THE emergence of the Balochistan Awami Party (BAP) in March this year, announced from the secretariat of the province’s chief minister, was accompanied by much hue and cry from the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Baloch and Pashtun nationalist parties which labelled the hastily-cobbled alliance of the province’s electables “a move of the establishment”.
Even as former Balochistan chief minister Nawab Aslam Raisani termed the new party a conspiracy against Balochistan, it is interesting that many of the electables who joined BAP were once ministers in the Raisani-led coalition government in 2008, under the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP).
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“It was the ignorance and dictatorial attitude of national parties, especially the PML-N, which forced like-minded politicians to come together and establish a new Balochistan-based party in the province,” explains Saeed Ahmed Hashmi, the founder of BAP. Mr Hashmi, once considered an ideologue of the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q), has been a key player in provincial politics since 1990, and served as a senator between 2003 and 2012. “We have provided a platform in the shape of BAP, to help the people get rid of the narrow politics of nationalists and religious groups,” he says.
The new party has finalised its candidates, most of whom include members of old political families — Jamali, Jam, Magsi, Domki and Bhootani. “BAP is contesting from almost all national and provincial assemblies’ seats in the province,” he says, adding that the main reason for forming a new party was to get rid of those political parties who used Balochistan to further their own interests. “People will see a big positive change in Balochistan if our party wins the election,” he claims.
Many believe that BAP will emerge victorious in the upcoming election as most of the ticket holders have solid vote banks in their respective constituencies. They have been contesting, and winning, elections as independents or party candidates since 1970, after the abolishment of the One-Unit Scheme. However, most of the parties that emerged from within the province over the past 70 years either vanished or merged into larger parties after realising their failure to command centres of power. The coalition governments that formed remained dependent on support from Islamabad and lacked political or financial autonomy.
We have provided a platform in the shape of BAP, to help the people get rid of the narrow politics of nationalists and religious parties.
BAP founder and former senator Saeed Ahmed Hashmi
In January 2018, the Balochistan Assembly moved a motion of no trust against former chief minister Nawab Sanaullah Zehri of the PML-N, demanding his resignation and sealing the deal on an ouster of his government merely six months before the assembly was to complete its tenure. The first move towards a separate party came from former chief minister Mir Jan Muhammad Khan Jamali, after the PML-N’s high command issued tickets to candidates for the Senate elections in March 2015 without consulting the party’s provincial leadership.
Jam Mir Kamal Khan Alyani, who was minister of state for petroleum and natural resources under the PML-N government for four and a half years, was appointed president of the new party. Nearly 15 to 16 MPAs of the PML-N, a former PPP MPA and a senior vice president of the PTI’s provincial body, and some members of the Pashtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP), Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (Fazl) and the National Party added their names to the growing list of powerful political players that comprise BAP.
“Though when it comes to political thinking, they are different from each other, but they have gathered under BAP, which may form the next government in Balochistan along with other parties,” says Jalal Khan Noorzai, a senior analyst and journalist. He believes that other political parties that supported a no-trust motion against Mr Zehri could join BAP to form a government.
According to BAP insiders, it was the attitude of national mainstream parties in which all decisions, from award of party tickets to forming a government, were taken by the central leadership of parties outside of the province. It is in this backdrop of brewing mistrust against the Centre and a desire to assert political clout, but more importantly, tacit support from “certain quarters” that allowed for BAP to emerge. The new party managed to elect six senators and choose the chairman of the Senate after mustering support from sworn political rivals — the PPP and the PTI.
Commenting on the reaction by other parties to BAP’s formation, Mr Alyani says: “It is our democratic right to establish our own party... We want to take decisions about Balochistan on our own...[A right] which we have been deprived from for a long time.”
According to a party insider who attends BAP meetings, the party believes it can emerge as a single majority party, with 35 seats out of a total 51, and form the next government on its own. “Some party leaders are bringing 25 to 26 seats to BAP in the election,” he claims.
Independent analysts, however, put the expected number of BAP general seats in the Assembly between 20 and 22. “A single party government seems out of the question in Balochistan,” says Professor Suleman, an analyst, who has predicted a coalition government of at least three parties after the election in Balochistan.
The Balochistan National Party-Mengal has decided to contest Khuzdar’s national and provincial seats along with the JUI-F. These parties consider BAP a “baby of the establishment” and claim that it is the establishment that wants to rule the province through these leaders.
BAP may soon have to make some difficult decisions. Although Mr Alyani may be considered a shoo-in for the slot of chief minister, there are other contenders within the party who are likely to make a move for the position. Another factor that could have implications for the future of BAP is the party(ies) that will form the government in Islamabad.
“The future of BAP depends on what it will deliver during the election and after forming its government in the province,” says Mr Noorzai.
Published in Dawn, June 26th, 2018