and preempting as well as preventing politically motivated violence. 

On the contrary, the deep-seated perception that the FC-led establishment supports counter-insurgent groups led by, for instance, Shafeeq Mengal or Changez Marri, also adds to the complexity of problems that stare the new government. Somehow, signals for real change, particularly in the security landscape, are hardly discernible with the result that most people continue to look down upon Dr.Baloch and most of the MPs as “compromised pro-establishment” politicians. This represents a dilemma of authority for the new stakeholders and only Islamabad/Rawalpindi, it seems, can turn this around. 

An absolute essential step out of this mess means a categorical rejection by the federal power centres of power politics. They must signal to provincial political stakeholders that they neither have favourites nor interest in power politics. Also, the current socio-political bedlam requires comprehensive security sector reforms which not only take the sting out the traditional power centre personified by the nawabs and sardars, but also shift the community policing from the FC to the province.

Imtiaz Gul is the executive director of the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies, and the author of the recently released book Pakistan: Before and After, published by Roli Books, India

Email: imtiaz@crss.pk