SANAULLAH Zehri is said to have been caught between the devil and the deep blue sea; he cannot afford to anger the establishment, neither does he want to face the ire of Nawaz Sharif.
HISTORICALLY Balochistan’s governments have been weak, put together as a result of hasty alliances and coalitions. In 2013, when the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) won majority of the seats in the country and the province, they cobbled together a coalition and appointed Dr Abdul Malik Baloch, a middle-class Baloch nationalist, chief minister of the province, even though his party was in minority.
After two-and-a-half years in office, Dr Baloch vacated his seat and Sanaullah Zehri, a powerful chieftain and provincial president of the PML-N, became Balochistan’s new chief minister as part of the famous “Marri deal”.
Explore: Balochistan on the boil again
According to a Quetta-based analyst, the then chief of southern command Lt Gen Mohammad Nasser Khan Janjua, who is currently the country’s National Security Adviser (NSA), had wanted Dr Baloch to stay on but Mr Zehri had opposed it because his party had obtained a majority of the seats in Balochistan.
This week, 14 MPAs on the opposition benches filed a motion of no confidence against Mr Zehri. The house comprises 65 members, and 33 members are required for a successful push against the incumbent chief minister.
Quetta’s analysts cite three possible reasons for the motion of no confidence against Mr Zehri: the first is related to the upcoming Senate elections; the second to Mr Zehri’s alleged loyalty to ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif; and the third to the overall prism of federal politics. It appears that at the heart of this political development lies Mr Sharif’s ongoing estrangement with the military establishment, with the vote of no confidence against the Balochistan CM being viewed as a tit-for-tat move aimed at penalising the former prime minister.
Whatever the case might be, one thing is clear. The move has come from someone considered to be close to the establishment — Quddus Bizenjo, former deputy speaker of the Balochistan Assembly and leader of the PML-Q. This lends credence to the reasons put forth by the analysts pointing at the establishment’s hand behind the recent manoeuvrings.
On the other hand, sources close to the PML-N acknowledge that after becoming chief minister, Mr Zehri has been giving a cold shoulder to ministers from his own party. “The Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP) was dominating the affairs of Balochistan,” a source close to the PML-N shared. “Which is why some ministers from the PML-N also supported the move against their own party chief in Balochistan, along with other ministers from various political parties.”
Balochistan National Party-Mengal (BNP-M) chief Sardar Akhtar Mengal and his party’s Minister Mir Hammal Kalmati are also signatories to the motion. As of late, Akhtar Mengal has been softening his tone towards the establishment, so much so that Haji Lashkari Raisani, formerly a member of federal political parties, joined the BNP. It is being speculated that the BNP has softened its stance because it wants to emerge a winner in the next general elections in the province.
Mr Zehri, however, is caught between the devil and the deep blue sea. He cannot afford to anger the establishment, neither does he want to face the ire of Mr Sharif. Commenting on the motion of no confidence, even PkMAP chief Mahmood Khan Achakzai said: “Sanaullah Zehri is being punished for being loyal to Nawaz Sharif.”
“If the assembly is gone, there won’t be Senate elections,” warns journalist Siddiq Baloch, “The ministers, who recently received portfolios from Sanaullah Zehri, are resigning and deserting him.”
A senior minister of the Balochistan Assembly said, “Sanaullah Zehri was tough on his ministers; he would interfere in their affairs, including [the affairs of] ministers from his own party.”
When asked about the recent political crisis, he said he was not sure if Mr Zehri would have to go or not.
“He does not have a team that can negotiate with the establishment,” he said adding: “He is left alone along with a team of bureaucrats, who cannot be of help.”
Balochistan’s governments have been sacked several times in the past. Mr Sharif, too, has acknowledged that it was a mistake when Akhtar Mengal’s government was sacked in 1998. Key players now find it likely that the political crisis of Balochistan will worsen in the coming weeks.
Whether the move against Mr Zehri emerges successful or not, it is expected to leave a lasting impact on the province’s politics — strengthening the bureaucracy in the province, while political forces and their vision fade way.
According to media reports, 27 MPAs have expressed support for the move against Mr Zehri so far, six MPAs short of the 33 required to make the move successful. “It is too early to say whether Mr Zehri will have to go or not,” says a Quetta based journalist. “If the JUI-F supports the move against him, he will have to go.”
While addressing a press conference in Khuzdar, Maulana Faiz Mohammad, the provincial emir of the JUI-F, expressed dissatisfaction with the government’s performance. If the move against Mr Zehri became successful, the JUI-F would find themselves on the opposition benches, he said.
Sources within the PML-N said that Mr Sharif was doing his best to save Mr Zehri’s. Nevertheless, some argue that the incumbent Balochistan CM may choose to resign if he finds other MPAs jumping ship. However, Jan Achakzai, adviser to the Balochistan chief minister, termed these reports baseless, stressing that Mr Zehri enjoyed the confidence of majority of the MPAs.
Balochistan has been the province of the establishment from day one, and Mr Zehri is considered to have strong ties with them. Analysts argue that he is being made to bear the brunt of Mr Sharif’s ongoing standoff with the establishment, which is why many MPAs are abandoning him. These lawmakers dearly want to win the next general elections and they do not consider the winds blowing in the incumbent chief minister’s favour.
Published in Dawn, January 6th, 2018