Balochistan’s cabinet paralysis

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Medievalism that refuses to go away

Good that Balochistan Chief Minister Dr Abdul Malik Baloch has been able to cajole Nawab Sanaullah Zehri and his disgruntled PML-N lot out of their resignations, but a working, more enduring arrangement will not be stitched together until the prime minister steps in and reins in his provincial chief. Balochistan already has more than its fair share of problems – killings, lawlessness, official incompetence, and even sectarian genocide. And a paralysed cabinet is the last thing it needs.

Besides, the PM knows as well as Nawab Zehri, of course, the real reason for the fallout. Sure, Nawab sahib must have been unhappy about the way the National Party was handing out development projects and making bureaucratic appointments. But the tussle at play is of a more tribal nature. The majority party comprises the traditional hierarchy, the nawabs and sardars, while the ruling party – centre-left doctors and lawyers – is where middle classes have gathered to pretend they are relevant. For the old guard, letting this working class lot run the province not only threatens the structure that has allowed them to play gods for decades, it is also a personal insult. And even if talking-it-out has evened things out for now, this cycle will continue until there is a firm order from above.

At stake is more than the prestige of a sitting government. For too long, Balochistan has been among fringes where the official machinery has remained the weakest. And all the time feudal and tribal chiefs have chosen how to spend the money and who to bless with most important bureaucratic positions, the province has become home to problems it might never be able to overcome, certainly not with more of the same. And now that that the trend is showing the slightest signs of changing, the government should note it as a landmark opportunity, and strengthen common working peoples’ stake in official decisions. Perhaps this is the most natural and humane death this old cruel system should suffer.

Balochistan needs the PM’s immediate and direct attention. Instead of breaking down the government, he should press his party to monitor official corruption and hold the NP to account whenever it oversteps the line. He should also learn from the previous government’s example, that allowed the old ways, and the people continued to suffer for it. The province is already simmering with rebellion. Alienating people advocating progress will only fuel more revolt, and an important opportunity would have gone abegging.