Setback for PTI as BNP-M quits ruling alliance

Updated Jun 18 2020

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PTI says it will try to pacify Balochistan party chief by addressing his grievances; Zardari speaks to Mengal over phone. — APP/File
PTI says it will try to pacify Balochistan party chief by addressing his grievances; Zardari speaks to Mengal over phone. — APP/File

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government on Wednesday suffered a setback when the Balochistan National Party-Mengal (BNP-M) announced its decision to quit the ruling coalition at the centre ahead of the vote on the federal budget, putting the ruling party at the mercy of six other smaller allies due to its fragile majority in the National Assembly.

The decision was announced by BNP-M chief Sardar Akhtar Mengal on the floor of the National Assembly while taking part in general debate on the budget.

“In line with the decision of my party’s central executive committee, I am formally announcing end of our alliance with the PTI. We will stay in the parliament and keep talking about the issues,” said Mr Mengal while winding up a fiery speech in which he accused the PTI of having a “non-serious attitude” towards Balochistan problems and complained about its failure to implement the two agreements reached with his party at the time of the formation of the government soon after the general elections in 2018.

Amidst desk thumping by opposition members and in the absence of key government ministers, Mr Mengal blasted the PTI for not paying heed to the key issues of Balochistan, including missing persons and non-implementation of the National Action Plan (NAP) against terrorism.

PTI says it will try to pacify Balochistan party chief by addressing his grievances; Zardari speaks to Mengal over phone

Mr Mengal recalled that the PTI had signed two agreements with the BNP-M at the time of elections of the speaker, deputy speaker and prime minister and later during the presidential elections, but not a single point of the accord had been implemented.

The BNP-M leader said they had not gone to Banigala for the agreements and the PTI leaders had come to Quetta for talks with them.

The BNP-M and the PTI had signed a six-point memorandum of understanding in August 2018 for an alliance at the centre. The six points were: recovery of missing persons, implementation of NAP, observance of six per cent quota for Balochistan in federal government departments, immediate repatriation of Afghan refugees and construction of dams in the province to resolve the acute water crisis.

Mr Mengal said the agreements carried the signatures of important PTI leaders, including its vice-chairman Shah Mehmood Qureshi, former secretary general Jehangir Tareen, Sardar Yar Mohammad Rind and Dr Arif Alvi, who has now become the country’s president.

The BNP-M chief said none of the points in the agreements was illegal or unconstitutional. He said they had simply demanded that the missing persons be recovered and the NAP be implemented in letter and spirit. Through the other agreement, he said, they had demanded allocations for various developments projects for Balochistan.

“If our demands are illegal and unconstitutional, then we are ready to face even death. But then all those who had put their signatures on these accords should also face the same,” he said.

At the end of his speech, the BNP-M chief presented two “separate lists of missing persons” before the assembly for making them part of the official record.

According to him, one of the lists contains names of 18 people who have been recovered so far while the other contains the names of about 500 people who have gone missing since August 2018 when the PTI signed the agreement with the BNP-M.

Mr Mengal alleged that law and order situation in Balochistan had worsened and “death squads have been reactivated there”.

Going into the history, he said in the past all agreements that had been reached with various Baloch leaders were violated and some of the leaders were arrested or killed through deception. He said the people of Balochistan were not “slaves”.

The BNP chief alleged that the government was more concerned about Kashmir and peace process in Afghanistan, but had no time to look into the Balochistan issues.

“Why a Balochistan peace conference could not be convened similar to the conference held for the Afghanistan peace process?” he asked.

“You [the government] are constituting committees on Kashmir which is not with us, but you are not worried about losing what you already have,” he said: “This house can discuss issues of wheat, sugar and tomatoes, but not the blood of the Baloch people.”

He also lashed out at the federal and the Balochistan government over handling of the Covid-19 situation and held the two governments responsible for the spread of coronavirus in the country by allowing pilgrims from Iran to enter Pakistan through Taftan without making any arrangements.

“A first information report (FIR) should be registered against whoever is responsible for the deaths in the country due to coronavirus,” he demanded.

“The parliament has been turned into a Hyde Park corner where the members are free to vent their frustration through speeches but no one is there to listen to them seriously,” he alleged.

Mr Mengal also took the government to task over “cutting” provincial shares from the National Finance Commission Award, adding that the allocations which had been made in the budget for projects in Balochistan showed the government’s seriousness.

The session continued for more than hour after Mr Mengal’s speech, but no one from the government side responded to it.

Meanwhile, the PPP became the first opposition party to contact Mr Mengal after his decision to quit the ruling alliance when former president Asif Zardari telephoned him. The two leaders discussed the political situation in the country in the backdrop of “the government’s stark failure and criminal negligence in tackling coronavirus, locust attacks and rising poverty”.

According to PPP media office, Mr Mengal inquired about the health of Mr Zardari and prayed for his early recovery, saying “the country needs Mr Zardari’s political sagacity, as a great statesman in a situation when everything is degenerating due to sheer incompetence of the people in government.”

“The PPP always strives to strengthen the country, democracy and the poor, and shall continue to play its leading role in saving the country and its people from the quagmire it has been led into by the selected and imported hordes and herds in the name of PTI,” it quoted Mr Zardari to have told Mr Mengal.

Govt Response

Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Shibli Faraz downplayed the development and expressed the hope that the BNP-M people would soon rejoin the ruling alliance after a “political team” of the PTI would meet them and address their grievances.

Talking to Dawn, Mr Faraz said differences arose even within the parties. He said it seemed that the BNP-M had some reservations over allocations made for some projects in Balochistan. The minister said he had tried to talk to Mr Mengal, but could not establish contact with him.

Responding to a question, the minister said at the government’s request, the BNP-M had provided them a list of missing persons, but it was such a big list that it was difficult to verify and trace all of them. Later, he said, they succeeded in tracing some of the missing persons who had left their areas at their own will.

In response to another question, Mr Faraz said there was no threat to the ruling coalition after the BNP-M’s decision, which he termed “temporary.”

Party position in NA

After withdrawal of the support by the four-member BNP-M, the PTI-led ruling coalition has now been left with 180 members on the treasury benches whereas the opposition parties have 161 members in the 341-member house.

The PTI is the single largest party in the NA with 156 seats and it has the support of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (seven seats), Pakistan Muslim League-Q (five), Balochistan Awami Party (five), Grand Democratic Alliance (three), two independents and one member each from Jamhoori Watan Party and Awami Muslim League.

On the other hand the opposition with the inclusion of the BNP-M now has 161 seats with Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz having 84 seats, Pakistan Peoples Party 55, Muttahida Males-i-Aimal 15, two independents and Awami National Party one seat.

Published in Dawn, June 18th, 2020