QUETTA: Dr Abdul Malik faces unique circumstances in Balochistan’s history, as he happens to be its chief minister at a time that many see as a make-or-break situation. He exudes an odd mix of hopes and fears.
As the ruling National Party’s Mir Kabeer Jan said so aptly, “from here onwards we’ll either swim or sink; we don’t have the luxury to float.” It was difficult to say whether he was saying that about Dr Malik, his party, province or perhaps Pakistan for that matter.
Either way the statement was relevant to all.Dr Maalick is being anxiously watched by the entire Balochistan, Islamabad and Rawalpindi, not to forget the Baloch separatists sitting in London and Geneva. And here we are not talking about regional and international forces that keenly monitor this resource-rich strategically located province.
He has to constantly balance among all these competing and often conflicting interests. If Dr Malik fails this would give the Baloch separatists a chance to say: here you go again! They would have more justification to fight the State and might win back more moderates who still want to give the Constitution a try. Yet his success at delivering on development and curbing State excesses can also encourage the separatists to reap the benefits of reasonable autonomy that the 18th Amendment in the Constitution promises. We already hear from un-denied local news that the Khan of Kalat, Suleman Khan plans to return to Pakistan. We don’t know whether he is coming because he is broke or upset over his only son Mohammad Khan switching sides with the establishment. Mohammad is found justifying his pro-Pakistan stance by frequently quoting his grandfather, Ahmad Yar Khan. The Khan of Kalat at the time of Partition had justified his accession to Pakistan on the premise that the latter was asked by the Prophet
(PBUH) in a dream to join Quaid-i-Azam. Déjà vu-Tahirul Qadri!We also don’t know if Suleman Khan has been encouraged by the State to return or perhaps he is simply sick of living abroad and wants to retrieve his lost mantle as the Khan.
In Islamabad, Nawaz Sharif has chosen Dr Malik over his majority party because he wants peace and stability in his backyard. Sharif knows he does not have a capable chief minister candidate among the 22 PML (N) members that he gathered from other parties just before or after the last elections. He also knows that the Pashtun nationalists led by his favourite PMAP Chief Mahmood Khan Achakzai would not settle on anybody other than Dr Maalick. Achakzai chose to become king-maker instead of having PMAP king (with four more members than NP’s ten) as he knows Balochistan is not ready to absorb a Pashtun chief minister.
So he settled for having his brother as Governor besides pocketing key ministries. This is fine with Nawaz Sharif who also tolerates constant bickering from his party members as long as Dr Malik can keep the troublesome province reasonably stable.
To his good luck, Dr Malik became the chief minister at the heels of a predecessor who has come to be known as Mohammad Shah Rangeela of Balochistan. It was not just about Aslam Raisani’s fads about women heels, fancy motorcycles, strange haircuts and stranger quotes. Balochistan under him went through its worst phase in terms of corruption, governance and the law and order.
Just when Balochistan’s financial share doubled after the NFC in 2010-11 the crime and corruption also doubled. Almost the entire Assembly became part of the Cabinet and siphoned off development funds instead of spending them in cities. Many ministers became part of the crime mafia and were involved in murders, kidnappings, land grabbing through their choicest officers in the field. Quetta became a ghost town as nobody got out after sunset. It was worse in other districts.
The writ of the state got challenged as the Baloch insurgents filled the vacuum. Good civil officers refused to come to Balochistan and the local administration stopped functioning.
Unsurprisingly, the province was virtually left to the Frontier Corps, which was not trained for the new role. The forces employed the only way they knew to fight the insurgency. The security agencies used excessive force through their kill and dump policy that fueled the insurgency further. Violence was never so bad even in the three earlier Baloch insurgencies.
Dr Malik and the return of Baloch and Pashtun nationalists to electoral politics have definitely brought the much-needed breather. The only way that Dr Malik could go from the pits was up. Things have much changed since then. Life is pretty close to normalcy except for troubled districts. Governance has improved drastically as Dr Malik resists political appointments in administration and seeks good officers from other provinces. The FC strength stands reduced to almost one-sixth as the civil administration takes over. Many criminal gangs have been busted. Home secretary Akbar Durrani claimed that out of the 22 high profile kidnapping in the year 17 got detected. He also acknowledges that the Operation Zarb-e-Azb has denied the kidnappers safe havens. The overall crime is down by 70 per cent.
But the biggest challenge for Dr Malik remains the official kidnappings and the continued policy of dumping bodies. The figures have come down but the policy is still on. Will he be able to heal this most sensitive wound that will define Dr Malik character?
Many say that Malik has got the chance that even Sardar Attaullah Mengal, the first chief minister after the first Balochistan elections in 1970, never got this historic chance to turn around Balochistan politics. Yes, Attaullah had edge over Maalick as he was had the NAP majority in the Balochistan Assembly. The NAP was the last time when nationalist forces got together with religious forces and had appeal all over the country, including Lahore and Karachi. Attaullah was also backed by most Balochistan Sardars, nationalists, mullahs, except Nawab Akbar Bugti. But he was seen suspiciously by Islamabad (read Bhutto) and Rawalpindi, which got his government down within two years.
On the contrary, Dr Malik is the chief minister just because he is supported by Islamabad and Rawalpindi. The issue is: what will he have to give in return for this favour or will he extract more using his unique position? Or there can be a win-win middle way of two-way traffic. Everybody is watching you, Doc.
December 18, 2014