THE political situation in Balochistan has rarely been dull, and with one crisis following the other, there is rarely any respite from the ‘interesting times’ of Chinese proverb-fame. That’s why even commoners such as rickshaw drivers and members of the working classes, let alone political pundits, have quite a clear idea which party or leader is going to form the government in the province after the next general elections.

Recently, several politicians and electables have joined the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (Fazl), and most of them seemed confident that this is the party that would clinch a majority of seats in the upcoming elections.

It is said that electables and senior politicians, who are close to the establishment, do not join a political party until prospects of its victory are assured. Despite having a decade-old presence on Balochistan’s political landscape, JUI-F has traditionally found success in the Pashtun belt of the province. However, this time around, Baloch politicians also seem to be migrating towards the JUI-F.

For instance, Nawab Aslam Raisani, the former chief minister and head of the Sarawan tribe, joined the JUI-F in Quetta recently amid fanfare, in the presence of JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman.

Before that, Zafar Gichki and former ministers Zafar Zehri, Amanullah Notezai and Dastagir Badini had joined the religio-political party.

Professor Mumtaz Baloch, a seasoned teacher of political science at the University of Balochistan, is not surprised by the sudden rise of JUI-F in the province, where the Baloch nationalists have traditionally dominated the political landscape.

“Since the formation of Balochistan province in 1970s, JUI has had a presence in this region,” Prof Baloch says while talking to Dawn.

“Since NAP (National Awami Party) formed its governments in Balochistan and then-NWFP — now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa — in the 1970s with Mufti Mehmood, the father of Maulana Fazl, as part of the ruling coalition, JUI-F has remained part of all governments in Balochistan.”

In Balochistan, JUI-F members have enjoyed powerful ministerial portfolios. However, it has always been the JUI-F’s desire to grab the slot of chief minister and at the moment it’s working day in, day out to turn this desire into a reality in the upcoming general elections. So far, the situation seems to favour the party.

For instance, JUI-F, in the Pashtun belt of Balochistan, has traditionally won majority of seats, and it has given tough time to its Pashtun nationalist rivals, especially those belonging to the PkMAP (Pashtunkhwa Milli Awami Party).

In recent times, the PkMAP has been in throes of infighting, and many of its senior leaders have either been sacked or they themselves have quit after developing differences with party chief Mehmood Khan Achakzai. It is crystal clear that JUI-F will take advantage of this situation for all the good reasons.

‘Liberal’ party?

“JUI-F is kind of a liberal party, because it has housed many, including the ones who do not have inclination towards the religion,” says Jalal Noorzai, a Quetta-based senior analyst and columnist, who writes mostly on Balochistan’s political affairs.

“In Balochistan’s overall politics, JUI-F does have a significant role. This time, even if it manages to form the government, it won’t be surprising at all.”

During his recent visit to Quetta, the JUI-F chief showed his interest in making the party’s government in Balochistan, so much so that he called for a change in the attitude of the institutions, saying mere announcement of staying neutral was not enough.

Commentators assert that the Maulana has already begun his election campaign, like other political parties, after the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), of which JUI-F is a component, became dysfunctional in the province. One such commentator is Sabookh Syed. He frequently writes about religious affairs and religious parties.

“There were two or three groups within the Maulana’s party in Balochistan and KP, and his relatives were on important positions in the government of KP which is why Maulana was under scathing criticism,” journalist and commentator Sabookh Syed shares with Dawn from Islamabad.

“Due to these developments, he has been trying to unify his party; at the same time, he got what he wanted from the establishment and under the platform of PDM he has been leading.”

Mr Syed adds, “Maulana has had a traditional hold in both the Balochistan and KP provinces. However, due to increasing tilt of people in KP towards PTI (Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf), Maulana has focused on Balochistan to clinch more seats, and there is no such rival as PTI in Balochistan. After settling the matters in Balochistan, he can shift his focus to KP.”

Before the “experiment” of Balochistan Awami Party (BAP) in 2018, both the JUI-F and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) wanted to form their own governments in Balochistan under their own chief ministers.

However, the formation of the “king’s party” disappointed them. Once again, the two parties are active in Balochistan, trying to win over the powerful establishment, to make their own governments. “If PPP forms its government at the Centre, it’s highly likely the party will also have its government in Balochistan,” says Mr Jalal.

“But if it’s PML-N at the Centre, then there is a chance for the JUI-F to have its government in Balochistan, as PML-N does not have such strength in the province.”

Published in Dawn, january 3th, 2023

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