As the July end, most probably within the first half of 2019, Balochistan government will have completed almost a year in office following the successful transfer of power after the July general elections:the first elections in the history of the country that took place following a successful transition of the elected government having completed five years in office. The Chief Minister Jam Kamal put together a coalition government.
Despite rigging claims by parties including JUI-F, elections in Balochistan are viewed as good omen for the long but bumpy ride of democracy in the province’s 70 years of history where it has seen several governor rules and abrupt dissolution of assemblies.
Balochistan’s current democratic polity has presided over some improvements yet will remain beset with several key challenges.
- The past provincialgovernments continued to struggle for their voices to be heard on issues like “missing persons”. An issue that was politically exploited by ethnic nationalist groups to appease their base and get some degree of support from ethnic terrorist groups operating out of Iran and Afghanistan. The last two elected cheif ministers held that they were powerless in impressing other institutions of the state to be in aligned with the provincial governments in fighting insurgency and the law and order situation in the province. However, Jam Kamal government has a complete support of the security institutions and it has tackled the issue head on. This is why today the issue of missing person is dying in terms of accurate nos. Few individuals having accounted as missing, the rest of statistics remain unproved. The ethnic nationalists have failed to substantiate their claims by providing the details of the family members and the background of the “missing persons”. In other words, apart from few, families have not come out in droves to back their claims. The issue will likely only be left out for propaganda narrative of ethnic nationalists whose favourite game is to whip security institutions in Balochistan by blaming them for “missing persons” bogey.
- Provincial government’s claims of zero tolerance on corruption and nepotism will come to roast once it starts spending development funds through bureaucracy. The Chief Executive of the province Jam Kamal enjoys good reputation as a clean man. There are claims that for the first time, the provincial government has checked corruption in its departments and has sought to chase ghost development schemes. But the government will be judged by the degree of acceptance of accountability or evasion of scrutiny by the concerned departments like NAB and anti-corruption bodies.
- In Balochistan, the perception of “judicial activism” (stemming from “assertive” judiciary) witnessed over the life of last government, likely a challenge to the authority of the present government as well. The courts were hard on the provincial government during the last year and stopped all development funds which were being spent by provincial bureaucracy mainly, under the garb of corruption. Chunk of funds were to be surrendered—a phenomenon which has become a regular occurrence over the life of several governmentsleaving the province in the lurch. It is hoped that the perception of executive seen to be weak and constrained by other more powerful pillar of the state— “assertive” judiciary— paves way for the reality of collaborative
- Balochistan’s security environment has improved—far better then 2009 when the state lost its writ— but the ebb and flow of geo-politics in its neighbourhood and resulting proxy game to subvert CPEC and destabilise Balochistan continues to materially affect the security of the province. In other words, the government continues to experience a degree of violence led by proxy outfits dressed up as insurgency and sectarian strife but actually the foot soldiers of regional countries to carry forward an agenda of sabotage and subversion. Afghanistan situation has a direct bearing on Balochistan. If Pakistan, Afghanistan and India are not on the same page, asymmetric militancy might see an upsurge, as it will be used as enhanced leverage. The reconciliation effort across the border between the Afghani Taliban and the US, on one hand, and the Afghan Taliban and the Kabul government, on the other hand, will likely help end sanctuaries in the border region of Afghanistanalong Balochistan.Yet the over all situation is manageable following the fencing of Afghan border. In the next two years, Iran border will also be fenced directly impacting law and order but positively in further South of Balochistan. The provincial government will be better placed to undergo police modernisation programe expanding its reach to other areas on the province.
- However, on sectarian issue, a most complicated scene can visit Balochistan if the US and Iran go to war in potentially second Trump Administration. Co-incidentally, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia might see their convergence in Afghanistan as an opposite camp to Tehran. Balochistan government as a result might witness an enhanced leverage on extremist groups by the regional contest which may likely unfold.
- Balochistan will likely to be on the confluence of another regional oil game between the far eastern powers and Iran, on the one hand, and the US and Middle Eastern countries, on the other hand. Rival ports like Chabhar, Dubai, and Muscat have competing interests in the supply of oil, gas and energy imports connecting Central Asia, Middle East with Europe through their established routes. If Gawadar continues to be developed, it will soon open communication lines for China’s energy imports into the Middle East and far beyond thus likely to become a hub of commerce and trade eventually discomforting regional rival ports and setting off insecurity and fear of losing out. The net effect will likely be again for them less incentive in peace and tranquility in Balochistan.
- On the supply side, government has struggled to provide jobs to unemployed youth who remain potential target for recruitment of rival agencies to serve as foot soldiers for carrying out their agenda. It is believed that more the 10,000 youth militants are trapped in Syria—chunk of which hails from Balochistan. The ICRC is putting pressure on Pakistan to take them back along with families. It poses great security dilemma for our security institutions who are already stretched thin in counter terrorism effort. So far most of the claims of job creation are cosmetic and confined to public pronouncements for calming critics and media clamouring.
- Reports of criminality including mafias controlling kidnapping for ransom, robberies and land grabbing have come down but will likely to continue as the provincial government has serious capability and strategy issue to deal with.
One can empathise with the current government as it is facing not only governance challenges but is operating in a hard geo-political neighbourhood compounding policy and security choices on the whole compared to any other provincial government in the country.
Unfortunately, it is less likely to alleviate the problems of common men/women meaningfully who face power shortages, inflation and governance related problems on daily basis in Balochistan yet they are resilient in the face of enormous odds.
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