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ANALYSIS: PML-N HUMBLED IN BALOCHISTAN

January 14, 2018

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POLITICS is a tricky business in Balochistan; no one knows for certain what will happen next.

Mir Abdul Quddus Bizenjo — the new provincial chief executive — epitomises this uncertainty: a member of the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-Q), his ascent was made possible by the votes of the so-called dissidents of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N). This is why 11 of the 14 members of his cabinet hail from the Nawaz league.

For the erstwhile ruling party, this is a major shake-up and lends credence to the impression that as a party, PML-N is only seen when it is in power. Indeed, following the ouster of their government, it suddenly seems as if the party does not exist in Balochistan anymore.

“The province has slipped out of PML-N’s control,” argues Sabauddin Saba, an Urdu columnist based in Quetta. “This is the beginning of the end for the Nawaz league.”

But party leaders have a clear idea about why this is happening. “The main purpose behind removing Nawab Sanaullah Zehri was to punish former prime minister Nawaz Sharif,” a PML-N member told Dawn on condition of anonymity.

There are also those who accuse the unseen hands of undemocratic forces of engineering this turn of events, but the fact is that mainstream political parties have always struggled to understand Balochistan and its political culture.

There are no longer any ideologically-driven parties in the provincial set-up; people vote not for parties, but for individuals who bend in the wind whenever there is an upheaval.

There is a widely held belief here that the ruling PML-N does not understand Balochistan’s societal structure, its people or their grievances. The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) too, it is believed, is ignorant about Balochistan, even though they are closer to the politics here.

On the streets, people are disappointed with these mainstream parties, but they are curious about developments in the province, and the subject is discussed at every restaurant and barber shop. Whatever their individual political allegiances, most agree that these parties have done nothing for the province; core issues have not been addressed and nothing has changed over the past four years.

In fact, Nawab Sanaullah Zehri was so isolated in his final days that even Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi — who spent some time in Quetta while the crisis was brewing — was unable to convince members of his own party to get behind the former chief minister.

According to some accounts, PML-N’s Nawab Changez Khan Marri refused to meet the prime minister when he knocked on the latter’s door to canvass for his chief minister — some say that is why Zehri had to step down.

Following the CM’s ouster, Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP) chief Mehmood Khan Achakzai has resorted to his traditional rhetoric; addressing a crowd in Pishin, he again spoke of the possibility of merging the Pakhtun belt with Afghanistan as their party’s mandate was not being respected. This, according to Quetta-based analyst Jalal Noorzai, is because Mr Achakzai feels that he is being sidelined.

This is in spite of the fact that since the 2013 general elections, Mr Achakzai and his party have been the primary beneficiaries — getting first choice of development projects for Pakhtun-dominated areas and enjoying several seats in the cabinet, as well as the coveted position of the provincial governor.

However, there is a sense that his party has not delivered on the ground, and districts such as Qila Abdullah — from where most of their leadership hails — continues to be one of the poorest in the country.

A far cry from his outspoken past, Sardar Akhtar Mengal seems to be playing the role of a silent spectator this time, dividing his time between Karachi and Dubai rather than playing the role of an effective opposition leader.

Critics of the Balochistan National Party-Mengal (BNP-M) chief say this is because he is angling for a big win in the upcoming general elections, and is also vying for a greater role in the politics of Balochistan, both for himself and his family.

But for Quetta-based journalists, the current political climate is becoming decidedly ‘undemocratic’. “Tenures of both former chief ministers, Dr Abdul Malik Baloch and Sanaullah Zehri, seemed like ‘controlled democracy’,” says Mr Noorzai.

There are also fears that the Balochistan Assembly will be dissolved. “If Bizenjo writes to the governor to do so, the latter will have to abide by the CM’s advice,” Mr Noorzai maintains.

Although Mr Bizenjo has rejected these rumours, political observers aren’t convinced. But whatever happens, one thing is clear: Bizenjo’s appointment means the PML-N will get fewer seats in Balochistan at the time of the Senate elections.

“Nawaz Sharif is fighting hard to win a majority of seats in the Senate polls, but he is currently the underdog,” says Sabauddin Saba.

Least votes ever

The eldest son out of five siblings, Mr Bizenjo was born in 1974 and completed his early education from his native town of Shindi Jhao, later earning a master’s degree in English from the University of Balochistan in 2000.

Although they are a middle-class Baloch family, there are some who consider them ‘landlords’.

Retracing the steps of his father Abdul Majid Bizenjo — who was elected thrice from insurgency-stricken Awaran district — Quddus Bizenjo commenced his political career from his hometown.

He won a provincial assembly seat for the first time in 2002 and served as minister for livestock until 2007.

In 2008, he was re-elected on a PML-Q ticket and joined Nawab Aslam Raisani’s cabinet as minister for livestock, successfully completing his five-year tenure.

In the 2013 general elections, he won his provincial assembly seat with a mere 544 votes — the lowest ever received by a provincial assembly candidate — and also served briefly as deputy speaker of the Balochistan Assembly.

Published in Dawn, January 14th, 2018