ISLAMABAD/QUETTA: Balochistan finally took centre stage on Thursday but for what appeared to be an intra-party struggle.
The crisis was triggered by a decision of the PPP Balochistan chapter to suspend the basic membership of its member and provincial Chief Minister, Nawab Aslam Raisani, on charges of corruption and failing to deliver as the chief executive of the restive province.
The decision was taken by Rafiq Sajjad, PPP’s Kalat division president, and supported by Sadiq Umrani, its Balochistan chapter president.
It was then reported by TV channels that Speaker Mohammad Aslam Bhootani had turned down a request of the chief minister to call a session of the Balochistan Assembly.
The speaker said he had received a letter from the chief minister asking for the session to be called on Wednesday.
He not only refused to summon the session but also asked the provincial governor to determine the legal status of the Raisani government after the Supreme Court’s interim order issued on Oct 12.
Mr Bhootani told a news channel that until the legal position of the provincial government was determined he would not budge, adding that the government had lost its constitutional authority after the court’s order.
The Supreme Court had ruled that the Balochistan government had failed to fulfil its constitutional duty and protect basic human rights in the province.
It also called upon the federal government to step in and play its constitutional role in the face of the failure of the provincial government.
In an equally serious move on Wednesday, only a day before Mr Raisani’s suspension, Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry had censured the federal government for not implementing the Oct 12 order and sought a clarification from the attorney general over the constitutional authority of the provincial government.
Raisani strikes back
Before the commentary on these developments had been exhausted, Mr Raisani, who is known to spend most of the time in Islamabad and not Quetta, called a press conference in the capital.
In his trademark style, which combines a rustic wit with a bluster, he told journalists that he had decided to appear before the Supreme Court on Friday, along with his coalition partners, to defend his government in the case based on a petition filed by the Balochistan High Court Bar Association on the law and order condition and human rights violations in the province.
It is noteworthy that the chief minister has so far not appeared before the court in the case.
Mr Raisani dismissed the suspension order as well as the financial controversies surrounding him that have made it to newspapers and news channels recently. He claimed that he continued to enjoy the confidence of the majority in the provincial assembly and that there was no threat to his government.
Without naming anyone specifically, he accused his detractors of launching a propaganda campaign against his government. He then offered an award of a whopping ten rupees to the person who could throw him (Raisani) out of the PPP.
By the time the press conference had ended, most observers were certain that what appeared to be an intra-government or intra-party dispute was inextricably linked to the SC order. Some went so far as to say that this was a move from within to finally remove a controversial figurehead from a key position.
According to political insiders and analysts, Mr Raisani’s suspension from the party membership may lead to some change within the provincial set-up.
PPP’s Raisani worries
A federal minister said the PPP leadership had not been happy with Mr Raisani for quite some time for a number of reasons; he had failed to improve the situation in the province despite billions of rupees that had been poured in under the Aghaz-i-Haqooq-i-Balochistan package, his lack of interest in governance and constant presence in Islamabad which was now being discussed openly.
Over the past few weeks, criticism had also been directed his way for a compensation package given to his family that was determined by his own government and for a plane that he had purchased for his use as chief minister.
The federal minister pointed out that even the PPP leaders from Balochistan had criticised Mr Raisani. Balochistan Governor Zulfiqar Magsi repeatedly suggested that the PPP co-chairman should replace him (Raisani).
This is lent credence by the reaction to the chief minister’s suspension. Sadiq Umrani, president of the PPP’s Balochistan chapter, endorsed the suspension of Mr Raisani’s basic membership and demanded that the party leadership remove him as chief minister.
Mr Umrani supported the SC judgment and levelled serious allegations of corruptions against Mr Raisani.
Soon after this, ANP’s Balochistan president Aurangzeb Kasi directed his party’s parliamentary leader in the provincial assembly, Zamarak Khan, not to appear in the Supreme Court, along with the chief minister.
He said Mr Zamarak’s announcement during Raisani’s press conference that he would accompany the chief minister to the court was his personal decision and not party policy.
In fact, the reports about cracks in the coalition supporting Mr Raisani were also rife in Quetta. This week alone, a cabinet meeting had been announced and postponed twice, although officials claimed it was because of Mr Raisani’s ill health. Some politicians said it was because it would have allowed the differences within the cabinet members to be raised at an official forum.
A political commentator well versed with the politics of Balochistan said there were both chances of an in-house change or governor rule in the province. However, he added that it would not be easy for the PPP to take such radical steps so close to general elections.
The mystery may clear up during the court proceedings on Friday.
Court order revisited
Referring to the Article 148(3), the SC in its interim order had reminded the federal government of its constitutional duty “to protect every province against external aggression and internal disturbances and to ensure that the government of every province is carried on in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution…”
After ruling that the provincial government had failed to discharge its constitutional duties, the two-judge bench headed by the chief justice had categorically asked the federal government to intervene. The judgment said: “However, if situation arises that the internal disturbances are of such a serious nature that the provincial government has failed to control them or that it is unable to manage it then federation may take steps to protect the province from such internal disturbances.”
The SC in its interim order had not just found the provincial government to be a failure it also pointed out that provincial ministers were accused of being involved in kidnapping for ransom and corruption.