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Location of Balochistan in Pakistan. Source: Wikipedia Commons

Senate elections and power manoeuvres in Balochistan

THE political environment in Balochistan has been heating up since the end of February, as nearly all senior politicians from various political parties have arrived in Quetta city ahead of the Senate elections.

Prominent among them is the province’s former chief minister Nawab Sanaullah Zehri, who was forced to resign a few months ago by members of his party who had accused him of sidelining and ignoring them. “Sanaullah Zehri was quite reluctant to come to Quetta, but he came on the request of Mahmood Khan Achakzai, the PkMAP chief,” a source close to Mr Zehri said.

Two political camps appear to be dominating the scene here — one led by Mr Achakzai, and including members of the PkMAP, National Party, Mr Zehri and his Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) ministers, and the other by the lawmakers who had led the move against the PML-N in Balochistan. This group, candidly referred to as the ‘planners’, comprises mostly PML-N dissidents, and includes members of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl, the Awami National Party, the Balochistan National Party, and the Majlis Wahdatul Muslimeen.

Several Quetta-based analysts believe that the Senate elections will be the litmus test that determines whether the PML-N is out of Balochistan’s political scene, or not.

The final outcome notwithstanding, it is clear that Mr Achakzai is quite serious about the Senate elections. He had earlier de-seated a minister from his own party (Manzoor Khan Kakar) for not supporting him. The PkMAP chief had also met provincial Assembly Speaker Rahila Hameed Durrani, looking to gain her favour.

Many claim that Mr Achakzai is perhaps former prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s last hope to continue doing politics in the province. The reason they offer for that is that when the PML-N’s government in the province was overturned, the PkMAP leader was one of the very few politicians who had openly criticised the possible involvement of “hidden hands” in the episode.

According to early predictions by some of these analysts, the group led by Mr Achakzai was expected to clinch three Senate seats out of 11, while the second group was expected to get nine seats. This changed overnight after two candidates from the second group (of the ‘planners’) submitted their papers on technocrat seats.

This is because those leading the group of ‘planners’ had miscalculated the number of seats they could get. After the nomination papers of two of their candidates — Hussain Islam and Abdul Qadir — were rejected on technical grounds, the two technocrat seats this group was hoping to fill were left without any candidates from their side.

As the Senate elections draw near, the overwhelming perception shared by the people of Balochistan is that the candidates who can pay more will win. One of candidates had reportedly said: “I have 40 crore in my briefcase, which I have to spend on ministers to get my Senate seat.”

On the other hand, it is disheartening to note that some of the candidates for the Senate seats have not been residing in the province for some time.

In 2003, Akram Wali Mohammad, a business tycoon, who, according to some accounts, has never visited Balochistan, became a senator from the province. Similarly, Yousaf Baloch of the Pakistan Peoples Party also became a senator from Balochistan, even though he lived in Karachi. Hussain Islam, too, does not reside in the province, yet he is a candidate for the Senate elections. Many in the province believe that this is one of the reasons why no one in the Senate raises a voice for the rights of the people of Balochistan.

With nearly 13 ministers on his side, Mr Achakzai is trying to make the most of the situation. He wants to win at least two Senate seats at any cost. He has Mr Zehri on his side, but the PkMAP leader is also looking to curry favour with ministers who support him. Though he has reached out to National Party lawmakers, most of the NP ministers appear unhappy with the behaviour of PkMAP’s ministers.

Despite their alliance, ministers of the PkMAP and NP have been involved in several verbal clashes. Recently, controversy between MPs of the two parties arose over the proposed name of a university in Sibi — Mir Chakar Khan University. Ministers of the PkMAP had resented this to the point that they tore up papers in the Balochistan Assembly to protest.

Whatever may come, one thing is certain — these Senate elections will prove to be a political setback. Several provincial ministers have been moving back and forth from one group to the other. One example is that of a PML-N minister, who was arrested on allegations of corruption, the minute he switched back to Mr Zehri’s group.

Among other things, the Senate elections will prove challenging for both groups. The candidates, who had earlier appeared confident about their chances, looked utterly confused on Friday. Finally, the elections today (Saturday) will provide a definitive answer to the burning question about the future of PML-N’s politics in Balochistan.

Published in Dawn, March 3rd, 2018

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