A seminar brings together unhappy leaders from the main political parties amid speculations
Quetta: The only solution of Balochistan’s burning issues lies in free, fair and transparent elections, leading to the setting up of a truly representative government which could restore the confidence of the people and bring the young Baloch rebels back into the political mainstream.
This was the main takeaway of a seminar recently held in Quetta under the auspices of Balochistan Peace Forum, headed by former Senator and ex-provincial minister, Nawabzada Lashkara Raisani. It was part of a series of seminars that some of the top “political rebels” plan to hold across the country.
Titled ‘Reimagining Pakistan’, the seminar series is focused on the idea that “Pakistan doesn’t work for an overwhelming majority of people, (so) we need to re-imagine a Pakistan that delivers a better life for all Pakistanis”.
The so-called “rebel leaders” who co-hosted the Quetta seminar included two estranged leaders of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) – former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbassi and former finance minister, Miftah Ismail – and one ex-Senator of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), Mustafa Nawaz Khokar.
Abbasi is said to have felt hurt by the party supremo, Mian Nawaz Sharif, who ignored him for the prime ministerial slot despite his experience as a former premier, and instead nominated his brother, Shabaz Sharif. More recently, Mian Sharif elevated his daughter, Maryam Nawaz, to the position of the party’s senior vice-president, a position Mr Abbasi was already holding. So, he resigned the office, without quitting the party. Miftah Ismail, too, hasn’t quit the PML-N yet, but he probably felt humiliated when he was replaced by Senator Ishaq Dar as the federal finance minister, and has since been expressing his resentment in the TV talk shows.
Mustafa Khokar, meanwhile, quit the PPP when the party refused to give him a full-fledged ministry, and instead offered him a minister-of-state slot.
These three ‘rebel leaders’, and some other politicians of their ilk, have embarked on a campaign to infuse the narrative of democratic conduct within the political parties, and also extend it to the mass level so as to ensure the supremacy of parliament, the independence of judiciary and a free media.
The Quetta seminar
In their speeches, they categorically declared that all major political parties had failed to address the main issues of the people, and were therefore responsible for pushing the country into the current state of turmoil and chaos. They vowed to mobilize public opinion against the prevailing political culture by continuing to hold such seminars and gatherings.
A seminar that they recently held in Peshawar failed to attract much public interest and participation. But the one in Quetta was comparatively well-attended, and the participants weathered Quetta’s freezing cold season for eight hours to hear out the speakers and applaud their efforts.
There were two sessions of the seminar, first for the local speakers and the second for guest speakers. More than twenty speakers addressed the seminar. They included experts from the fields of politics, legal fraternity, journalism, agriculture, business, bureaucracy etc. The local speakers apprised the visiting politicians about the prevailing situation in the country. They underlined the federal government’s “step-motherly attitude” towards Balochistan, which was the main cause behind the spread of rebellious tendencies among the educated youth.
They also highlighted other problems, such as the absence of clear procedures to ensure transparent elections. This often led to what they termed the “electoral success of the selected individuals”. Besides, they were critical of the recent crackdown on peaceful protesters of the Haq Do Tahrik in Gwadar. They said that when people were not given their democratic right to elect their representatives and hold peaceful protests for their genuine rights, they would then have to find other ways for their survival.
The three co-hosts of the seminar endorsed these sentiments in their speeches, and said that successive federal governments had adopted the policy of ignoring the genuine issues of Balochistan, which led to the prevailing law and order situation and an on-going armed insurgency.
In his speech, Shahid Khaqan Abbassi said that when he was the federal minister for petroleum, he had offered the then Balochistan government to take over the Sui gas resources and start managing the affairs of gas companies on its own, but no one was ready to avail that opportunity. This, he said, was mainly because of the routine election rigging which prevents the genuine political parties from reaching the parliament and take over the control of Balochistan’s natural resources.
A new pro-Establishment party?
As the ‘rebel leaders’ try to build a momentum for their narrative, there are speculations that a new political party is being launched by the disgruntled elements of major political forces. Some even go to the extent of claiming that the ‘establishment’ may be behind this move.
The speculations are mainly triggered by the coming together of a number of prominent politicians who have either become vocal against their leadership over certain issues – such as Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Miftah Ismail – or those who have quit their parties – such as Khwaja Mohammad Khan Hoti, Mir Humayun Kurd, and the seminar’s host, Haji Lashkari Raisani.
Mr Raisani started out as a member of the Pakistan National Party (PNP), led by a respected Baloch nationalist, Mir Ghaus Bux Bizenjo, and won 1993 elections on the PNP ticket. He then moved to the PPP and was elected to the Senate. After developing differences with the PPP supremo, Asif Ali Zardari, he parted ways with the party and joined BNP. He contested the 2018 elections on BNP ticket but lost to Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI)’s Qasim Suri with a narrow margin. He challenged the results in court, but the case lingered until the PTI MPs resigned from the parliament last year. During this period, he quit BNP and switched to welfare activities, collecting and donating books to community and college libraries.
The idea to bring all these people together in a series of seminars was initiated by Shahid Khaqan Abbasi. While talking to the Bol News, he did not deny having developed differences with the PML-N leadership over some issues, including the appointment of Maryum Nawaz as the party’s senior vice president. But he overruled any chance of him quitting the party.
“PML-N is my first and last party. I have some differences (with the party leadership) but would rather be a back bencher than quit the party. And if I ever do quit the party, I will go home instead of joining another political force”, he said.
According to observers, so far these ‘rebels’ have not been able to get a popular response that they had expected. No political stalwarts from their own parties or from the PTI have so far agreed to stand with them in substantial numbers.
So, are they just a pressure group launched by the ‘establishment’ to dictate its terms to the ruling coalition, as some observers claim? Or is this the beginning of a new political movement aimed at aligning the country’s politics and economy with the needs of the people at the grassroots level?
Only time will tell.