League dissidents form forwards bloc in Balochistan

By Malik Siraj Akbar

The ruling Pakistan Muslim League (Q) may be the single largest party in Balochistan but it is also the most unstable and divided. Reports of infighting within the party are common and differences range from squabbles over holding ministries to key party positions. The chief minister of Balochistan and provincial PML chief Jam Yousaf has already barely survived two major crises with fellow party members and coalition partner Mutahidda Majlis-e-Amal (MMA). Now he finds himself in the middle of a new mess.

About a year back, some eight PML members of the provincial assembly embarrassed the chief minister when they indicated that they would form a separate forward bloc against the chief minister if he did not check the domineering role in the government of the ally MMA. Then, led by the provincial PML general secretary, Mir Jaffar Khan Mandokhel, the MPAs protested that the chief minister never consulted them when taking major decisions; they also said most development funds were being spent in MMA constituencies only and that the provincial government itself was dominated by the MMA.

At the tine, there were speculations that the disgruntled PML MPAs would side with another party and move a no-confidence motion against the CM. Luckily, that never materialised and Yousaf got out of that bind because of support from some central PML leaders. Plans to move a no confidence motion were given up after party president Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain assured the MPAs that they would be kept in the decision-making loop.

This crisis averted, the Jam Yousaf government was threatened after the MMA decided to boycott the Balochistan Assembly sessions last month to protest what it called the central government’s ‘injustices’ against Balochistan. Once again, there was talk of a change of guard but nothing happened because Shujaat mediated and assured the MMA that Balochistan’s financial matters would be dealt with justly. Subsequently, the MMA ended its boycott of the assembly.

This time round, some disillusioned members of PML (Q) in Balochistan announced the formation of a forward bloc on July 19. Led by advocate Noor Khan Tareen, the forward bloc has a number of complaints against the provincial chief minister. What’s different is that the decision of the PML leaders to disassociate themselves from the provincial party chief and the CM seems to be based purely on internal vendettas. “The main issue is that the CM favours certain party members and that is unacceptable to others who feel it is damaging the credibility of the party,” an insider told TFT.

Another difference between the current crisis and the previous ones is that while the forward bloc does not enjoy the support of any sitting MPAs, it claims to enjoy the full backing of Shujaat. Noor Khan Tareen, the chief of the forward bloc, says that the PML has not held a single meeting in the last four years because of the CM’s lax attitude and bad administration. When the PML dissidents submitted their reservations to the central leadership, Shujaat summoned them to Islamabad and gave them a hearing.

“We told the party chief that an 8-member group of ‘sycophants and opportunists’ had been dominating the party for several years and needed to be replaced by dedicated party leaders,” Tareen told TFT. “Shujaat is with us and he has summoned the CM to Islamabad and directed him to abolish the occupant group.” However, the dissidents complain that the CM has not heeded Shujaat’s message.

“Since his induction as the chief minister, Jam Yousaf has failed to run the government smoothly; his cronies just won’t let him. They keep misleading him. This is tarnishing the party’s image,” said a dissident.

Sardar Saifullah, general secretary of the forward bloc, says Jam Yousaf and his ‘partners’ are trying their best to hide their weaknesses with regards to PML’s performance. “A fake membership campaign was launched in the province to mislead President Musharraf,” said Saifullah. “Some four hundred thousand fake membership forms were filled out with the help of voters’ lists. Since the membership drive had been initiated on the directives of President Musharraf and the provincial leaders had done nothing to promote the president’s agenda, PML had failed to attract a large number of supporters in Balochistan. They then conducted a false membership drive and told the president that several thousand people in Balochistan had joined the ruling party,” he added.

Most importantly, disgruntled PML leaders contend that the central government is with them against the CM. However, Senator Mushahid Hussain Syed, PML secretary general, told TFT he didn’t even know about the formation of this forward bloc. “We have no reports of a forward bloc in Balochistan. Unless I know what the whole issue is about, I won’t say which group we back,” he said.

But this apparently unknown forward bloc scored a run when on July 23, the student wing of the League announced in a press conference to support the forward bloc.

Leaders backing the CM say that the forward bloc is merely a group of ‘unimportant’ party leaders trying to blackmail the chief minister. “There are no rifts in the party and the bloc does not pose a danger to the provincial government,” states one PML office-bearer. Saifullah, on the other hand, warns that the bloc must not be underestimated. “We are in constant contact with the forward blocs in the other three provinces. Their response is positive. A sitting minister from the Punjab Assembly and some from Balochistan have promised to join us against the CM,” he told TFT.

Observers say the bloc does not posses enough clout to cause too much trouble for Jam Yousaf even if it does succeed in creating a rift within the PML. “The fact that the PML’s top leaders in Islamabad have kept quiet about this means they are not sure themselves which side they are on; neither are they certain of which side will prevail and for that reason they should side with it,” said an analyst.

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