Regime Change

Nawab Mohammad Aslam RaisaniBy Alefia T. Hussain

Time was of essence last Sunday. As the night wore on, the PM, along with representatives of coalition and other parties, had little choice but to act – and concede to the demand of the peacefully demonstrating Hazara Shias.

So, in an extraordinary late-night decision on Jan 13, Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf dismissed the Aslam Raisani government and imposed the governor’s rule in Balochistan under Article 234 of the Constitution. It was only after this decision that the Hazaras, who had been protesting against the Jan 10 target killing in subzero temperature, agreed to end the sit-in on Quetta’s Alamdar Road — and bury 100 bodies of their people four days after they were massacred in three bomb attacks.

In effect, the elected government of Balochistan was sacked by the centre for the fifth time. This time Governor Nawab Zulfikar Magsi has been empowered to serve as the chief executive of the province; Islamabad to take all key decisions; and Frontier Corps (FC) granted policing powers.

The decision was welcomed by the thousands protesting in Quetta, and many thousands more across the country, from Karachi to Skardu, chanting slogans like, “Am I the next victim”.

The major political parties echoed the same sentiment. PML-Q, with 19 legislators in the Balochistan Assembly, agreed Raisani should step down and army be called out in the province. ANP, with 4 seats, nodded in agreement. And so did MQM.

However, two key coalition partners — Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), with 9 seats, led by Maulana Fazlur Rehman, and Balochistan Nationalist Party-Awami (BNP-A), with 7 seats — opposed the government’s decision, calling it “unconstitutional”. They instead advised an in-house change in the government.

Two days after the imposition of the governor’s rule, in the assembly session called by Governor Magsi, the Balochistan Assembly unanimously adopted two resolutions which rejected the imposition of the governor’s rule in the province as undemocratic, and called for a judicial inquiry into the Jan 10 killing of Hazaras.

The Baloch and Pashtun nationalist parties (mainly the ones that boycotted the 2008 elections) view Raisani and Magsi as one and the same, and are cynical of FC’s role in the province. BNP-M chief and former chief minister of Balochistan, Akhter Mengal said although the provincial government was incompetent, yet the governor’s rule was no solution to Balochistan’s problems.

Surely, the governor’s rule has generated a mixed response. “Just because something is allowed in the constitution does not mean that it will always lead to good results. Invoking the governor’s rule is analogous to pulling on the emergency (hand) brake in a car,” says lawyer and columnist Waqqas Mir.

The reasons for the disagreement to the governor’s rule are rooted in the past experience of the Baloch, who have been disillusioned with Islamabad and see the governor as its agent, a viceroy. “It makes no sense to deprive the whole of Balochistan (at least 29 districts) of democratic representation only because sectarian issues exist in one district, that is Quetta,” says Malik Siraj Akbar, Editor Baloch Hal.

He adds, “Balochistan government can be blamed for corruption and incompetence but there is hardly any evidence of its support to the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi [the group that claims the responsibility of the Quetta carnage]. The Lashkar is believed to enjoy covet support from intelligence agencies. Until the security establishment abandons its support to these extremist groups and improves the police and intelligence apparatus, the dismissal of the provincial government and imposition of emergency is hardly going to improve the conditions”.

Being critical of the Balochistan government, Akbar says, it did not realise the Hazara protests would lead to the enforcement of the governor’s rule for two reasons: One, the government had recently overcome a crisis in the wake of speaker Mohammad Aslam Bhootani’s revolt against the CM; secondly, the Hazaras had been protesting in the past. “They had, in response to similar attacks in the past, protested in front of the Governor House, CM House, Balochistan High Court and the Balochistan Assembly. What made a difference this time was the unprecedented expression of condemnation and solidarity across Pakistan.”

He stresses that never in the past were such widespread and massive protests held in Pakistan in response to something that happened in Balochistan.

Reservations are widely held against granting of policing power to the FC. “Ninety five per cent FC personnel come from Fata and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the rest of the five per cent comprise of top military officers Punjab. It is absolutely devoid of local representation, ignorant of knowledge of local language and geography,” he asserts.

Based on these disadvantages, the FC, whenever called in the past in Quetta to assist the police, have failed to deliver. Instead, he says, “FC’s lack of policing experiences added new problems and animosity with the local communities”.

Considering we are so close to the elections, one wonders how the rule would bode for Balochistan. “The governor’s rule has not been tested by the courts after the passing of the 20th Constitutional Amendment,” says legal expert Salman Akram Raja.

“Some form of government will have to be put in place by the present assembly. It’ll have to elect a new CM because an only outgoing CM can appoint a caretaker setup according to the amendments in the constitution,” he adds.

And, “One can only hope that the caretaker set up will not reflect Islamabad’s viceroy but will feature Baloch leaders who inspire the confidence of their own people,” hopes Waqqas Mir. (Courtesy: The News on Sunday)

Published in The Baloch Hal on January 20, 2013