Balochistan Chief Minister Dr Abdul Malik Baloch is likely to be replaced by Sardar Sanaullah Zehri halfway through his five-year tenure, The Express Tribune has learnt. Dr Baloch, who already completed a year in the job in June 2014, will stay on as provincial chief minister for another 16 or so months.
The decision to break up the tenure into shorter but equal periods of time was taken last year by three provincial coalition partners – Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), National Party (NP) and Pashtoonkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP). The three parties also decided that both the NP and PML-N candidates would divide the five-year tenure among themselves, according to the 2013 Murree deal that had broken the deadlock over government formation.
A memorandum of understanding (MoU) was signed by Mehmood Khan Achakzai, Mir Hasil Khan Bizenjo and Sardar Sanaullah Zehri on behalf of their respective parties. Nawaz Sharif, his brother Shahbaz Sharif, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, Dr Abdul Malik Baloch and Lt Gen Abdul Qadir Baloch oversaw the signing. A copy of the agreement – which was never made public – is available with The Express Tribune.
“For the first half of the five-year term, the chief minister will be from the National Party which has nominated its president Dr Abdul Malik Baloch, after which PML-N’s provincial president Sardar Sanaullah Zehri will replace him,” reads the document.
According to the deal, Balochistan’s new governor will be PkMAP nominee Muhammed Khan Achakzai, the elder brother of Mehmood Khan Achakzai. Additionally, the three parties had agreed that provincial assembly speaker and a senior minister will be from the PML-N. The makeup of the cabinet – including share of each party – was also decided at Murree.
A senior leader of the ruling NP confirmed the existence of the deal. “Yes, this is true,” he told The Express Tribune. However, he wouldn’t say whether or not his party would support a PML-N chief minister after two-and-a-half years. “Let’s see what will happen because we still have one and a half year,” he said.
Will the NP and PkMAP agree to the replacement? The local PML-N leadership is sceptical. “It’ll happen only if the coalition partners honour the deal which was signed in the presence of the top leadership of the three parties,” a senior minister in the provincial cabinet, who belongs to the PML-N, told The Express Tribune. “However, it doesn’t appear they will honour their promise,” he added. He requested not to be named in the report.
Differences cropped up between the provincial chapters of the PML-N and NP since the slot of chief minister was given to the latter. At the provincial level, the PkMAP has better understanding with the NP than the PML-N. “The PkMAP and NP will support each other on any future political development,” a senior leader of the PkMAP told The Express Tribune, requesting anonymity.
Off the record, leaders from all three coalition partners confirmed there was such a deal. They, however, didn’t want to be quoted in the report.
The provincial government spokesperson says he is unaware of any such MoU. “The prime minister had agreed to a NP chief minister in Balochistan. It was also agreed that the three parties will form a coalition government,” Jan Mohammed Buledi said of the Murree understanding.
“We will take any important decision with mutual consultations. PML-N provincial president Sardar Sanaullah Zehri is our friend and ally. We will see what the coalition government decides in the future,” Buledi said when asked if Zehri replaces Dr. Malik. “Pakistan doesn’t have a good history of democratic government. Let’s see what future holds for us,” he added.
The PML-N legislators in the Balochistan Assembly have lodged routine complaints with their central leadership for being “ignored in government affairs”. At least twice, the PML-N provincial leadership threatened to resign from the treasury benches en masse.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 5th, 2014.
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