Saturday, December 26, 2015

Daily Times Editorial Dec 27, 2015

Blowing hot and cold As expected, after former chief minister Dr Abdul Malik Baloch submitted his resignation, leader of the major party in the Balochistan coalition Nawab Sanaullah Zehri took oath of office as his successor under the Murree Accord and in line with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s nomination of the PML-N heavyweight. Also, the Balochistan Assembly unanimously elected Rahila Hameed Durrani as the first woman Speaker some months after former Speaker Jan Jamali resigned over differences with his PML-N party leadership. After taking oath and receiving a unanimous vote of confidence from all 54 members of the Balochistan Assembly, Zehri addressed some of the concerns and problems of his province. The nationalist insurgency still commanding, despite setbacks in recent months, centre-stage in the affairs of Balochistan, the new chief minister offered on the one hand a dialogue for political reconciliation in the province, of course within the bounds of the law and constitution. On the other, citing his elevation to be the result of the sacrifices of the martyrs belonging to the army, Frontier Corps, police, Levies and citizens, he vowed not to forgive those responsible for such deaths. This is a strange cocktail. How can a ‘dialogue for reconciliation’ proceed without a general amnesty for all those engaged in the fighting of the last almost 14 years? Mixed messages such as these will do little to persuade the rebels in the mountains or their leaders in self-imposed exile that the Balochistan government is a credible partner to engage with for peace and reconciliation. As it is, the rebels see the Balochistan government, whether the previous one of Dr Abdul Malik Baloch or the incoming one, as powerless in matters affecting the province’s insurgency. With his opening salvo, Zehri may effectively have closed the door on any hope of a dialogue. As positions harden consequently, the relatively low intensity insurgency could find a new and more deadly lease of life. Wisdom demanded that the new chief minister open his innings with words that transcended his image as being tough on the insurgents and could soothe and act as a balm on the wounds of the people of Balochistan as well as the nationalist insurgents. However, that was not to be, and we must wait with bated breath what the effect on the troubled province may be. One positive in the chief minister’s early message was the commitment to ensuring protection for the life and property of the Hazaras, a community hard done by at the hands of the sectarian Lashkar-e-Jhangvi in recent years. As to his other pronouncements on the province’s problems such as water scarcity, education, health and unemployment, Chief Minister Nawab Sanaullah Zehri had sweet things to say regarding better days to come under his stewardship in all these areas. He also mooted solving the problems of poverty and deprivation of the people of the province though development in industry, etc, to accompany the implementation of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), particularly major industrial zones to be set up on the CPEC route in Zhob and Khuzdar, and smaller zones in other areas. Judgement on these matters must necessarily await their practical implementation. The political class of Balochistan, as represented in the Assembly, congratulated itself on the election of a woman for the first time as the Speaker by arguing this showed the respect women were held in in Balochistan’s society. Tokenism or not, such steps do send a strong message, but neither in Balochistan’s still predominantly tribal culture, nor the much touted election of women Speakers in the National Assembly during the last government, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa or Sindh in the present dispensation, should such advances in women’s status blind us to the very real and widespread violations of women's rights and their status as second class citizens throughout our society. Before congratulations are due, these women Speakers and their sisters should know that there is still a long way to go and their election should only act as a spur to pursue their goals with greater vigour. Nawab Sanaullah Zehri has his work cut out for him in terms of giving his province peace, development and prosperity. While wishing him success, we can only advise that he revisit his rhetoric on the insurgency and find appropriate messages that advance reconciliation and peace, not continued conflict.

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