Aslam Bhootani: Rebel or Opportunist


By Malik Siraj AKbar

There is consensus across the board that the Balochistan government is facing a constitutional crisis. What is unclear is the chicken or the egg causality dilemma. Did the Supreme Court ruling, which stated that the Balochistan government had failed to meet its constitutional obligations, cause the constitutional crisis or has the public refusal of Speaker Muhammad Aslam Bhootani to chair a session of the provincial assembly on December 3 created the actual confusion? None of the above situations should actually have the ability to question the legality of the Balochistan government. We look these moves as blackmailing tools by the Supreme Court and the Speaker to pursue their own interests instead of allowing the Balochistan Assembly complete its five-year tenure.

It is absolutely true that the coalition government headed by Pakistan People’s Party’s Chief Minister Nawab Mohammad Aslam Raisani has completely failed to deliver good governance and meet public expectations. It is also correct that the current government has indulged in extraordinary corruption but none of these weaknesses can be cited as reasons to bill the Balochistan government unconstitutional.

In the past two assemblies, Speaker Bhootani has remained a fascinating character. Sometimes, he has acted as a rebel and other times he has maneuvered like an opportunist. His unpredictable behavior has repeatedly surprised the political friends and foes. What makes him distinct from the rest of the parliamentarians is the fact that he is too hard to predict.

Bhootani stunned his own government and the party (Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid-e-Azam) on at least three major occasions. Firstly, on August 6, 2007, Mr. Bhootani, as the Deputy Speaker of the Balochistan Assembly, categorically refused to offer fateha (religious prayers) on the floor of the Assembly for Raziq Bugti, the official spokesman of the Balochistan government who had been killed by the Baloch Liberation Army (B.L.A.). Secondly, on March 8, 2008, he almost gave a heart-attack to his party by, ironically, announcing to support P.P.P.’s Nawab Aslam Raisani to become the chief minister in return of backing his own quest for the office of the Speaker of the Balochistan Assembly. What was seen by many in P.M.L.-Q as Bhootani’s ‘opportunistic move’ spoiled his party’s overwhelming majority in the provincial assembly and brought the P.P.P.P. in power. On May 4, 2008, he went public in his unprecedented opposition to the Pakistan Air Force (P.A.F.) decision to acquire at least 63, 000 to 70, 000 acres of land in Balochistan’s coastal region. He fought against what he called the ‘illegal acquisition’ of Balochistan’s land by the P.A.F. so fiercely and lonely that the Balochistan cabinet, on January 10, 20o9, finally had to cancel all allotments to the P.A.F. for a proposed firing range.

Bhootani rightly knows how to play his political cards and also understands the right timing to move forward. At the end of the previous government of the Pakistan Muslim League headed by Chief Minister Jam Mohammad Yousaf, Bhootani’s elder brother Sardar Saleh Bhootani was appointed as Balochistan’s interim chief minister. Bhootani’s recent movements against Chief Minister Raisani seem to be geared for the achievement of similar goals and interests. The Balochistan Assembly, which recently gave a vote of confidence to Raisani, does not appear to be on Bhootani’s side until now. But one does not know. Bhootani has proven himself as a real king-maker. He can also turn into a game-spoiler and government-breaker. We have to wait and see.

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