First since 2002, and no mean achievement
Balochistan government deserves credit for conducting the first local government polls in the country since 2002. This is no mean achievement in view of the prevailing law and order situation in the province. While Punjab and Sindh governments have missed deadlines to provide the Election Commission updated Local Government laws and rules and notifications regarding delimitations of constituencies Balochistan has conducted the elections after fulfilling all the requirements.
Balochistan faces a double whammy. It is being harassed on the one hand by sectarian fanatics and the TTP terrorists and on other by secular militants. This combination of forces is opposed to polls. The TTP and its allies have already killed a whole lot of tribal elders in the tribal areas to strengthen their hold and have vowed to target the election process. The separatists fear that the elected local government leaders would emerge as a force at the grassroots with a vested interest in preserving the system. What is more they would expose the hollowness of their claims regarding the majority of the Baloch being opposed to Pakistan. As a Baloch Republican Army (BRP) spokesman put it, “The state wants to deceive the world through these elections.” The elections pose a challenge to all these forces of chaos. As the elections drew near they used all the resources at their command to create an atmosphere of panic. At least six candidates elected unopposed were kidnapped, presumably by the separatists. There was a blast in Chaman and a number of employees of the Uch Power Plant were kidnapped. A day before the elections the Baloch Republican Party and the BNM issued a call for strike all over the province.
It was a sensible decision to allow foreign observers to watch the local government polls. The restrictions put on foreign aid agencies to do rescue work during the September earthquake had sent a negative signal. It created the perception that the establishment had something to hide in Balochistan. Inviting observers indicates a level of confidence and would help make the election process more transparent. Presence of neutral observers would also weaken the position of the separatists.
“The current elections will have a long term impact on society in Balochistan. They will particularly strike the outmoded Sardari system at the roots which are its most vulnerable part.”
The current elections will have a long term impact on society in Balochistan. They will particularly strike the outmoded Sardari system at the roots which are its most vulnerable part. With an alternate elected leadership emerging from below the old system resting on outmoded customs requiring blind allegiance to the tribal elite would be shaken. This will of course take time and there are bound to be twists and turns but once the foundation is laid it would promote merit over privilege and provide Balochistan a new generation of popular leaders.
There are challenges that the provincial government would face after the elections. The newly elected office-bearers would be a primary target of the forces spreading anarchy. The local administration will have to be directed to cooperate fully with those elected. Another challenge is to empower the local governments in letter and spirit. The elected grass root leaders can play a vital role in winning the hearts and minds of the people only if they have the necessary resources at their disposal to plan and execute the development projects considered vital by the local community and also create jobs for the jobless. It would be a testing task to convince the provincial legislators that their principal job is to focus on legislation and that most of the development work would henceforth be undertaken by the local governments. Once the empowered and easily approachable local bodies start delivering, this would provide a sense of ownership to the common man. People in Balochistan will gradually start feeling that they are stakeholders in the system.
However to remove the sense of deprivation those picked up by the agencies need to be freed. What is more the dumping of the dead bodies of political activists and their relatives has to be stopped. Unless those enforcing laws stop indulging in lawlessness, they cannot expect the aggrieved people from taking the same course.