Balochistan Continues To Be A Thorny Issue By Farhan Bokhari, Special To Gulf News

It is difficult to exactly predict either Raisani’s own fate or the likely character of a future post-Raisani regime

Pakistan’s south-western Balochistan province was yet again surrounded by mounting political turmoil in the past week in a hardly surprising development. The latest turn of events comes from Nawab Aslam Raisani, the Chief Minister, who is facing growing attacks from within his own Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), the elected legislature of the province and the Supreme Court.

In any other democracy, Raisani, who is armed with a reputation of spending more time outside the province than managing his native region’s complex affairs, may have felt compelled to step down. But then Pakistan is far from a perfect democracy, notwithstanding the frequent claims to fame from its elected leaders.

The latest twist to the crisis began when the provincial chapter of the PPP in Balochistan suspended Raisani’s membership of the party, following allegations of incompetence and corruption. The move followed a finding by Pakistan’s Supreme Court, which declared that the government had stopped functioning in Balochistan.

Raisani’s response is indeed to demand calling a session of the provincial legislature, allowing him an opportunity to prove his majority. It is a feeble move which not only bypasses the main issues confronting the chief minister, but also fails to tackle the depth of the crisis.

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Pakistanis who have travelled to Balochistan have found it way too backward even by comparison to the country’s unimpressive development standards. Anecdotal evidence spanning over years suggests that the province is surrounded by the poorest quality of governance seen anywhere across Pakistan, while corruption-tainted power corridors in the ruling structure are easily overwhelming.

For the moment, it is difficult to exactly predict either Raisani’s own fate or the likely character of a future post-Raisani regime if the chief minister is forced out. But within this perennially crisis-ridden province lies a much deeper challenge surrounding Pakistan.

For more than four years since the PPP came to rule over Pakistan under the watch of President Asif Ali Zardari, some of the country’s key parameters have just headed southwards. A crisis of governance all over has deepened with controversies ranging from rampant corruption to blatant disregard for the rule of law. In Balochistan’s case, many among the ruling party often cite events following the controversial 2006 death of Nawab Akbar Bugti, a prominent nationalist leader, as the main instigator of instability. Bugti’s killing during the tenure of former president Pervez Musharraf remains a divisive matter indeed. Since then, an already raging nationalist insurgency has gathered momentum while calls from elsewhere across Pakistan, urging Balochistan’s native population to accept to remain within the national fold, have largely fallen into deaf ears.

Yet, events following Bugti’s death alone must not be taken as the prime source of the prevailing instability. It would indeed be a mistake to isolate events in Balochistan from trends surrounding the rest of Pakistan. Amid slippages in an already fragile system under Zardari, Pakistan continues to bleed badly. A quick review of key economic parameters says much about an overall appalling state of affairs.

With popular confidence in government apparently at its lowest ebb ever in Pakistan’s history, it is not surprising that many Pakistanis will see events in Balochistan as probably more of the same. Yet, Raisani’s ultimate political fate could finally mark a badly needed moment of redemption for Pakistan’s rapidly worsening political situation. If indeed he goes down politically, as a consequence of the growing list of controversies surrounding his rule, at least a first-ever precedence will be set of a prominent political leader having paid the price for his deeds.

As for the PPP-led ruling order under Zardari, tragically, not much is likely to change. The past four years of democratic rule under the PPP have been disappointing. In sharp contrast to the years of military rule preceding Pakistan’s return to democracy in 2008, the economy has far from flourished while politics has become focused on protecting individual personalities rather than public interests. It is truly a sad reflection on a state of play which should have indeed lifted Pakistan’s prospects after a period of stifling military rule.

In Islamabad, until recently, the ruling structure’s prime obsession was to defend Zardari against reopening of corruption-related investigations against him in Switzerland. In this background, it will be surprising if elected leaders, including provincial chief ministers, feel compelled to consider the public’s interest as their duty number one rather than protecting personal interests.

Farhan Bokhari is a Pakistan-based commentator who writes on political and economic matters.

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