February Issue 2008
Boycott in Balochistan
Election fever is unlikely to hit Balochistan. The major nationalist parties, including the Pakhtoonkhawa Milli Awami Party, the Balochistan National Party-Mengal and the National Party, have decided to boycott the 2008 elections, insisting that free and fair elections are impossible in the absence of an independent judiciary. The only significant parties still contesting the polls are those which formed a coalition government in the province in 2002: the PML-Q, JUI-F and BNP-Awami. Their popularity in the province, however, has fallen sharply since the last elections because of the army operation launched during their tenure, coupled with their failure to provide economic uplift for the Baloch population.
It is believed that the nationalist parties’ decision to boycott the polls will adversely affect voter turnout and give greater legitimacy to those nationalists who want to quit parliamentary politics. Political observers are also of the view that the nationalist parties could have taken advantage of the favourable political environment and made headway in the province, especially since their effort to initiate a countrywide boycott of the elections failed. But as Mehmood Khan Achakzai, the head of Pakistan Oppressed Nations Movement and convenor of the All Parties Democratic Movement, says, “Politicians have always been blaming the judiciary for legalising the unconstitutional steps of dictators. But after 60 years, judges of the superior judiciary showed courage for the first time in the history of Pakistan and rendered a big sacrifice for democracy and politicians. Now it is the duty of politicians and political parties that they should stand behind those judges who did not take oath under the PCO.”
Meanwhile, the JUI-F has been unable to stand united and a faction within the party, calling itself the “ideological group,” is fielding its own candidates for four National Assembly and 21 provincial assembly seats. This faction is opposed to Maulana Muhammad Khan Sherani, the provincial amir of the JUI-F, for moulding the policies of the MMA in favour of Musharraf, contrary to the alliance’s manifesto.
Some sources said that Maulana Muhammad Khan Sherani played a vital role in paving the way for the passage of the 17th Amendment legalising Musharraf’s Legal Framework Order. “I have great respect for Maulana Muhammad Khan Sherani,” said Musharraf during a gathering last year at the Governor’s House in Quetta. Because of this, Sherani is being viewed as anti-Taliban by the pro-Taliban faction within the JUI-F.
The PML-Q and its ally BNP-Awami are expected to benefit from this inter-party friction. The PML-Q is also likely to take advantage of the boycott in the Baloch-populated areas, particularly in the Kalat and Mekran zones as well as much of Quetta. These areas were regarded as strongholds of the nationalists. Meanwhile, the Pashtun areas of Balochistan are expected to be dominated by the JUI-F, with the ANP not expected to put up a strong showing.
The field, according to observers, has been further tilted in favour of the pro-establishment parties in the run-up to the election. The JUI-F faced a difficult situation following a Supreme Court verdict, on the eve of previous local bodies’ elections, stating that without passing English, Urdu and Pakistan Studies the certificates of religious seminaries would not be equal to matric, intermediate, graduation and post graduation. “There was a general impression that the JUI-F would face serious difficulties over the issue of certificates from religious seminaries, but despite that all candidates of the JUI-F were allowed to contest elections, ignoring the verdict of the Supreme Court,” said an observer.
A PML-Q candidate attached what is believed to be a fake certificate from Karachi University in his nomination papers for the Senate elections in 2002. He is completing his term on that certificate. Now he is a candidate for the general elections, but instead of attaching the previous certificate he has attached another certificate from the same university with his nomination papers. Objections to his candidacy were raised, but he was allowed to contest the election. Additionally, says a source, “An independent candidate could not read his certificate from a religious seminary, which was written in Arabic, when asked to do so at a responsible forum. But despite that his nomination papers were accepted.”
The nomination papers of some PML-Q candidates were also accepted while they were not eligible to contest elections under NAB rules, but Ghulam Akbar Lasi, a PPP candidate, was disqualified on the same grounds.
Sarfaraz Ahmed Bugti, a PPP candidate for NA-265 (Dera Bugti-Sibi and Kohlu) as well as PB-24 Dera Bugti, was stopped from filing his nomination papers. An intelligence agency is reported to have brought in its favourite, Tariq Masoori, a nominee of the PML-Q, in an attempt to have him elected unopposed to the provincial assembly seat.
In a constitutional petition filed in the Balochistan High Court, Sarfaraz Bugti submitted that he was detained by an officer of the agency who did not allow him to file his nomination papers within the stipulated period. The court allowed him to file his papers for both seats after it was confirmed that he was detained under the Maintenance of Public Order Law.
The local press in Balochistan is filled with allegations that a large amount of money was given to former members of the Balochistan Assembly belonging to the PML-Q, BNP-Awami and other pro-Musharraf members for initiating development work on the eve of elections. “Members of the PML-Q and its allies were given Rs1.6 billion on the pretext of initiating development works to ensure their success in the next elections,” disclosed Shafiq Ahmed Khan, a former PPP MPA.
Many observers are also raising questions about the impartiality of the caretaker government in the province, some of whose members were office bearers of the PML-Q before their induction in the provincial caretaker cabinet.