Stuck with Raisani, for now by Mehreen zahra

In Balochistan, not only are things not what they seem, they are not even what they are being called.

Since the Supreme Court ruled on October 12 that the provincial government had lost its “constitutional right to rule,” a cabal of grouchy scavengers has descended on Chief Minister Raisani, baying for his blood.

First, we found out that Balochistan Assembly Speaker Bhootani had bluntly turned down a request by the chief minister to call a session of the assembly. ‘I won’t budge until the legal position of the provincial government is determined’, Bhootani argued, claiming that he didn’t want to be hauled in for possible contempt of court.

Next, PPP’s Balochistan President Mir Sadiq Umrani pushed to have Raisani’s membership of the party cancelled, reportedly for “not following party discipline.”

But that was last week. This week, the constitutional status of the provincial government is ostensibly just as blurry as it was last week but we hear that Bhootani may convene an assembly session after all.

Is the crisis over?

Sadiq Umrani argues that Raisani has to go because he has brought a bad name to the PPP by misgoverning and spending billions of rupees on his family and on a luxury plane for his personal use instead of on the province’s suffering masses. Now, with few exceptions, when Pakistani politicians talk about suffering masses and funds in the same sentence, things are often about the funds but seldom about the masses.

Interestingly, until May this year, Umrani was Raisani’s minister for communications and works – y’know that unimportant little ministry that handles the planning, execution, development and maintenance of all roads, bridges, buildings and other development works in the province? That gets more than 30 percent of the entire provincial budget?

It looks like Umrani and the chief minister developed some ‘differences’ over the use of this small amount of money, which runs into billions of rupees, as well as over the transfers and postings of some focal officials of the ministry. Come May this year, Raisani sent Umrani packing, bifurcated his ministry – the roads and building departments – and allotted it to two PPP ministers, Ali Madad Jattak and Agha Irfan Karim respectively. Previously, Jattak and Karim were both strong Umrani supporters but have jumped ship after being gifted the lucrative offices.

Since his sacking, Umrani has repeatedly landed up at the presidency asking for his portfolio back but the president has been of little help. Frustrated, he has joined hands with the PPP’s Kalat wing to wage a media war against the chief minister, accusing him of giving billions of rupees to his senator brother, and running the car theft and kidnapping mafias in Balochistan.

For Umrani, then, the Supreme Court judgment is the goose that laid the golden egg, in his personal struggle to avenge the powerful Raisani one way or the other.

But what about the Balochistan speaker? What’s his problem with Raisani?

Though Bhootani himself denies it, those with a keen eye on the province’s politics have an interesting tale to tell.

In the 2008 election, Raisani was elected MPA on a PPP ticket. On the other hand, despite having been virtually routed in three provinces, the Pakistan Muslim League-Q emerged as the largest single party in the Balochistan assembly, bagging 17 of 51 seats. But despite this booming win, the Q-League faced several hurdles in mustering the required support to form a coalition government. Guess who came to its rescue?

Muslim Leaguer Bhootani, himself elected from Lasbela, first threatened to form a forward bloc if the PML-Q tried to impose its own candidate for the top slot in the province, and then joined hands with the PPP to get the PML-Q members to support the PPP in the formation of the new government.

Bhootani’s own motivations for helping out the PPP, and ultimately Raisani himself? Blocking Bhootani’s bête noir, his Lasbela rival, Jam Yousaf, from bagging the CM slot yet again.

Those close to Bhootani say he often boosts that Raisani would never have been chief minister if it weren’t for him. And for this small help, he expected the chief minister to continue to support him against Jam Yousaf.

Except not too long ago, Raisani announced a federal ministership (portfolio undecided) for Jam Yousaf and has held a series of meetings with Bhootani’s rival during his frequent visits to Islamabad.

For a scorned Bhootani, too, the Supreme Court judgment is a gold mine, a chance to exact his revenge from the pulpit of constitutionalism. If you ask him why he refused to oblige the chief minister’s request for an assembly session, he says he just wants to be sure he’s not doing something in contempt of court. “And imagine the chaos when people question the very validity of a caretaker government put in place by a chief minister whose own status is unclear,” Bhootani argues.

No doubt, Bhootani and Umrani will have a hard time trusting Raisani with something like the composition of the interim set-up when he’s already let them down once.

But will they succeed in their crusade against the chief minister?

Raisani is the ultimate Teflon politician, the power politician’s dream come true. No matter how terrible the state of affairs outside the sanctums of the Balochistan assembly, inside he has rock solid support. His allies may criticise him by night but in the cold hard glare of the day, no one dare speak against him. How does he do it?

Part of it is the old-fashioned way: patronage. Thanks to the NFC, Balochistan is awash in vast amounts of cash that Raisani has carefully distributed throughout the assembly. The funds are not in the millions, not even the tens of millions, but the hundreds of millions of rupees per MPA. Only if you have a blood feud with Raisani or are a bitter foe of an important ally are you excluded from the largesse. And that kind of money can buy very real political support. And that’s not counting the liberal accommodation of demands: you want a police officer reposted, a bureaucrat ousted or a secretary transferred out? Raisani will oblige you, no, or few, questions asked. That’s his style of governance: ask the finance secretary who was transferred out for resisting Raisani’s instructions to release additional election funds on the insistence of senior JUI minister Maulana Wasay.

The other part of Raisani’s survival strategy is the composition of the Balochistan assembly: highly fractured. Of the 65 MPAs, the PPP has just 14. So even if Zardari is really unhappy about Raisani continuing – and he is at least somewhat unhappy, we hear, especially with Raisani having botched up the Reko Diq case – to get Raisani out, the president would need to win over some of the 19 mercenaries in the PML-Q or 10 religious parties’ members.

In Balochistan, winning over means buying up. Too expensive, too complex, too time consuming – that’s the equation for anyone who wants Raisani ousted. And so, Balochistan continues with the devil it knows.

The president too is stuck between Scylla and Charybdis when it comes to Raisani: on the one side are the angry protestations of some members of the Balochistan assembly and on the other the Supreme Court’s blunt interrogations about the chief minister’s constitutional authority to rule. Will Zardari ever do the right thing when the right thing is wrapped up in a court judgment?

Looks like we’re stuck with Raisani, for now.

The writer is an Islamabad-based journalist. The views expressed here are her own. Email:


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