PML-Q’s nervous nineties

News Analysis

By Malik Siraj Akbar

Pakistan Muslim League (Quaid-e-Azam) in Balochistan is on nervous nineties. Having splendidly secured the highest number of seats in Balochistan Assembly, 18, the erstwhile ruling party, known as the ‘king’s party’ in its old good days, is so close yet too far from forming the next government in Balochistan. The only province where the PML-Q succeeded in retaining its strong position is Balochistan. While the party has been pulverized elsewhere in the province, it got two times more votes than any single party in the politically polarized province.

The PML-Q stunned political the pundits and proved all of their predictions wrong. While some believed it would win majority of the seats in the center with the help of the official machinery, the others, on the other hand, contended that it had lost its support base in Balochistan. These predictions were based on a few unpopular steps taken by the federal government in the province with the overt endorsement of the previous Q-League government in Quetta. The unabated military operation, large scale arrest of political activists, unbridled violence and intermitted cases of enforced disappearances were widely linked as the gifts of Jam Yousaf government.

However, the PML-Q was lucky enough to retain its position in the province. It was not as if that the party enjoyed overwhelming public support. It’s extremely impressive victory materialized as a virtue of the election boycott by the Baloch nationalist parties, supported by the Pashoonkhawa Milli Awami Party, a popular outfit in the Pashtoon populated areas of the province, on the platform of the All Parties Democratic Movement (APDM).

More than 90% of the successful PML-Q candidates hail from exceedingly powerful tribal backgrounds. People like, Jam Mohammad Yousaf, Sardar Yar Mohammad Rind, Nawab Zulfiqar Ali Magasi, Sardar Masood Looni and Asim Kurd are the uncontested chiefs of their tribes with divine following by their tribesmen. Defection from one party to the other by these tribal chiefs is no skeleton in the cupboard. Many of their illiterate voters even did not know the name of the party they were voting. All they knew was the powerful local man, who coincidently was a ticket-holder of the PML-Q.

But the post-election situation indicates that the PML-Q is most likely to lose an opportunity of scoring a century by getting run out by none other than one of its own laid-back batsman on the non striker end. With the staggering success of the Pakistan People’s Party Parliamentarians (PPPP) in the center and the three other provinces, the provincial leadership of PML-Q in Quetta smells the difficulties it is going to face in the future. While President Pervez Musharraf’s own future is murky and the PPP is certain to lead the coalition government in Islamabad, the PML-Q is now uncertain about its future role. Some leaders in Balochistan chapter have already read between the lines and decided to opt for a safer path. Thus, PML-Q is fast disintegrating and internal rifts are widening in its ranks in Balochistan. While some are cogitating to change their loyalties for a smoother five-year odyssey with the PPP, the others are continuously failing to reach consensus on the issue of the next parliamentary leader, selection of coalition partners and distribution of ministries.

Differences in the PML-Q date back to the generous assistance extended by its president Jam Mir Mohammad Yousaf to his previous coalition partner, the Muthida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA). Not many Leaguers were very happy with their provincial president who agreed to give the bulk of key ministries to the MMA in return of the office of the chief minister. This deprived a number of senior PML leaders of ministries.

Even 18 Balochistan Assembly seats have failed to unite the PML-Q which stands at cross roads today. It is confronted with a very complicated situation where the leaders see no path to get out of the existing trouble. The wearisome areas for the PML-Q are as follows.

Firstly, a forward bloc has been created in the party which is led by former Deputy Speaker of Balochistan Assembly, Mohammad Aslam Bhootani. Bhootani and as many as 8 of his like-minded MPAs-elect believe that Jam Yousaf’ s domineering role is patronizing autocratic tendencies in the party. Bhootani, without having publicly articulated his ambitions, is desirous to become the next chief minister. In case his naïve wish is spurned by the PML big wigs, which is likely to happen, then his cronies and he are probably going to support a PPP candidate for the office of chief minister.

Secondly, the appointment of a prominent PML-Q leader, Nawab Zulfiqar Ali Magsi, whose name was initially being pronounced as the most potential PML-Q candidate for the office of CM, as the governor, has given currency to the feeling that a section of PML-Q important leaders has no confrontational intentions vis-à-vis a PPP chief minister.

Thirdly, a group of leaders in the party want Jam Yousaf as well as Sardar Yar Mohammad Rind, two possible Baloch candidates for the chief ministership, to withdraw their plans in favor of a Pashtoon leader in the backdrop of the appointment of a Baloch governor. Therefore, this group is lobbying for Pashtoon Leaguer, Sheik Jaffar Khan Mandokhel, for the office CM. They argue the presence of a Baloch CM and a governor simultaneously amounts to under-representing the Pashtoon population.

Fourthly, a former coalition partner of the PML-Q, the Balochistan National Party (BNP-Awami), with five general seats, is conditioning its support to the PML-Q with the coveted office of the CM. “We unconditionally supported the Q-League for the past five years. Now they should support our candidate, Syed Ehsan Shah (former provincial finance minister) to become the CM,” Mir Israr Zehri, the central president of the BNP-Awami, told me.

Fifthly, a group of eight independent candidates, led by Mohammad Aslam Bizanjo, has categorically announced it would not support the PML-Q in the next dispensation because they hold it responsible for the military operation in Balochistan during its last stint.

In the midst of increasing challenges and rapidly elapsing time, Pakistan Muslim League (PML-Q) has made no headway up till now to demonstrate its capability to forge a new alliance or form the next government. On the other hand, the PPP, which presently has only seven seats but bright prospects in the Center and the other three provinces, is wisely exploiting the situation. Continuous overtures among the PPP and various parties suggest that it has, despite its much smaller number of seats, succeeded in gaining more support against the PML-Q from Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazal (7 seats), Balochistan National Party-Awami (5 Seats), the independents (12 seats) and the (2 seats). Who knows by the time the PML-Q overcomes its internal strife, a PPP-led coalition government may have taken the oath of its office.

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