How the Establishment “Won” Baluchistan, Again 

By Malik Siraj Akbar

Mir Abdul Quddus Bizenjo has been elected as Baluchistan’s new chief minister for a second term, seemingly as a reward for spearheading a successful rebellion against his predecessor Jam Kamal Khan. They both belong to the current ruling party, the ultra-right-of-center Baluchistan Awami Party (BAP).

A school of thought in Baluchistan believes that despite all the shortcomings, the existence of what seems like a “democratic” government in the province and a toothless provincial assembly is still better than not having one at all.

They too seem stunned over what is going on in the province and how a bunch of members of the provincial assembly is using the house as a platform to expand, promote and aggressively protect their own interests instead of working for the welfare of the people of the province or strengthening democratic institutions and values. The more this select group consolidates power in the name of democracy, the more it makes it difficult for the public to hold them accountable because power continues to revolve around this closely-guarded elite club. Even if the head of the government changes, people surrounding the incoming leader largely remain the same old faces that worked with the previous chief minister. A change in leadership also does not necessarily translate into a change in behavior, values, approaches, and policies.

Incentivizing Opportunism 

Bizenjo’s return to the highest office in the province is deeply alarming because it incentivizes politics of greed, betrayal, and selfishness. While observing today’s developments, a young woman or man aspiring to become a politician in Baluchistan sees shortcuts and sycophancy as the currency for becoming a successful politician. The old way of doing politics and serving the people by sticking to principles even if one has to go to jail or face political victimization seems to be vanishing. A province that was once home to dedicated political leaders like Sardar Attaullah Mengal has now gone to shortcut hunters like Mr. Bizenjo. As Pakistan continues to crack down on political nurseries like the Baluch Students Organization, forcefully crushes dissent, and busts political gatherings, the only type of “politicians” that come out of this situation are the ilks of Mr. Bizenjo.

A flattering profile of Bizenjo in Independent Urdu on October 28 reported on his obsession long ago with becoming a [cabinet] minister. While all his friends used to talk about their studies, the profile noted, Bizenjo would tell them that he wanted to become a minister. 

A BBC Urdu profile went a step further in reporting his confessions. He had told the former chief minister Jam Yousaf (Jam Kamal’s father) that if he did not appoint him as a minister in his cabinet, Bizenjo would revolt and lead a rival faction against him. Threatened by Bizenjo’s warning, Yousaf eventually inducted him as a cabinet minister. Hence, that gives us context on where this selfish mindset comes from and how it has penetrated the province’s politics.

The Middle-Class Delusion 

One can raise objections to Bizenjo’s strategies that, surprisingly, keep landing him in lucrative positions. It is worth mentioning that he manages to avert criticism and scrutiny for his politics by using the sexy tagline of coming from Baluchistan’s “educated middle-class.” The narrative of the Pakistani Establishment using the Baluch tribal elite as allies in their efforts to control Baluchistan is valid and time-tested, but it is no longer trendy. (Countless sardars and nawabs are already in the queue in Baluchistan willing to serve the Establishment if and when provided an opportunity).

With the changing times, recruiting educated members of the Baluch middle class has earned the Establishment plaudits from the media and the civil society. These selections are often misconstrued as Islamabad’s efforts to “empower” and “liberate” the Baluch from the clutches of the “tyrant” and “anti-development” tribal chiefs. This strategy is so effective that it even easily eludes some of the most avid Baluchistan observers. For example, the BBC profile of Bizenjo, cited a widely respected Baluch journalist vouching for the new chief minister by stating: “By belonging to the middle class, he does not have the arrogance and the pride of the feudal loards… when he was the chief minister for six months, he let the bureaucracy work independently. He engaged every member of the assembly because he is a man from the middle class.” 

The Last Flight 

Once the Establishment gets rid of politically aware young Baluchs through various strategies, from enforced disappearance to murder, it ends up bringing the remaining among the brightest into the provincial bureaucracy. For a lot of young people, joining the bureaucracy is their last flight to come out of poverty, raise their socio-economic status, and attain job security and a promised pension for the rest of their lives. They self-identify as realists. “if you are not Akhtar Mengal’s son,” one of them told me while alluding to opportunities in the province’s civil service, “it is safer to become a Section Officer.”  

Once the young Baluch civil servants get into the system, they entirely depend on the pro-establishment provincial government for their promotions, transfer, and posting. If the minister is unhappy with them, they will transfer them to such remote areas that getting to work becomes extremely difficult but returning home even becomes harder. 

Hence, they end up offering unconditional loyalty to the provincial government regardless of who serves as the chief minister. On the other hand, no matter how inexperienced the chief minister is, he will still end up getting the support and the respect of a relatively educated and devoted bureaucracy that does whatever it takes to win the blessings of the Establishment even if it comes at the cost of the sufferings of the local people.

Kamal Is Cool

The political opposition seems to be the biggest loser in the wake of the no-confidence motion against Kamal. Political observers were stunned over their excitement over the infighting between the pro and anti-Kamal camps. They had no bone in the fight but still went on to support the anti-Kamal group by raising victory signs when the former chief minister decided to resign. However, much to their embarrassment, Kamal says he is cool now. He has decided to forget and forgive all of his rivals, including Bizenjo. Keeping all the humiliation and personal grudge aside, Kamal tweeted, “We all as Baluchistan Awami party stand together and firm on all concensus [sic] decissions [sic]…our differences were before my resignation, but not after that…Party has no groupings and we all stand one…my good wishes for Qudoos bezenjo [sic] and Jan Jamali.”

According to Dawn, the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl, Baluchistan National Party-Mengal and Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party and former chief minister Nawab Aslam Raisani, currently an independent, did not participate in the election. The opposition even did not field a candidate against Bizenjo, which reflected its lack of motivation to fight back. 

Alternative Solutions 

An opposition that is either weak or too desperate to be in the good books of the ruling party should concern everyone. As the opposition continues to demonstrate signs of weakness and compromise, we have seen that people have begun to search for solutions to their problems outside the provincial assembly. 

Two recent developments confirm the rise of alternative voices and platforms. 

One, Baluchistan has begun to see the rise of a new firebrand whose voice is increasingly resonating with the poor and angry Baluchs in Gwadar. Maulana Hidayat-Ur-Rehman Baluch, the Provincial General Secretary of Jamat-e-Islami Balochistan, has emerged as an overnight sensation and a social media star for fearlessly leading protest rallies and looking into the eyes of the Pakistani army officials, warning them to stop humiliating the Baluch masses daily. He speaks cogently, just like all the Baluch leaders and activists who once spoke loudly but are dead now. 

Maulana Hidayat-Ur-Rehman Baluch

While listening to him, it is nearly impossible not to think of Manzoor Pashteen, the Pashtun activist that took Pakistan by storm with his vocal protests against the military’s operations and extrajudicial killings of the Pashtuns in the tribal areas and elsewhere. For years, only left-wing activists have been known to lead the Baluch resistance. Just like Pashteen, the Maulana also faces several frequent questions like:

Who is he? 

Where does he come from?

Where was he before?

What does he want?

(Why) is he not afraid? 

How long will he keep going?

Is he an ISI agent?

Are they [the military] going to coopt him? 

Are they going to kill him?

The dramatic rise of a Maulana for people’s rights should caution the Baluch nationalists about their shrinking influence or failure to speak truth to power. Whether you quote Prophet Muhammad or Karl Marx, the ordinary Baluch citizen is willing to embrace you as their leader if you can promise (and deliver) them peace and justice.

Second, recent protests in Quetta against the killing of two young siblings reportedly by the Frontier Corps in Hoshab area of Kech district on October 10 accomplished a breakthrough not through the provincial assembly but a petition filed at the Balochistan High Court (BHC) by Advocate Kamran Murtaza, a former senator from the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam. Consequently, BHC suspended the Kech Deputy Commissioner and several other top officials of the district administration. This was not only another example of people searching for solutions outside the provincial assembly, but it was another instance of an individual from a religious party emerging as the hero and savior of the family seeking justice.

The fact that the Baloch people are increasingly looking at the JI and JUI for justice does not bode well for the Baluch nationalists and progressives that wish to see a limited role of religious parties in society and politics. 

The BAP has, at least temporarily, averted a catastrophic disintegration partly by virtue of Jam Kamal agreeing to support the new chief minister. However, the real challenge the BAP faces is that of its image and reputation. It still needs to repair its brand and present itself not solely as a creation of the Establishment but as a party that genuinely understands Baluchistan’s problems and is committed to fixing them. When Kamal started as the chief minister and began to proactively interact with young people of the province via social media, the Baluch youngsters seemed to be appreciative of that gesture because they had never seen a chief minister in the past being so readily available (Maybe because there was no Twitter then!). Young people, who were less concerned with the philosophical question of whether Kamal was pro or anti-establishment, wanted and widely appreciated the chief minister who was ready and available to listen to their needs and grievances. (Of course, there were also numerous exceptions when he miserably failed to listen to student or doctor protesters). 

As the BAP enters its second life, one thing we should be looking at is what is often described as Bizenjo’s biggest strength: His ability to get along with everyone. That could be counterproductive if it means not making a commitment to hold cabinet ministers accountable for their performance and ensuring fiscal responsibility. Baluchistan needs a chief minister who can lead by example. This is Bizenjo’s time to inspire the youth and serve everyone with compassion.

The writer is the editor of The Baluch Hal



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