Editorial: All The Sharifs’ Men

sharifsWith Tuesday’s decision of former Balochistan president of the Pakistan People’s Party, Nawabzada Lashkari Raisani, and 21 other previous members of the provincial and national assemblies from Balochistan to join the Pakistan Muslim League- Nawaz (P.M.L-N), the election season has formally kicked off in the province.

This is the first, but surely not the last, en mass change of political loyalties in a province replete with opportunistic politicians and turncoats that value power over abstract political ideology. In a meeting with former prime minister and the head of the P.M.L.-N, Nawaz Sharif, Mr. Raisani, a younger brother for former Chief Minister Aslam Raisani, was joined by former ministers Humayun Aziz Kurd, Ismail Gujar, Tahir Mehmood Khan, Rahila Durrani and many others to join the country’s main opposition party.

Much before the imposition of the governor’s rule in Balochistan, Mr. Raisani had developed differences with the ruling Pakistan People’s Party over its Balochistan policy. In March 2012, Mr. Raisani cited the P.P.P.’s failure to politically handle the Balochistan crisis as the main reason to quit the party. Initially, there were speculations that he wanted to join the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam but he took almost one year to reach a final decision about his next party.

Mr. Raisani has emerged as a sober and politically mature figure in the recent times which is why he is generally taken more seriously than his elder brother Nawab Aslam Raisani, who is frequently found in a non-serious mood in his public dealings. While joining the P.M.L.-N, Mr. Raisani did not go overboard in criticizing his previous party, as is seen most of the time in Pakistani politics. He has picked up a very appropriate time for his decision when the P.P.P. has reached the nadir of its unpopularity in Balochistan. The ruling party is detested by the Baloch people for its repressive policies while the Hazara, Shia population has also blamed the P.P.P. for miserably failing to protect them from attacks carried out by Sunni extremist group, the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi.

The P.M.L. is likely to emerge as a very strong party in Balochistan in the next general elections considering the possibility of more political figures from the P.M.L.-Quaid-e-Azam joining it as elections near. Prior to the election season, the P.M.L-N is offering the same promises and assurances to the people of Balochistan regarding reconciliation with the Baloch people which were once promised by the P.P.P. before coming into power.

Mr. Raisani, who had to quit the P.P.P. mainly because of his differences with Interior Minister Rehman Malik, said the P.P.P. had not kept its word with the people of Balochistan. With the P.M.L-N coming in power, many believe a sincere effort would be made to revisit the Balochistan conflict. Baloch nationalists, such as Sardar Akhtar Mengal of the Balochistan National Party, also find it more comfortable to do business with the P.M.L-N as compared to the P.P.P. based on his previous working relationship in 1990s when Sharif served as the Prime Minister and Mengal as Balochistan’s Chief Minister.

There is always a dark side of en mass defections: They lead to a culture of corruption. With several heavyweights of Balochistan including former governor and corps commander General Abdul Qadir Baloch, former minister Sardar Sanaullah Zehri, the eldest son of the Marri tribal chief, Jangiz Marri and now with the arrival of Mr. Raisani and several other former minister, one has to start worry about the future government in Balochistan. Will the P.M.L-N once again patronize a corrupt government in Balochistan after this year’s general elections, as the P.P.P. did? What we have learned from the past experiences is that ruling parties tend to reward every key leader with an important ministry in order to keep him/her a part of the ruling party. Also a boat with too many influential tribal and political figures also faces the danger of sinking which means the union of all these strange bedfellows can anytime culminate in infighting among the party leaders and formation of new forward blocks.

The real challenge for the Sharifs begins now as to how they will manage their party in Balochistan.

Having said that, the P.M.L-N will not completely submit to the Baloch nationalists after the general elections. It may agree to include parties like the B.N.P-Mengal and the National Party, provided that they contest elections and win, but it is not going to give up its bid for the office of the chief minister in favor of any enraged Baloch politician like Sardar Akhtar Mengal. After the much-hyped 18th Amendment, the position of heading the provincial government includes a lot of lucrative privileges and relatively more political authority. The P.M.L.-N would struggle hard to install its man as the next head of the provincial government.

The P.P.P. had an extraordinary opportunity to perform better in Balochistan. It truly disappointed the people and provided its key leaders a pretext to ditch it months before the general elections. While the P.P.P. let the people down with bad policies, it alienated the local party leaders by unnecessarily imposing the governor’s rule at the cost of the P.P.P.-led Balochistan coalition government. Some in P.P.P.’s central secretariat may say they do not care much about Mr. Raisani’s departure but we believe the P.P.P. should care and look back as to what (avoidable) mistakes it made in Balochistan during its rule. Even the P.M.L-N can also learn a great deal of lessons while reading through P.P.P.’s disastrous five years of bad governance and corruption in Balochistan.

MALIK SIRAJ AKBAR

Editor-in-Chief

The Baloch Hal

Published in The Baloch Hal on March 5, 2013