Tuesday, March 13, 2018

What does ‘victory’ for Balochistan mean?


Daily Times

MARCH 14, 2018

On paper things look swell. Indeed, the future looks bright for Balochistan and for democracy itself. For the first time since the coming into force of the 1973 Constitution — the largest, least populated and poorest of Pakistan’s provinces has a local Chairman of the Senate.

Running as an independent, Sadiq Sanjrani secured 57 votes in the 104-member House; with the number two spot going to the PPP’s Saleem Mandiwalla. The hope is that the new man at the top will bring once and for all Balochistan firmly into mainstream national political discourse and redress the immense wealth and resource imbalance. This, after all, would be an agenda shared by the COAS. Meaning that this electoral victory is good news all round.

Or is it?

Nothing in this hard country is as straightforward as it seems. And the fear is that, far from centre-staging the ongoing troubles within the province — Balochistan will become yet another front in the proxy war between the military establishment and the ruling PMLN. Indeed, the dye was more or less cast early this year when a coup from within dissident party ranks, supported by non-partisan allies, sought to oust the then Chief Minister. This paved the way for the PMLQ’s man to take the reins; despite the fact that Abdul Qudoos Bizenjo had bagged only 544 votes in the last elections for the provincial seat. This was quite a comeback for a party that had seen its political fortunes dwindle alongside those of Gen (rtd) Musharraf. And one that was aimed at chipping away at the PMLN’s hold on power. Meaning that after this underhanded displacement — it is now only in the Punjab where the latter holds the dual positions of provincial governor and CM.

Naturally, there has been much talk of ‘hidden hands’ pulling the strings in Balochistan. Gen Bajwa has made no secret of essentially selling CPEC to the local people as a panacea to prevailing security and economic challenges. And with the backing of Mr Sanjrani by both the PTI and PPP there does, indeed, seem to be something afoot. Imran Khan’s party has spent much of the last eight years fielding allegations of entering into a certain understanding with the military establishment. As for Asif Ali Zardari, he is no longer the same man who dared to take on the security apparatus in a (one-sided) war of words some three years ago. Indeed, this is not the first time that the two parties have joined hands.

If such whisperings are true; if the military establishment and its civilian surrogates are behind the recent political swings in Balochistan to, in part, fulfil what many see as a vendetta against the Centre — it does not bode well for Pakistan’s summertime elections and beyond. For simply invoking the name of democracy does not make it so; regardless of what the heart wants.  *

 Published in Daily Times, March 14th2018.

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