Baluchistan Beyond Kamal

By Malik Siraj Akbar

The Baluchistan Chief Minister Jam Kamal resigned from his position as a rebellion within the Balochistan Awami Party (BAP) mounted, dragging him on the brink of a no-confidence motion in the provincial assembly. It is not as if we have not been there before. Infighting within the ruling parties or coalitions is as common in Baluchistan as no-confidence motions and calls for resignations. After all, no chief minister in Baluchistan’s history, except Jam Yousaf, a puppet of General Musharraf, completed his term as the head of the provincial government.

When inducted as the chief executive of the province, Kamal was an absolute outsider to Quetta’s political culture. He had served as a district mayor and a federal minister in former prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s cabinet but neither he knew anyone in Quetta or did anyone know him. He mainly remained an outsider to most local members of the provincial assembly because he had never been elected to the provincial legislature. The Establishment reportedly brought him to power as much as they formed the BAP, a party with no history. 

Experts kept asking for how long the Jam government was going to last given Baluchistan’s volatile politics. There was always a consensus and consistent response: As long as the Establishment wants.

When a rebellion from some professional, seasoned rebels within his party and the coalition intensified, his lack of experience in understanding Quetta’s political culture came to bite him. After all, some of these rebellious voices had a long history of leading some of the most eventful no-confidence motions in the province’s history. For instance, his minister for Social Welfare, Mir Asadullah Baloch, was one of the key players that moved the famous rebellion against the government of Sardar Akhtar Mengal in 1998. Not only did that rebellion lead to the ouster of Mengal as Baluchistan’s chief minister, it also disintegrated the Balochistan National Party, giving birth to a pro-establishment wing of the party that identified itself as the BNP-Awami. That party went on to support General Musharraf and the coalition government in the province that blindly followed and supported all his policies.

Worse among these rebels was the infamous Quddus Bizenjo, who led the rebellion against the former PML-N Chief Minister Sardar Sanaullah Zehri. That not only unseated Zehri but paved the way for Bizenjo himself to become the province’s chief minister. Bizenjo’s highest reason for notoriety was securing 544 votes in a constituency of 57,666 registered voters in the 2013 elections. Yet, he went on to become the Speaker of the provincial assembly and the chief minister. By now, Bizenjo has developed a reputation as Mr. Naraz [angry], an attitude that has emboldened him to not only create rifts in any government but also manipulate chaos and differences for his own political aggrandizement. That’s a profoundly concerning behavior that, if unchecked, will make it impossible for any future governments in Baluchistan to function.

In the wake of the rebellion against Kamal, three things surprised me.

One, the Election Commission of Pakistan and/or the Balochistan High Court took no notice of Bizenjo’s blatant role in actively stirring rebellion against Kamal. After all, the Speaker of the provincial assembly is supposed to be neutral. The whole campaign against Kamal indicated that Bizenjo was intentionally promoting dispute within the ruling party to benefit from the situation. That’s exactly what has happened: He managed to get Kamal out and get himself nominated as the future chief minister of the province.

Two, it was absolutely shocking to see leaders from the Balochistan National Party (BNP-Mengal) join Bizenjo in celebrations on the ouster of Kamal. After all, Asad Baloch was one of the MPAs that had revolted against Mengal. How could the BNP forget all this so quickly? As a victim of such a rebellion, they should understand the pain of infighting more than others. More than twenty years after Mengal was stabbed by his own party mates, the BNP has not been able to come back to power in Quetta. Not only this, the BNP has also been vocal in calling the BAP a product of the Establishment. So, one does not know why they chose to become a part of the fight among a bunch of pro-establishment people.

If Kamal’s exit is a win for the Establishment and for Bizenjo, how does that make it an opportune moment for a seasoned politician like Sanaullah Baloch to share a box of sweets with Bizenjo? After all, Sana has been the most prominent face of anti-establishment politics on the floor of the Baluchistan Assembly. How do Kamal’s departure and Bizenjo’s return as the next CM benefit the BNP and its voters? After all, Bizenjo’s cabinet will still look very much similar to that of Kamal’s because now he has to reward all the members of the parliament who supported him in the move against Kamal. In fact, all of the ministers in the previous cabinet would be seeking an upgrade in their ministries and treatment from the new chief minister. In case of noncompliance, they, by now, certainly know what to do with a chief minister that does not succumb to their demands.

Third, Prime Minister Imran Khan chose to fully ignore Kamal’s appeals for help when the latter complained that leaders from the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf were a part of the conspiracy against him and assisting the Pakistan Democratic Movement, an opposition alliance, against his government. In the past, when Chief Minister Zehri faced a no-confidence motion, Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi at least traveled to Quetta and tried to mediate and prevent the Baluchistan government from collapsing. Khan did nothing to help Kamal, seemingly because Kamal was an ally but not directly from his own party.

The Prime Minister should have intervened and helped the Baluchistan government from collapsing because the continuity of the government is hugely vital to instill hope and optimism among the public in support of the political system. After all, the Baluch insurgents and separatists are reminding the public that the Baluch people have no future within the Pakistani political system. The government and institution, they argue, are weak, ineffective, and controlled by Islamabad. When the provincial government collapses so abysmally, this gives currency to the separatist narrative that elections and government do not necessarily lead to any changes in the province. 

Only the Baluchistan government can come in its defense by delivering good governance and fulfilling the public’s daily needs. A change of chief minister means nothing for the common man in Baluchistan if that does not lead to any improvement in the lives of the public.

Categories: News & Analysis

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