Out of the blue

August 27, 2023

Ali Mardan Domki’s appointment as caretaker chief minister of Balochistan may have surprised many

Out of the blue


he month of August has seen some significant political developments across the country. The governments and opposition parties engaged in deliberations about caretaker setups to oversee the general elections. In Balochistan, many names were in circulation for caretaker chief minister. Names of potential members of caretaker cabinet were being ‘leaked’, in the false hope, apparently, that this will get them nominated. Hammal Kalmati from the Balochistan National Party Mengal (BNP-Mengal), Naseer Binzejo, a cousin of former chief minister Quddus Bizenjo and Usman Badini were said to be the frontrunners for caretaker CM. Ali Mardan Domki’s appointment as caretaker chief minister has, therefore, come as a surprise for many.

Ali Mardan Domki is not new to politics. He was the district nazim of Sibi from 2005 to 2009. He hosted the then-president Gen Pervez Musharraf at the Sibi Mela, when the confrontation between Musharraf and Nawab Akbar Bugti, the maternal grandfather of Ali Mardan Domki, was at its peak. The Domki family has been securing electoral victories from Sibi for four decades. Dostain Domki, a brother of Ali Mardan Domki, was a member of the National Assembly, and served as a state minister during the 2013-18 Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz government.

Lately, Ali Mardan and his brother had fallen out with Sardar Sarfraz Domki, their first cousin and an MPA from Sibi. Due to this fallout, Ali Mardan Domki remained out of power in Balochistan. Therefore, his sudden entry in the power corridors came as a surprise.

Domki’s appointment was dramatic as well. Negotiations between the outgoing CM, Bizenjo, and opposition leaders from the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (Fazl) leader Malik Sikandar had remained unfruitful. Bizenjo was pressing for his cousin Naseer Bizenjo, the recently elected district council chairman of Awaran. The JUI-F persisted with its choice, Usman Badini, a former MNA. After the deadlock between the CM and the opposition leader, the task was entrusted to a parliamentary committee with three members each from the government and the opposition.

One fine morning, Ali Mardan Domki was seen meeting Prime Minister Anwarul Haq Kakar along with Jam Kamal, the former chief minister, and a political rival of Bizenjo. After this meeting, Domki became one of the opposition’s nominees for chief minister. Bizenjo did not agree to the proposal either. However, in an interesting turn of events, the parliamentary committee agreed on Domki’s name in a late-night meeting not attended by Bizenjo. Later, word got around that the JUI-F supported Domki’s candidature after they were offered significant portfolios in the caretaker cabinet. However, the alleged quid pro quo has yet to materialise.

Domki’s appointment as caretaker chief minister has brought Jam Kamal back into Balochistan’s political landscape. Jam Kamal was elected chief minister of Balochistan in 2018. In late 2021, he was forced out of office through political maneuvering spearheaded by Quddus Bizenjo, who then replaced him.

The appointment of Domki as caretaker chief minister has brought Jam Kamal back into Balochistan’s political landscape. Jam Kamal was elected chief minister in 2018. In late 2021, he was forced out of office through political maneuvering spearheaded by Quddus Bizenjo, who replaced him. Since then, Jam Kamal had been out of the mainstream. However, with Domki’s appointment, Jam Kamal appears to have outmaneuvered Quddus Bizenjo. He is now seen as a leading candidate to be the next chief minister.

So far, Domki has had a smooth ride. His appointment and neutrality as caretaker chief minister have not been contested by any of the major political parties in Balochistan. However, some of his cabinet members have come under intense scrutiny.

One such minister is Dr Qadir Baksh Baloch, the caretaker minister for health and education. He has been a vice chancellor of Mir Chakar Khan Rind University, Sibi. His journey from being a vice chancellor to caretaker education minister, some argue, would not have been possible under normal circumstances. They say rules were relaxed by the caretaker cabinet to allow this. Another reservation regarding Dr Qadir Baksh Baloch relates to his hometown, which is said to be Taunsa, in the Punjab.

Those opposed to the appointment say that it’s only fair that someone from within the province be appointed a provincial caretaker minister. However, supporters of Dr Baloch say that he belongs to the Barkhan district. There has been no official word on this.

Quddus Bizenjo’s performance as chief executive has also come under scrutiny recently. Bizenjo has been criticised for staying up all night and sleeping through the day. It is said that he used to hold meetings at his office at night, often chairing meetings via video conferencing from his home with other participants seated at the CM’s office, barely 50 metres away. Jam Kamal recently taunted Bizenjo in a tweet saying that following Domki’s appointment, the CM’s office has finally opened during the day.

Caretaker governments come with limited mandates, primarily to ensure the holding of free and fair elections. There is little Domki can do to resolve the many problems of Balochistan, mainly related to issues involving the federal government. He will be expected to remain neutral and ensure a level playing field for all political parties. That should be his only legacy as a caretaker chief minister.

The author is a contributing writer for Nikkei Asia based in Islamabad. He tweets at @iAdnanAamir

Out of the blue