Political alignments in Balochistan ahead of the next general elections are a little more than surprising for many
hile apparently disconnected from the hullabaloo of mainstream political crises, the politics in Balochistan never fails to surprise the spectators. It may be the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf vs the rest in the Centre and in north Pakistan, but in Balochistan it appears that things are all set for a Pakistan Peoples Party vs Jamiat-i-Ulema-i-Islam Fazl political match. It’s that time of the five-year political cycle when political realignments, mostly opportunistic, take place.
The JUI-F has received a shot in the arm in the form of Nawab Raisani. His decision to join the party has been a huge morale booster for the rank and file of the JUI-F. Many have already started predicting that Raisani will be the next chief minister of Balochistan. Several other former members of the provincial assembly have also joined the JUI-F amid anticipation that the party will come into power after the next general elections. Maulana Fazalur Rehman left Balochistan a happy person after presiding over a political gathering, where these and other political stalwarts made announcements to join the JUI-F ranks.
A few weeks later, it was the PPP’s turn to welcome some career politicians. Many current and former MPAs flocked to Bilawal House in Karachi and joined the PPP after a meeting with former president Asif Ai Zardari. These included former chief minister Nawab Zehri and MPAs Zahoor Buledi and Arif Muhammad Hassani. The PPP is also eyeing the chief minister’s office in Balochistan.
Meanwhile, the incumbent ruling party, the Balochistan Awami Party, is in disarray. While some of its members have joined the JUI-F and the PPP, others are preparing to join the PML-N. The BAP appears to have exhausted its political life. After the next general elections, its membership may be limited to those unable to find refuge elsewhere.
Shahid Rind, a senior political analyst from Quetta, says that it’s always difficult to predict anything about the political landscape of Balochistan. “In 2008, the PML-Q won 22 seats and the PPP just 7. Still, the PPP formed the government,” he recalls. Rind says more than the numbers in Balochistan, the fortunes of provincial parties are decided by the political climate in Islamabad.
Rind reveals that the PML-N leader from Balochistan, Sheikh Jaffar Mandokhail, has recently met Nawaz Sharif in London. “Mandokhail has come back with messages from Nawaz Sharif for several politicians. We might see several people joining the PML-N as well,” he says.
People feel that the same old faces will be back in power, packaged differently. This belief undermines the sanctity of the electoral process.
These political developments highlight three harsh realities about politics in Balochistan. First, individual politicians are more powerful than political parties. The same individuals, due to their tribal status and wealth, win elections again and again. They can then join the party that is set to take power. That’s why the number of politicians leaving their parties is the highest in Balochistan. The opportunistic individuals are always in the government. This allows them to supplement their wealth.
Second, the so-called national-level political parties have little interest in Balochistan. None of the major political parties, including the PPP, the PML-N and the PTI, has a grassroots political structure in Balochistan. They are not focusing on making political inroads in Balochistan by mobilising the common people. Instead, they accept the electables willing to join their ranks. In 2013, the PPP was completely wiped out from the Balochistan Assembly despite having been in the government over the previous five years. The same thing happened to the PML-N in 2018.
Third, the system lacks political accountability. The politicians can be in government for five years and enjoy all the perks and privileges and then join a government led by another party. These politicians realise that they can be in power regardless and are not motivated or committed to do anything for their constituents. This makes them immune to electoral accountability since they can win their seat, again and again using the wealth they have amassed while in the government.
The political landscape in Balochistan will not change anytime soon. Common people know that they are not the ones who get to decide who will be in the government or opposition. They know that the same old faces will be back in power, packaged differently. This belief undermines the sanctity of the electoral process.
The writer is a journalist covering Balochistan, CPEC, politics and economy. He can be reached on Twitter @iAdnanAamir