NationalVOLUME 17 ISSUE # 5

Political instability in Balochistan

Yet again, political instability has rocked the restive province of Balochistan as a kind of rebellion has occurred in the majority Balochistan Awami Party (BAP). Several members of the ruling party have issued an ultimatum to Chief Minister Jam Kamal Khan Alyani to resign. However, the CM stayed put and till the writing of these lines had not resigned. But he may have no other way but to face a no-confidence motion which has been tabled against his government by the opposition as well as many disgruntled members of the ruling party.

According to reports, out of 40 members of the Balochistan Assembly, who previously were backing the government, at least 14 have come out into the open against CM Alyani and decided to vote against him in the no-confidence motion. In another development, some ministers, advisers to the chief minister and parliamentary secretaries, enjoying the near-status of ministers of the ruling party and its allied parties, have tendered their resignations to Balochistan Governor Syed Zahoor Ahmed Agha in a bid to dislodge the government.

It is most likely that in the unfolding situation in Balochistan, CM Alyani would lose his position, however, the formation of a new government would not be at all easy. It would be a big blow to Balochistan, its people and Pakistan, particularly at a time when the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is going at a great pace in the province and the situation in Afghanistan, with which Balochistan shares a long part of Pakistan’s border, is also quite uncertain.

It is important to note that political instability in Balochistan has been a recurring phenomenon for decades and there are certain key reasons for it. The foremost reason has been that Balochistan is a tribal-dominated province where genuine a democratic leadership could not emerge and dominate the political arena as has relatively been the case in the rest of the three provinces making up Pakistan. For instance, in Balochistan certain tribal confederations, like the House of Jalawan and the House of Sarawan, have almost completely dominated the political scene as well as three important and big tribes, like Marri, Mengal and Bugti. Most of the political scene of the province has been dominated by politicians, like Nawab Khair Baksh Marri from the Marri tribe, Sardar Attaullah Mengal and Sardar Akhtar Jan Mengal from the Mengal tribe and Nawab Akbar Bugti from the Bugti tribe. Other important tribes which have provided leaders to Balochistan include Raisani, Zehri, Rind, Bizenjo, Magsi etc. Almost all of these tribes of Balochistan have produced governors, chief ministers and ministers. In a tribe-dominated political culture, it is very difficult to have political stability, because the dynamics of tribalism and that of political stability are in various ways in conflict with each other and can never be fully reconciled. This has been an unfortunate political feature of Balochistan.

The second important cause of political instability in Balochistan has been the policymakers’ negative role in denying the province its rightful share of development and resources. Denying development to Balochistan has been one of the biggest mistakes the policymakers of Pakistan have committed as its negative repercussions have been extremely dangerous for the country. Had Balochistan, which constitutes 42 percent of the land area of Pakistan, been given its share of development by the central governments and the policymakers, the province would have contributed immensely to the overall progress of the country. Balochistan indubitably is the most resource-rich province of Pakistan. It not only has huge deposits of rare metals and materials, like gold and silver, but also colossal deposits of natural gas, coal etc. It also forms a big part of Pakistan’s coastline while the province is of extreme geo-political importance bordering Afghanistan and Iran on the west and has a coastline opening in the Arabian Sea quite close to the Persian Gulf in the south. Keeping in view the immense importance of Balochistan, there should have been a lot of acumen in Pakistan’s power circles not to let the province and its people become disenchanted with Pakistan in any manner. Unfortunately, this has not happened and central power structures of Pakistan deliberately attempted to annoy Balochistan and its inhabitants. More sordidly, instead of addressing the issues of tribalism and its negative impact, the country’s policymakers have been reinforcing the tribal identities and divisions in Balochistan with an aim to manage the province. In other words, they have used the model of divide and rule among key tribes to manage the province. However, it has turned out to be a really bad experience for the country. The handpicked tribal chieftains and leaders instead of providing good governance used the official authority and resources for self-aggrandizement rather than addressing the issues and needs of the people. Consequently, a very strong movement emerged in the lower middle class educated dwellers of Balochistan. The movement slowly and gradually assumed the form of a Baloch nationalist struggle with separatist contours. In response, the state had to launch military offensives to quell the Baloch nationalist-separatist elements. This is yet another wrong approach of the government, because a military offensive to tackle political issues is a sure recipe for disaster and this has really happened in Balochistan. The state not only has lost a considerable amount of writ in Balochistan, claims by the government to the contrary notwithstanding, but also has earned the dislike of people of Balochistan.

From the CPEC point of view, Balochistan is of profound significance. The project route starts from Gwadar, which is in Balochistan, and most of the trade route in Pakistan is situated in the province. There is no doubt that Pakistan’s archrival, India, has been making every possible effort to sabotage the CPEC and for it political instability has been used as a great leverage by Delhi. From this standpoint also Pakistan should have handled the situation very deftly and carefully, so as to deny any space to the enemy to exploit it. However, one is quite sorry to say that Pakistani decision-makers and strategists have not tackled the situation in Balochistan properly which has inflicted heavy damage on the country.

One thinks the state should have gone an extra mile to resolve the reservations and issues of Balochistan and its people. When the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government came to power in August 2018, Prime Minister Imran Khan had great ambitions to address the problems of Balochistan and to bring it into the mainstream. Seeing his commitment, even the strongest Baloch nationalist party, Balochistan National Party-Mengal (BNP-M), joined the PTI’s federal government. It was despite the fact that the BNP in the past had even bid adieu to the national parliament through resignations of its members of the National Assembly and the Senate of Pakistan. Moreover, the BNP-Mengal had joined the PTI government when it was openly believed that the policymakers had undercut parties, like the BNP-M, politically and electorally by creating the BAP before and during the 2018 national elections. However, seeing and feeling that its presence in the government was of no value and consequence for the people of Balochistan, the BNP-M separated from the government. However, it did not move the PTI government.

The present crisis in Balochistan may again be resolved by replacing the chief minister or by making the rebelling BAP and other coalition government members to fall in line by providing them with funds and positions. However, this would only be another window dressing of the grave issues of Balochistan.