The Balochistan episode

Not learning from history and solving political issues with brute force is intrinsic to the powers to be

The recent blatant political machinations in an unscrupulous manner not only exposed the vulnerability of the democratic order and the heavy handed tactics of the powers to be, it also proved that Balochistan is not only a strategic but a political backyard where controlled political explosion can be carried out any time.

Not learning from history and deciding political question through power and iron fist is intrinsic to the powers to be. Relentless political machinations, alienation and denying people’s right to rule once dismembered this country and the remaining is subjected to perpetual instability and uncertainty.

To achieve their short term political objectives, the powers to be sow the seeds of long term political resentments that grow into a bitter poisonous crop with the passage of time. Instead of giving a healing touch to Balochistan, a soft belly of the federation already bulging with discontent and distrust, was once again subjected to arm twisting and political mistreatment.

The elected chief minister, Nawab Sanaullah Zehri was forced to resign after an engineered defection in his party, the PML-N and subsequent motion for vote of no confidence against him. Notwithstanding what tragic fate his grandfather, Nawab Norooz Khan met, he called himself a Muslim Leaguer, a patriot and a believer in the federation. But his fate was sealed on the day he attended a public meeting with Nawaz Sharif in Quetta on December 2, 2017 which was organized by the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party where he extended unflinching support to Nawaz Sharif.

The recent political engineering of removing Nawab Sanaullah Zehri was caused by his deterring support to Nawaz Sharif’s stance and his refusal to dissolve the provincial assembly. The removal is alleged to be part of the conspiracy to prevent the forthcoming elections of the Upper House to deny majority to the PML-N, destabilize the governments in the Punjab and subsequently in the centre.

Pushing back the praetorian democracy requires political will, force of character and high moral ground. Weak or tarnished credentials beset by political compromises make resistance politics difficult, if not impossible

In the long run, the toppling of an elected Baloch chief minister through such bizarre political engineering has put those Balochi political elements on the defensive that believe in democratic political struggle to attain political and economic rights through provincial autonomy.

It will further inflame the separatists’ radical arguments and stance that such a fragile and controlled democracy, wherein dissenting voices are unacceptable is unable to solve the radical political questions of autonomy.

The defectors and the opposition members were invoking the democratic and constitutional arguments but it did not hold water. Hardly five months to the general election, is the exercise of constitutional right of vote of no confidence to remove a government through dubious political engineering, especially spearheaded by those who were part of it, on the basis of bad governance and poor delivery like building a bridge without water.

A newly formed government under an inexperienced chief minister, who was declared bagging 544 votes only, but that number is also contested and the genuine number of his votes is claimed to be only in double digits (39), can hardly warm up. Principally, it should be left to the people of Balochistan to judge and decide the fate of their representatives after five months. It has been made difficult for the people to judge the performance of three chief ministers during five years and therefore one can say that the constitutional and democratic right of no confidence has been misused by invoking it untimely.

However, this political episode also exposed the dubious characters, weakness and double speaks of some politicians and political parties.  The role of JUI F, BNP M, and ANP and unfortunately of National Party (NP) seems deplorable. The JUI F, a coalition partner in the federal government and opposition in Balochistan, ANP and BNP M took refuge behind the democratic process while the NP remained absent during the election of the  leader of the house. Reportedly, the leaders of these parties admit privately what were the real motives of this upheaval and who engineered it.

The most bizarre aspect of this entire drama is that those parties who voted for the new chief minister after the resignation of Sanaullah Zehri are now claiming to be part of the opposition. And the NP, the erstwhile coalition partner in the provincial government and currently part of the federal government, is so far sitting on the fence.

Ironically, the PPP played a front man role for the powers to be in this machination which not only further dented the democratic credentials of the party but will haunt it for a long time. Zardari seems to be in fierce competition with Imran Khan’s PTI for winning the goodwill of the establishment at any cost in the coming general election.

Same is the case with the JUI F and other parties in Balochistan. Perhaps they do not want to suffer the ire of the establishment in the coming elections and want to play realpolitik instead of resistance politics for representative democracy and civilian supremacy.

The Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP) remained unfaltering during all this upheaval. Its leadership did not compromise on principles even though PkMAP’s parliamentarians were also pressurized and intimated. But they held their ground. PKMAP’s leaders exposed this in a public meeting in Pishin as well as in the parliament.

By now the politicians should have learnt their lesson that flirting with the establishment for short term narrow vested interests further entrenches the anti-democratic forces and discredits politics for which they pay the price later.

Intrinsically the praetorian states create sham politicians and civilian leaders for sustaining praetorian democracy. But it is really unfortunate that political dispensations like those of the PPP degenerate into that category after so much suffering at the hand of the same elements.

Maulana Fazalur Rehman is known for his political opportunism but it is no less an irony that BNP M and ANP are also swept by regional and political considerations and rivalry. Though, the NP has no political stake in the Pakhtun belt in Balochistan, the JUI-F and ANP jump on the bandwagon mostly to make themselves acceptable in the coming election at the cost of PkMAP.

Pushing back the praetorian democracy requires political will, force of character and high moral ground. Weak or tarnished credentials beset by political compromises makes resistance politics difficult, if not impossible.

In the current situation replacing the praetorian democracy with genuine representative democracy without political resistance and sacrifices seems a far cry. It seems that, at least at Balochistan’s level, only PkMAP’s leadership possesses those characteristics. There is no harm in learning from good practices, no matter who established that!

The writer is a political analyst hailing from Swat. Tweets @MirSwat

Published in Daily Times, January 18th 2018.