How Nawaz Sharif Can Help Balochistan
Political parties that won Saturday’s general elections in Balochistan have already initiated contacts with other parties to form a coalition government. According to the results announced by the Election Commission of Pakistan, the Pashtunkhawa Milli Awami Party has emerged as the largest political party with 11 seats in the Balochistan Assembly which is followed by the Pakistan Muslim League (P.M.L-Nawaz) and the independent candidates. The National Party, a Baloch group, has also performed well enough to be taken seriously for government formation.
After several years, it is the first time that a nationalists-led provincial government seems to be taking over Balochistan. But the P.M.L.-N that is almost certain to lead the future federal government will influence the formation of the Balochistan government. Speculations have already began about the name of the future chief minister.
Nawaz Sharif may have served as Pakistan’s prime minister twice but the Balochistan he will be dealing with this time is absolutely different from what he saw back in 1990s. It has become an explosive province with unimaginable potential for more chaos, violence and instability. When Mr. Sharif ran Pakistan in 1990s, Balochistan was underdeveloped and the poorest of the country’s four province but it was still a very clam province during his both terms. Today, Balochistan needs Mr. Sharif’s immediate attention and he should include normalization of the situation in Balochistan as one of his top priorities.
To begin with, Mr. Sharif should play a politically wise role in assisting the parties in Balochistan pick up their new head of the government. There are speculations that the P.M.L-N would prefer to have its own men as the next chief minister. The P.M.L-N needs to think out of the box and offer some concessions to the nationalists if it ultimately benefits Balochistan in the long term.
The P.M.L-N does not have many promising candidates to address the issue of Balochistan. Three P.M.L-N leaders who could become Balochistan’s next chief minister include Jan Mohammad Jamali, a former Balochistan Chief Minister and a former deputy Speaker of Pakistan’s Senate; Sardar Sanaullah Zehri, a powerful Baloch tribal chief who is the provincial head of the P.M.L-N and also a former provincial minister; and Nawabzada Jangiz Marri, a son of the disillusioned veteran Baloch separatist leader Nawab Khair Baksh Marri.
If the P.M.L-N wants to at least make an attempt to resolve Balochistan crisis, it may have to drop the idea of appointing its own man as the head of the provincial government. Here is what we believe is wrong with all of its three possible candidates.
If any one of the three men mentioned above is appointed as the C.M., it will only take us back to Balochistan’s failed politics where Baloch tribal chiefs are undeservedly patronized by Islamabad. Mr. Sharif should play his role in ending that archaic political culture. The appointment of Mr. Zehri will turn out to be as catastrophic as P.P.P.’s decision to appoint Aslam Raisani as the head of the previous government. It seems that the P.M.L-N has appointed Mr. Zheri as the head of the Party’s Balochistan chapter not for his democratic credentials but for his tribal influence.
On the other hand, Mr. Jamali also represents the status quo. He once stunned everyone on the floor of the Senate for his support for Mr. Israrullah Zehri of the Balochistan National Party Awami for his controversial remarks that burying women was the Baloch culture. Mr. Jamali had reportedly told the legislators from other provinces they should not interfere in ‘our tribal matters’ when the issue of killing women in the name of honor was raised. Such men are dangerous to run our province where we need progressive men to take ownership to educate and empower our women.
The third possible choice, Jangiz Marri, has no political significance besides the only insignificant fact that he is Nawab Marri’s son. If he is appointed as the C.M. it will send a very wrong message to the Baloch nationalists that Mr. Sharif is pitting Mr. Marri against his own father and brothers who have taken a hard stance against the federal government. One of Islamabad’s oldest and deeply flawed policies has been the strategy of divide and rule among Balochs. But pitting a son against his father and brothers could be the worst and most extreme exhibition of that faulty policy.
Balochistan needs to get out of the old traditions to look forward. Here are three options we recommend.
First, the Pashtun mandate should be respected and the P.K.M.P. should be given an opportunity to elect Balochistan’s first full-time Pashtun chief minister. A respected figure like Nawab Ayaz Khan Jogezai, for example, could play that important role. This option may not work because it involves fielding a Pashtun chief minister in a dangerous situation against Baloch armed groups. Will a Pashtun nationalist be able to negotiate and influence the Baloch armed groups? If no, then the provincial government will ultimately fail in achieving its goal of stabilizing Balochistan. In that case, we also risk fanning Baloch-Pashtun communal disharmony.
Second, former senator and the President of the National Party, Dr. Abdul Malik Baloch should be considered for the office of the Chief Minister. He would become Balochistan’s first non-tribal chief minister. Dr. Baloch represents Balochistan’s middle class and he has taken enormous personal risks and opposition to defend peaceful democratic norms in Balochistan’s politics. His appointment will give faith to his supporters and like-minded political forces that peaceful democratic struggle pays off. Also, his appointment will encourage and empower Balochistan’s middle class to the extent that any citizens in Balochistan can dream of becoming the highest public official of the province.
Third, Sardar Akhtar Mengal’s Balochistan National Party (B.N.P.) has performed very poorly in the elections and the prospects for him become the C.M. have soemehow faded away. Yet, Mr. Sharif can bring Mengal back and give him the important responsibility of heading Balochistan’s government. He is too important to be left behind. Mr. Mengal’s appointment may not benefit the P.M.L, P.K.M.P or the N.P. in terms of having their own party leaders on the coveted post. But pushing Mr. Mengal on the opposition benches will not be a very intelligent idea.
In case, the three majority parties do not reach consensus on one candidate, they should consider Mr. Mengal for the position. What distinguishes Mr. Mengal from the other candidates is his influence over Baloch nationalist politics. He heads the province’s largest political party which did not perform very well during the 2013 elections but Mr. Mengal is one of the last actual Baloch leaders who is still willing to negotiate with Pakistan. He should not be allowed to go to the camp that will cause problems for the new government.
Electing a dependable chief minister can help in addressing half of the problem in Balochistan while an incompetent and irresponsible C.M. like Nawab Aslam Raisani will aggravate the situation.
Originally published in The Baloch Hal on May 14, 2013