People & Society Meteor

Nawab Sanaullah Zehri — Chief concerns

Updated 12 Feb, 2016 04:51pm

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Illustration by Aan Abbas
Illustration by Aan Abbas
The change of guard at the top of the provincial government in Balochistan has, predictably, gone smoothly. On December 23, 2015 Dr Abdul Malik resigned as chief minister and a day later the Provincial Assembly elected Nawab Sanaullah Zehri to fill the slot. Not a single legislator opposed his election which was made necessary by a power-sharing agreement – reached in Murree in the summer of 2013 – between Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PMLN), the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP) and the National Party (NP). Under the agreement, Malik’s NP and Zehri’s PMLN were to have two and a half year tenures each to head a coalition government in Balochistan. It is probably the first time in Pakistan’s history that one chief minister has voluntarily resigned to make way for another.

Now that history has been made, Zehri will have to contend with the present. “Maintaining law and order, converting the contacts established with the Baloch separatists into a structured dialogue process and providing corruption-free governance are the main challenges the new chief minister will face,” says Mir Tahir Bizenjo, NP’s senior vice president.

As a first step, Zehri will have to keep his own party united. Jan Jamali, who resigned as the speaker of the Balochistan Assembly in May 2015, is just one of the potential troublemakers within the PMLN. Even before Zehri’s nomination as chief minister earlier last month, there were at least two other PMLN contenders for the post. “These people may not hesitate from changing their political loyalties,” says Abid Mir, columnist and political analyst, if Zehri is unable to offer them enough sop.

The sop will mostly consist of cabinet portfolios of their choice and access to development funds. While Zehri will be constrained by the Murree accord which gives each of the three coalition partners the same number of ministries they had during Malik’s tenure, he can still shuffle the portfolios around to cut deals with his PMLN challengers. He, however, cannot give all the powerful ministries to his own party’s legislators without antagonising the NP and the PkMAP. The task of forming a cabinet that keeps everyone happy and making the ministers work in a frictionless manner will be the second most important challenge for Zehri to tackle.

That will be immediately followed by the need to continue contacts with separatist Baloch nationalists initiated during Malik’s government. Zehri has been a main actor in that process and has held negations in London with Mir Suleman Dawood, the grandson of Khan of Kalat. Malik, meanwhile, had approached other separatists such as Brahamdagh Bugti.

Zehri will have to stick to a similar arrangement. He will need his coalition partners to reach out to those unwilling to talk to him due to political and tribal differences with him.

Mir says the new chief minister, due to his political style, will find it difficult, if not impossible, to delegate such crucial assignments. Zehri comes from the family of the Nawab of Jhalawan, one of the two deputies of Khan of Kalat before 1948 (the other being the Nawab of Sarawan whose descendent Aslam Raisani was the chief minister of Balochistan between 2008 and 2013). Malik, in contrast, has risen through the political ranks on the basis of his activism as a protégé of Ghaus Bakhsh Bizenjo who was a rare plebeian in the all-chiefs parliament of Kalat before its merger with Pakistan, Mir explains. “One should not expect a continuation of Malik’s polices under Zehri,” he says. “When tribal chiefs come to power, their main objective is to consolidate their personal position.”

Zehri has recently made moves that may win him some much-needed support from other tribal chiefs. He has patched up with the elders of the Mengal and Marri tribes by removing their names as the accused in the killing of his son, nephew and brother in a bomb blast in 2013. According to Mir, however, these moves will only partially determine if Zehri will have a smooth sailing as chief minister.

It is, indeed, the military establishment that determines the fate and the direction of provincial administrations in Balochistan, Mir says. Accepting the establishment’s power was a crucial factor why Malik did not face any political challenges to his government. Zehri will be even more willing to do so given that “most tribal chiefs in Balochistan normally follow the dictates of the establishment,” Mir adds.

This was originally published in the Herald's Annual 2016 issue. To read more, subscribe to the Herald in print.