MMA adds to League’s woes in Balochistan
By Malik Siraj Akbar
The rise of sharp differences between the ruling Pakistan Muslim League and its largest coalition partner Mutahidda Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), two odd bedfellows, is leading the province to an internal political crisis. Last week’s political developments in Quetta pose a serious threat to the Jam Yousaf-led coalition government and speculations are rife about a change at the top.
Balochistan is already locked in a conflict with the federal government; now it is headed towards a coalition breakdown, which, if comes about, will have repercussions not only for the internal politics of the province but add to its woes vis-à-vis Islamabad.
Coalitions are unwieldy. The League has barely emerged from a crisis in Sindh where its chief minister Arbab Ghulam Rahim got into a spat with the Mutahidda Qaumi Movement, again the largest coalition partner. Now the League president, Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, has to contend with the rising temperature in Balochistan.
The crisis surfaced on May 29 when Maulana Abdul Wasay, senior provincial minister and MMA’s parliamentary leader in the Balochistan Assembly (BA), announced his party’s decision to boycott the current session of the provincial assembly in protest against what he termed the “ excesses of the federal government”. Wasay appeared to have scores of complaints against Islamabad. The MMA grievances range from economic injustices against the province to the ongoing military operation there. The session had to be adjourned due to lack of quorum after the MMA boycott. The situation has not improved and the MMA has stayed away from the assembly sessions on June 1 and 3, forcing the speaker to adjourn the proceedings on both occasions for lack of quorum.
The MMA knows that it can bring the house to its knees and it seems to have decided to do just that. By accusing the federal government of injustices against Balochistan and fulminating against the military operation, it is also plugging into the agenda not only of the broad political opposition, the Alliance for Restoration of Democracy, but also the nationalist parties and even the MQM, the League ally in Sindh and at the Centre.
The current formula for the National Finance Commission (NFC) Award, which keeps in account the population of provinces while distributing the national resources, is not acceptable to any of the political parties in Balochistan. They unanimously contend that the current NFC award formula does not do justice to a province that has the largest landmass and is rich in natural resources but has the smallest population. Wasay, who also holds the portfolio of planning and development, is of the opinion that despite repeated assurances from the federal government that justice would be done to Balochistan, no formula acceptable to Balochistan and other smaller provinces has been announced in the last four years.
In keeping with this strategy, Wasay has not only kept MMA MPAs away from the assembly, he also boycotted the NEC (National Economic Council) meeting in Islamabad. The MMA is also very displeased with the ongoing military operation in Balochistan, another point on which it is in sync with the entire range of political opposition and the liberal elements in society.
But why should the MMA suddenly turn on its coalition partner? Political pundits point to a judgment passed by the Supreme Court of Pakistan which upheld the disqualification of a former MMA provincial minister Hafiz Hamadullah. The SC decision was followed by another similar judgment on May 27 by an election tribunal, headed by district and session judge Liquat Ali Khoso, which disqualified the Zhob district Nazim Maulvi Habib-ur-Rehman of MMA along with nine union council nazims and seven naib nazims, all belonging to the MMA. Interestingly, the vacated seats at the district and union levels were filled with PML members.
This, say observers, is the real reason behind MMA’s sudden rush of blood on the issue of injustices against Balochistan. “Why did the MMA stay quiet on the NFC award and the military operation until now,” asks an observer, adding: “They should have protested when the provincial government requested the federal government to induct troops in the province.”
The MMA knows that it can bring the PML government down; so do the League bosses in Balochistan and Islamabad. The MMA strategy to put pressure on the League is smart, come as it does just ahead of the budget presentation and debate for FY2006-2007. If the MMA persists with its strategy and the situation is not resolved, the Balochistan budget could be delayed.
Equally, however, the MMA knows that it can push the League up to a point and no more. The Jamiat Ulema-e Islam does not want to lose the perks that come with power. Indeed, it was the JUIF elements from Balochistan that stressed the need for the MMA government in the NWFP to cut a deal with the Centre on the issue of the participation in the National Security Council of NWFP chief minister and the leader of opposition in the National Assembly, Maulana Fazlur Rehman. An ultimate compromise is therefore built into the situation, though as the situation stands, the two sides remain at loggerheads.
Meanwhile, speculation is rife that there may be a change in the political set-up of Balochistan. One theory is that Islamabad might be thinking of accommodating some selective elements from the Baloch nationalists to ensure a let-up in the current situation in Balochistan. In a recent press conference in Quetta, Kachkol Baloch, leader of the opposition in the Balochistan assembly, said this in so many words and did not rule out the possibility of their joining the government.
As far as the position of the provincial government is concerned, Jam Yousaf told a press conference that no change was likely. Interestingly, while Ch Shujaat Hussain visited the province on June 5 along with party general secretary Mushahid Hussain, they held no meeting with MMA leaders. “They were busy resolving their own differences,” said an observer, pointing to the fact that Shujaat was in Balochistan to mend fences with former premier Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali.