Prime Minister-elect Mian Nawaz Sharif, ousted by the country’s powerful military from power in October 1999, has nominated a seasoned political worker and intellectual Dr. Malik Baloch to the chief executive’s slot in the largest but restive province of Balochistan.
In doing so, Sharif made history in the troubled province that has been in the grip of a low level secessionist movement since the days of ousted dictator Gen. Pervez Musharraf. This is the first time a commoner will become chief minister in a province where feudal tyrants called sardars and nawabs, believe they have a birth right to rule over the masses.
One of the key aspirants for the position was the provincial chief of Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz, Sardar Sanaullah Zehri. Zehri allegedly killed his eldest brother Sardar Rasool Bakhsh Zehri in a family dispute in the 1980s but went scot-free. Another tribal despot, Nawabzada Jangyz Marri, an alleged extortionist who occupied homes of civilians, including civil servants, wanted to move to the Chief Minister’s House. Marri, eldest son of nationalist leader Nawab Khair Bakhsh Marri, had allegedly broken all corruption records when he was communications and works minister. His two other brothers were also ministers and were said to be equally corrupt.
Balochistan insiders suspect that Nawab Marri, patriarch of the family who is known for his racist comment “I can co-exist with a pig but not a Punjabi,” is probably playing on both sides of the fence to secure his family’s financial future.
By nominating Dr. Malik Baloch as chief minister, Sharif kept his words to his closest ally from Balochistan, Senator Mir Hasil Bizenjo, vice president of the National Party, who has stood beside Sharif and his family through thick and thin after his government was ousted in a military coup in October 1999.
Another key figure behind Dr. Baloch’s nomination was Pashtun “Mashar” or “The Leader,” Mehmood Khan Achakzai.
Nearly 200 different civil society organizations in Balochistan had backed Dr. Malik Baloch’s candidature.
Baloch militants, who allegedly receive secret funding from India, carried out at least two assassination attempts against Dr. Malik Baloch during his election campaign. Dr. Baloch, who is also called the “Pride of Mekran,” hails from an area that emancipated itself from feudal tyrants or sardars because of commercial and agricultural developments.
Civil society representatives, intellectuals and scholars all over Pakistan were elated.
Nazish Brohi, whose late father and uncle were famous Sindhi intellectuals called “Brohi Brothers,” said she is full of respect for Sharif over his decision. “Balochistan now has a fighting chance,” she said, and in a pointer to the ambitions of sardars in the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz, she added, “Nominating Dr. Malik Baloch as chief minister was a difficult, politically contentious step for Nawaz Sharif to take.”
Others pointed out to the uniqueness Dr. Baloch will bring to Balochistan’s political landscape.
“I appreciate the decision of Mian Nawaz Sharif. Dr Abdul Malik Baloch is the first middle class, non-Sardar chief minister of Balochistan , and the province will have a Pashtoon governor. Mian Nawaz Sharif decision is a great step forward and has raised the hopes of resolving the Balochistan issue,” said journalist Sikander Baloch, who previously lived and worked in Houston, Texas.
Awami Workers Party president Abid Hasan Minto and secretary Farooq Tariq hailed Sharif’s decision to nominate Dr. Abdul Malik as chief minister of Balochistan, “This is timely and wise decision by Mian Nawaz Sharif to hand over power… in the province to radical nationalist forces despite a majority in Baluchistan Assembly.”
The liberal and democratic US group called American Friends of Balochistan has extended full support to the Dr. Baloch administration in the province and has called upon Baloch militants to renounce violence and adopt peaceful methods of struggle.