QUETTA: The scene outside the Balochistan Assembly exemplifies the unique reality of the crisis-torn province. Every thing around here is tense.
Convoys of high-powered luxury vehicles (SUVs) with tinted glasses and bulletproof armour are lined up along the Assembly fence. It is a no-man’s land for common folk as long as the Assembly is in session. The ever-vigilant guards have their eyeballs constantly rotating for any abnormal movement that can be a possible threat; every person coming their way is a potential suicide bomber. No time is wasted in whisking away the MPAs from their armoured vehicles to the Assembly building. Almost every MPA carries a fleet of three to ten SUVs and 10 to 30 guards, depending on his prestige and perception of threat.
The spectacle of private militias, armed with heavy weaponry, their faces covered with dusty masks, evokes an eerie feeling. Nowhere in the world will you see such display of lethal arms by people who call themselves public representatives. It looks like a scene straight from a Western cowboy movie. Welcome to Balochistan!
But you can’t blame the local MPAs for showing off such armory. Many of them face threats from Taliban and sectarian extremists; others fear Baloch insurgents; and still others are afraid of criminals on the hunt for high-profile kidnappings. But most fear each other. Many of them nurture long-running feuds of blood involving dozens of killings on each side. Some have cases of murders kidnappings, land-grabbing registered against each other.
It was funny that the Balochistan Assembly was requisitioned on the issue of “worsening law and order situation.” Half of Balochistan’s security issues will be resolved if the local parliamentarians resolve their tribal feuds, throw out criminals from their private militias and give up their lethal weaponry. Even funnier was that the Assembly session was called not just by the JUI opposition but the biggest party in the ruling coalition, the PML (N). And the funniest thing was that the person who staged a walkout for the ‘worsening’ law and order happened to be the big boss of, well, the law and order ministry, Sarfraz Bugti.
You might wonder how PML-N’s home minister can protest against the performance of his own ministry. Another pertinent question is why they couldn’t resign if they were so upset over the state of their own government. Even more intriguing is the fact that those who requisitioned the session against the government were in majority. It sounded reasonable when JUI’s Maulana Waseh suggested that when 37 members in a House of 65 called a session against the government this should constitute as a vote of no confidence. If the PML (N)-JUI (F)-PML (Q) combine have a majority why don’t they make their own government and have their own chief minister, one may ask.
But then politics in Balochistan is not so simple. The PML (N) is the biggest party in numbers but that does not make it the most important party. In fact, it is hardly a political party as most of its 22 members joined it either just before the last elections or after it. They are the same bunch of mostly Sardars and Khans who have been with every government for the last few decades.
Every body knows that Dr Maalick is the only plausible choice for Islamabad and Rawalpindi besides being backed by Pashtun nationalists represented by Mahmood Khan Achakzai’s PMAP (14 members) and Baloch nationalists represented by his own National Party (10 members). Nawaz Sharif chose Dr Malick over his own party not just because of his generous heart. Dr Maalick suits him as a moderate who has a better chance of maintaining stability in Balochistan. Things got worse in the last government as Baloch and Pashtun nationalists boycotted the 2008 elections. Also, PML (N)’s best bet Sardar Sanaullah Zehri is the last person who can deliver peace and stability. He has got blood rivalry with half of Baloch tribes with many cases of murder registered by his own brothers and cousins. He personifies everything that was bad about the previous government.
It is not an ideal situation in Balochistan. The pattern of kidnappings and body dumping may have slowed but is far from over. Pockets of insurgency and trouble areas in Kharan, Panjgur, Khuzdar, Qalat, Dera Bugti and Kohlu remain explosive and volatile. Yet every body acknowledges that it is much better than it was during the previous government when the same rabble-rousers, Sardar Sanaullah Zehri and JUI members, held almost the same ministries. Life is back to pretty normal in Quetta, which houses 33 per cent population of Balochistan. The city that used to get closed after dusk has most bazaars opened till midnight. Most educational institutions are open in and around Quetta. Frontier Corps (FC) pickets are gone, except for entry and exit points. Dr Maalick was not wrong when he quoted figures given to him by the rebellious home ministry. Crime is down by almost one-third. Criminal incidents are down from 234 in 2013 to 151 in 2014. The number of 156 people killed in 2014 is disturbing by any standards but it is down from 357 in 2013.
So why create so much fuss if the political situation has stabilised and the PML (N) honchos in Balochistan know they can’t have Dr Maalick removed. Elementary, dear readers. Most of these rabble-rousers who were part of the previous dispensation are accustomed to old ways in Balochistan. There was a one-member opposition and the rest were all ministers with unbound powers. Everybody got over Rs250 million in annual development schemes most of which were siphoned off. The NAB files are loaded with massive corruption charges. Almost all had persons of their choice appointed from DCOs and DPOs down to SHOs and clerks. This played havoc with governance and the law and order. They want those perks and privileges back desperately.
They already have the choicest ministries of communications and works, home, buildings and roads, mines and minerals, to name a few, but they want more.
So even if they can’t have their own government they raise a storm in a teacup every month or so to blackmail Dr Maalick and Nawaz Sharif to let them have their ways. It is a pattern that keeps happening again and again. A crisis is created; the Assembly session is called and critical speeches are made; the central government is pressured to intervene. Nawaz Sharif is forced to send emissaries to resolve the so-called crisis and Dr Maalick is summoned in Islamabad for a little dressing. All of this forces Dr Maalick to ease-up on some standards of governance and administration that he is trying to set up.
Already, he is giving roughly Rs350 million annually to most government MPAs in the name of development. The only difference is that this time around the members have to name schemes first at the planning stage instead of direct allocation. But ways and means have been found for short cuts. One way is to have the schemes implemented through development authorities, which they can pay in lump sums. Dr Maalick is also gradually giving in to their choices of field transfers and postings.
Here is DR Maalick’s dilemma. Either he can have good governance or he can appease his MPAs. But under the circumstances he hardly has a choice. The scene outside the Balochistan Assembly is unlikely to change.
December 17, 2014