The power show in Quetta

November 1, 2020

Despite security threats, PDM leaders hold impressive public gathering in Balochistan

The Pakistan Democratic Movement rally in Quetta last Sunday was a major political event in the city after a long time. It was attended by people from across the province and added to the anti-government momentum.

The government of Balochistan was clearly under pressure from the outset. Initially, it tried to use the bogey of security threats to convince the PDM leaders to postpone the rally. The PDM leaders decided, however, to go ahead with the rally. The government then deployed around 5,000 security personnel to protect the rally. There was a blast on the outskirts of Quetta but it did not deter the PDM leaders or the participants of the rally.

Balochistan has sometimes been treated by the ruling elite as a peripheral territory. Therefore, it was significant that almost all PDM leaders travelled to Quetta to attend the rally. Only PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto missed the in-person attendance being busy in his party’s Gilgit-Baltistan election campaign. Even so, his absence is expected to affect the political stock of the party in Balochistan. The PPP might not able to cash in on the anti-government support in Balochistan in the next elections.

Maryam Nawaz stole the show on several counts. After landing in Quetta, she addressed party workers and met with party leaders who had remained loyal despite tempting offers to do otherwise. Sheikh Jaffar Mandokhail, a PML-Q electable, used the occasion to announce his decision to join the PML-N.

Moreover, in her speech at the rally, Maryam Nawaz talked about the missing persons from Balochistan. It’s a critical issue in Balochistan but some political leaders from other provinces avoid mentioning it. Maryam Nawaz changed that and openly spoke about the problem and highlighted the plight of the families of Baloch missing persons. This earned the PML-N leader a lot of goodwill. Still, many political analysts in the province were withholding judgment on whether she meant what she said about the missing persons or was simply pandering to the crowd.

While Maryam upped the ante by mentioning the missing persons, Nawaz Sharif continued his hard-hitting speeches targeting the top military leadership. This was in harmony with the deprivation narrative echoed by nationalist leaders Akhtar Mengal, Malik Baloch and Mahmood Khan Achakzai. The resonance raised the political temperature in the country. In this sense, the PDM leaders were successful in achieving the objective of the rally.

While PDM leaders were making public speeches, Chief Minister Jam Kamal, who is in isolation on account of a Covid-19 infection, was replying to them on Twitter in real time. A frequent tweeter, the chief minister tried to shame PDM leaders by accusing them of double standards. He accused the PML-N, the PkMAP, and the National Party (NP) of doing nothing for the people of Balochistan when they were in government from 2013 till 2018. He particularly mentioned CPEC projects saying Balochistan was ignored under the PML-N and the PkMAP and the NP looked the other way.

While there was little infrastructure development under CPEC in Balochistan under the PML-N government and the PkMAP and the NP were largely silent about it, CM Kamal can hardly claim high moral ground while making this critique as he too was a federal minister at the time and was similarly tightlipped.

One thing the rally lacked was clear references to problems unique to Balochistan. None of the PDM leaders promised definite solutions to resolve the pressing issues of Balochistan. Besides the insurgency, the pressing problems include rampant unemployment, shortage of gas and electricity supply and a poor road and communication infrastructure.

Feeling the pressure, government members in the Balochistan assembly moved a resolution against the PDM leaders accusing them of making speeches against national security institutions. It was passed without the opposition being allowed to speak on the motion.

The resolution might not count for a lot in the battle for political supremacy in Balochistan. The BAP-led government needs to do a lot to counter the PDM. The best way for the incumbents to deal with the opposition, probably is to deliver good governance where the previous governments failed. It can approach the PTI government at the Centre for an increase in the share of Balochistan in federal infrastructure development projects. Together they can also work on an economic package to help the people of the province deal with the problem of massive unemployment. These are not easy steps to take but this is possibly the best response from the government to the PDM rally in Quetta.

The writer is a journalist and researcher. He can be reached on twitter: @iAdnanAamir.

PDM jalsa: The power show in Quetta