battle baloch-2

The writer looks at the political scenario in Balochistan post-Elections.

Congratulations to all of Pakistan for holding perhaps the most intense and important elections in its history!

The tiger of PML-N well and truly roared, while the cricket bat of PTI can be held high with a respectable score. The arrow of PPP needs a new bow, while the Kite of MQM struggled to fly in the battering winds of change.

But since this is Pakistan, accusations of rigging have been flying around – both legitimate and ridiculous. Much like how many cricket fans automatically label any Pakistani loss on the pitch as ‘match fixing’.

So what about Balochistan? Few people gave elections in Balochistan the attention it deserved – mostly out of ignorance and indifference. But as I had pointed out in my previous piece, the elections in Balochistan will have a major long-term impact on the Pakistani federation.

As expected, no single party swept the polls in Balochistan the way other provinces witnessed for both National and Provincial Assemblies seats.

Owing to fears of lower turn out in Baloch areas, threats of violence on voters and polling staff, and sparse population in most areas the ECP could not announce the official results in Balochistan until 4-5 days after the polls had already closed!

The bulk of the 50 (out of 51) provincial constituencies were shared between the PML-N, the Pashtun nationalist Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP), and the ‘moderate’ Baloch nationalist National Party (NP).  PML-N and PkMAP were tied at 9 seats each, while NP secured 7 seats. A significant amount of seats (8) were won by independent candidates – most of whom have joined PML-N. This makes PML-N the largest party in the Balochistan Assembly.

The National Assembly results from Balochistan showed a similar story. PkMAP and JUI-F dominated the results by grabbing 3 seats each from largely Pakhtun areas as well as Quetta. Independents won 4 seats, while PML-N, NP, BNP-M secured a seat each. Election results from NA-269 (Khuzdar) remain withheld by the ECP, though it’s likely BNP-M will secure this seat.

It was an encouraging sign to see the Pashtun and Baloch nationalists make a strong comeback in the elections after their 2008 boycott. PkMAP and NP should be pleased with their overall performance as they are likely to form a coalition government with PML-N in Balochistan. As with the provincial seats, most independents have decided to sit with the PML-N in the National Assembly in Islamabad. This again makes PML-N the largest contributor of lawmakers from Balochistan.  JUI-F has been desperate to become part of any coalition, but PkMAP’s mistrust of them would be too much for PML-N to risk.

Mehmood Khan Achakzai will surely be pleased to see PkMAP dominating the Pashtun vote and putting their bitter rivals JUI-F to the sword after his party had boycotted the 2008 polls. PkMAP also managed to get significant votes from the ‘settler’ communities openly targeted by Baloch militants.

In Quetta, the Hazaras defied the threats of violence from Lashkar-e-Jhangvi terrorists and came out in droves to vote in various Quetta constituencies. The Hazara vote was divided between the Hazara Democratic Party (HDP) and the religious MWM.

But who will lead the next provincial government? Events around this question are being followed with much intrigue especially after the unceremonious suspension of previous Chief Minister Nawab Raisani. Names of potential new Chief Ministers have emerged, with PML-N likely to have the final say. Chief of Jhalawan, Sardar Sanaullah Zehri had initially emerged as a hot favourite among PML-N ranks.  There were whispers that maybe a Pashtun CM could be appointed owing to PkMAP’s position in the expected coalition. However, now there is a greater possibility of a Pashtun governor – to bring an ethnic parity in the coalition.

Numerous writers have expressed strong reservations about Zehri becoming CM. Noted journalist Malik Siraj Akbar considers Zehri worse than his predecessor, Nawab Aslam Raisani – Chief of Sarawan – due to his confrontational politics. Prospects of revenge against the Mengals, after he had accused them of killing his son, brother, and nephew, make him a less desirable choice in the eyes of many. Instead, despite having fewer seats than PML-N, NP’s Dr Abdul Maalik Baloch has been put forward as a more sensible candidate for the big honcho’s seat in the Provincial Assembly. This is mostly because of  his middle class roots, sensible politics, and fair amount of respect among various ‘moderate’ Baloch nationalist factions.

Another PML-N man, Nawabzada Jangez Marri – son of veteran Baloch rebel leader Nawab Khair Bakhsh Marri – has also been eyeing the CM position in Quetta. Because of the strong reservations around Sanaullah Zehri, it has emerged that Jangez Marri could be given the spot to help initiate a fresh reconciliatory approach to ending the Balochistan crisis.

So where does that leave Sardar Akhtar Jan Mengal and his BNP-M? Despite the hype from gurus in the media like Hamid Mir on Mengal’s return to politics and potential of creating a coalition, his party’s limited political activity over the years showed at the polls. BNP-M only won 1 seat in National Assembly (NA-272, Kech-Gwadar) and 2 seats in provincial assembly; PB-35 Khuzdar-III (Akhtar Mengal’s home constituency) and PB-51 Gwadar. Facing the embarrassment of defeat, the former Chief Minister did what any self-respecting politician in Pakistan would do: rejected the results and raised a stink over alleged rigging by the monster under everyone’s bed, the Establishment. However, as Malik Siraj Akbar points out, Mengal should avoid further cribbing, accept the results, and work towards greater BNP-M grassroots activity the way NP had been doing in Baloch areas (esp. the troubled Makran region).

Many people have largely agreed that actual rigging was likely minimal in Balochistan, yet some still argue that the elections were ‘controlled’ given the way the results panned out across Pakistan to maintain a certain status quo. It seems that the ‘Establishment’ (civil-military bureaucracy + intelligence agencies) preferred a more hands-off approach to the matter knowing well what would happen. Had they been really as proactive in manipulating the elections, as Akhtar Mengal claims, then the allegedly ISI-backed brothers Shafiqur Rehman and Attaur Rehman Mengal, of the pro-state Baloch Musalah Difah Tanzeem, would not have finished second best in Kalat and Khuzdar  respectively.

Much like Akhtar Mengal, the Jamhoori Watan Party (JWP) factions led by the various heirs of Nawab Akbar Bugti also blamed the establishment for their electoral failures.  However, it was highly unlikely that either Nawab Bugti’s estranged son Talal or grandson Mir Aali (current Bugti Nawab), who don’t even live in Dera Bugti, would have made an impact on polls. Similarly, the family of the Khan of Kalat also faced defeats in the elections.

I certainly hope that whoever takes over the government in Quetta grows a pair and help alleviate the suffering and deprivation of the common Baloch. Immediate efforts are needed to help facilitate their integration and prosperity with the rest of Pakistan. It is also hoped that the federal government and various institutions (esp. the Armed forces) ensure that things run smoothly for benefit of the common man rather than their own specific agendas.

I strongly believe that only a reconciliatory approach can help not only protect the Federation but also insure that the rights and identities of citizens in Balochistan are protected. Only then can Pakistan progress and prosper.