Rifts in PPP and the future of Balochistan coalition

Chief Minister Aslam Raisani

Chief Minister Aslam Raisani

By Malik Siraj Akbar

The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) in Balochistan now pretends to have amicably surmounted all internal differences which exceedingly overshadowed President Asif Ali Zardari’s first visit to the troubled province last week. Five disillusioned PPP ministers –Sadiq Umrani, Babu Mohammad Amin Umrani, Jan Ali Changazi, Agha Irfan Karim and Isfandar Kakar – had made up their mind to embarrass Chief Minister Nawab Mohammad Aslam Raisani by tendering resignations with the president so that they could gain an opportunity to meet the President and also vent their frustration against the CM.

On his part, a disgruntled Raisani unceremoniously sacked all of his five ministers hours before Zardari’s arrival in the provincial capital. While the CM had simultaneously directed the concerned official departments to issue the formal notification and press statement announcing the expulsion of the rebel ministers from the 50-minister provincial cabinet, mediation by senior PPP leader and federal minister for ports and shipping Nabil Ahmed Gabol temporarily halted the break-up of the PPP in Balochistan.

Hence, the annoyed ministers agreed to give up their plans to quit the cabinet and Raisani consented to the ministers’ return to their old positions. Nonetheless, differences, mistrust and allegations followed by counter allegations among the PPP leaders refuse to fade away. The angry ministers insist that Nabil Gabol is a ‘nobody’ to interfere in the matters of Balochistan. They maintain that the top PPP leadership should seriously pay heed to their demands and press the chief minister to respond to the charges leveled against him about encouraging nepotism and the drug mafia in the province.

Though the central PPP leaders claim to have resolved their domestic vendettas peacefully, the outbreak of such differences in near future can not be ruled out. Having not developed sort of an in-house mechanism that could discourage or at least internally resolve party members’ grievances, the PPP has in fact provided ample space for future tussles which could either disintegrate the ruling party or oust Chief Minister Nawab Mohammad Aslam Raisani, whose commitment to the PPP is now being questioned from inside the party.

Rifts in the PPP in Balochistan are indeed the outcome of a cycle of events taking place in the past one and half years. The PPP leaders in the province have been articulating their anger against the chief minister on the following occasions.

Firstly, senior PPP leader Sadiq Umrani objected to the PPP decision to nominate Nawab Mohammad Aslam Raisani as party’s chief ministerial in Balochistan. Umrani, a senior PPP leader, insisted that he was the right candidate for the office of the chief minister due to his old commitment to the PPP. During her visit to Balochistan two weeks before her assassination former PPP chairperson Benazir Bhutto had publicly said If PPP had existed and thrived till today despite all challenges, it was mainly because of loyal activists like Sadid Umrani who faced the hardships of imprisonment. “If we have ever been cheated, that is because of people like Farooq Laghari,” she had commented in Quetta.

Umrani took Ms. Bhutto’s remarks for granted and assumed that he could be the party’s undisputed candidate for the top provincial office. He was wrong for the reasons that Aslam Raisani was a more powerful tribal chief than Umrani, if the latter agrees to jump on the bandwagon of hundreds of existing small and big sardars in Balochistan.

Taking this as an opportunity, Umrani broached the old statements of Nawab Raisani in which the latter had objected to the appointment of Asif Ali Zardari and Bilawal Zardari Bhutto as the PPP chairman and co-chairman respectively. Cold war between both the leaders commenced when Sadiq Umrani began to question how a person opposed to Zardari and Bilawal could become the party’s candidate for the top slot. Even then, his objection was outright snubbed by the PPP big wigs.

Secondly, the PPP ministers and senior leaders were irked when Nawab Raisani bypassed them and developed better working relations with the ministers from the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-Quaid-e-Azam), a supporter of General Pervez Musharraf. The PPP leaders protested when Raisani deprived PPP minister Ms. Ghazal Gola of her Ministry of Human Rights and gave the same portfolio to Basant Lal Gulshan of the PML-Q.

Thirdly, Sadiq Umrani and his like-minded group accuse Raisani of not having voted for the PPP candidates during the recent Senate elections. The ruling party was expecting to clinch at least five seats in the Upper House of the parliament from Balochistan but ended up with a disappointing three-seat victory, including one seat for the younger brother of CM Raisani –Haji Lashkari Raisani.

Fourthly, Raisani has fallen in the bad books of his party’s senior colleagues due to his refusal to launch a crackdown against the lawyers in the wake of their long march earlier this month. Though section 144 was enforced in all three remaining provinces of the country, Raisani in Balochistan gave a fully free hand to the lawyers and instructed the law enforcement agencies not to hamper the long march. This again is seen by the radical PPP veteran supporters as ‘disloyalty’ to the party.

Fifthly, the PPP chief minister in Balochistan was perhaps the only PPP man in the country who publicly expressed his “absolute displeasure” with the imposition of the governor’s rule in the Punjab by his party. Demanding a swift return to democracy in the Punjab, Raisani played the crucial role of a mediator between the PPP and the PML-Nawaz at a time when many PPP supporters aggressively insisted for an immediate formation of their party’s government in the Punjab. Raisani stunned everyone in Quetta when he told a press conference that he still believed that Shahbaz Sharif, his disqualified counterpart, enjoyed the majority in the Punjab.

“In fact the PPP acted undemocratically in Balochistan in the inception by disrespecting the mandate of the PML-Q and bought every MPA’s loyalties by accommodating him/her in the provincial cabinet,” says one political expert, adding that the recurrence of more such solid differences within the PPP may soon cause the disintegration of the Balochistan coalition government or at least the ouster of a vocal Nawab Raisani.

As soon as PPP’s internal wounds are made public, the coalition parties are likely to consider building new alliances in the province where the PPP, one year after the formation of its government, has failed to bring peace, end the military operation, resurface the missing person, resettle the internally displaced persons of Dera Bugti and stop the cases of enforced disappearances.

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