Opposition strikes back

July 13, 2019


The writer is a former editor of Dawn.
The writer is a former editor of Dawn.

THE speed with which the opposition initiated the process to replace Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani and united behind Mir Hasil Bizenjo as its unanimous choice has confounded many observers who doubted its ability to walk the talk.

The credit for unifying the opposition and making it act with such alacrity largely goes to the government and the establishment. Their relentless pursuit of politicians in the opposing camp and their decapitation strategy of the two main parties left the opposition with few other options.

Although the PPP and PTI fronted the effort to facilitate Mr Sanjrani’s election as Senate chairman last year, when the PML-N government was being destabilised, it was always clear that the little-known Baloch politician — never before elected to parliament — had more powerful sponsors.

Mr Sanjrani is one among some half-a-dozen senators elected from Balochistan who represent a new breed of politicians in the province that has come of age under the shadow of security forces amidst an insurgency which started after the killing of Nawab Akbar Bugti in 2006.

Through this no-confidence move, the opposition is not just expressing its resolve to stand up to the government, but also to state institutions that, it believes, have lost their neutrality. This means that the appeasement policy some opposition leaders were pursuing has now been abandoned.

If Hasil Bizenjo is indeed elected Senate chairman, it would be a very significant development.

Of course, there is many a slip between the cup and the lip. Winning a numbers’ game on the floor of the Senate — even with the clear numerical superiority that the combined opposition possesses — may not be easy because a secret ballot brings with it considerable uncertainty.

This uncertainty owes itself to horse-trading, with piles of cash and other factors coming into play. “God knows what role in the process will be played by incriminating video evidence, for example, whether it is of criminal wrongdoing or merely ‘partying’,” as one Islamabad scene watcher told me.

If Hasil Bizenjo is indeed elected chairman, his election will be significant. In his person, the Senate would have chosen a politician with a long track record of progressive politics and — even more important in the Balochistan context — a committed nationalist. And a nationalist who never indulged in separatist politics and always preferred to raise his voice for Baloch rights within the ambit of the federation and the Constitution. His National Party was a coalition partner with the PML-N at the centre, as well as in the province till last year.

Both Hasil Bizenjo and his party’s chief minister, Dr Abdul Malik Baloch, tried their utmost to resolve the burning issue of the disappeared, but their efforts bore little fruit. The installation of the Balochistan Awami Party government in Quetta has seen some headway in the return of the missing.

Commentators attribute this to the improved security situation and also the need of the BAP patrons to boost the party’s credibility. This can only be said to be the beauty of democracy no matter in howsoever diluted form it exists.

One can also attribute the return of some of the missing to the efforts of BNP-M leader Sardar Akhtar Mengal, who pressed the government to help when it wanted his support in the National Assembly to pass the budget recently.

It is another matter that Akhtar Mengal has been reported saying that the number of the missing who have returned and the relief of their loved ones is a matter of joy, but at the same time, new cases of forced disappearances are outnumbering those of returning individuals.

One hopes that the need to continue with this policy is not felt anymore and that many Baloch families, who have suffered the pain of not knowing whether their missing loved ones are dead or alive, are assured their nightmare is over.

This week was the 52nd death anniversary of Madar-i-Millat Mohtarma Fatima Jinnah and someone tweeted clips of her 1965 presidential campaign in the then eastern wing of the country which she toured by train.

A familiar figure is seen right behind her right shoulder during her campaign stops as she alighted from the train and took up position on a higher vantage point, a makeshift stage, to address the vast milling crowds that had gathered to hear her speak.

It was Shaikh Mujibur Rehman. Till a mere five years before the 1970 elections, his Awami League ran on a near-independence Six Points plank, it appears that the man who was known as ‘Bangabundhu’ had been happily campaigning for meaningful democracy in the country.

One wonders if the conduct of that election, which many believed was rigged to deny Ms Jinnah her victory, made him change his mind about the future of the power of the vote in a military-led dispensation in Pakistan.

I am not sure we are cut out to learn lessons from history. Even then, common sense ought to prevail as we approach the provincial assembly election in the ‘merged districts’ of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. It is of paramount importance to ensure that the electoral exercise is above reproach.

There are parties in the fray we can name and one we cannot. It is inevitable there are misgivings about a level playing field. But please let us make sure we do not score an own goal. Our soldiers and civilians alike have sacrificed so many lives to make that day possible. Let us not make a hash of it.

As for the no-confidence move in the Senate chairman, and if that passes, the election of the new chairman will be of huge personal interest to me. I remember well the day in Karachi University Arts Faculty when Hasil Bizenjo was shot by members of the pro-Zia Islami Jamiat Tulaba. We were in our classroom barely a dozen paces away as a bleeding Hasil Bizenjo was carried away to the hospital. His crime: to condemn military rule and call for restoration of democracy. It would be amazing to see him occupy one of Pakistan’s top elected offices.

The writer is a former editor of Dawn.


Published in Dawn, July 13th, 2019