Saturday, April 28, 2012
Pakistan is a big country, with many faultlines. There is never a dull moment here and right now the nation is keenly following not one but quite a few events, some tragic and the other in the courtrooms and in the political field.
With so much happening around us, not much attention was given to the big public meeting held by the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) on April 20 in Quetta, capital of the troubled Balochistan province. Even otherwise, there is a genuine complaint that major events or even acts of terror in Balochistan, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Fata and Gilgit-Baltistan fail to attract sufficient attention from the media and, in the process, from the government and the nation, while smaller happenings in the big urban centres of Punjab and Sindh are keenly followed, and often overplayed.
Holding public gatherings isnít big news nowadays as almost all political parties and alliances are doing so in anticipation of the next general election. In fact, it is being said that the election campaign has arrived prematurely and that the parties will have exhausted their energies by the time the polls are announced.
However, the PTI meeting at Ayub Stadium was different in the sense that it was the partyís first major public event in Quetta and the rest of Balochistan. Parties with roots in Balochistanís Baloch and Pakhtun areas have been holding smaller gatherings in the province, but it is rare nowadays for parties with nationwide followings, or the one like the PTI with the ambition to become a nationally organised party, to dare hold a public meeting in the insecure environment of Balochistan. True to his nature, Imran Khan accepted the challenge and managed not only to stage a public rally in Quetta but also ensure an impressive turnout. As was the case earlier at the PTI public meetings in Lahore, Karachi and elsewhere, the participants were drawn from all strata of the society and all ages, with the youth predictably outnumbering the rest. Women too came in significant numbers, and this is something unusual in a conservative place like Balochistan.
The PTIís trendsetting Quetta public meeting was competing for attention with other major happenings in the country. The crash of the Bhoja Air passenger plane in Islamabad on April 17 in which all 127 on board were killed is one such happening and its climax wonít happen until the real causes of the tragedy by any chance become known. In faraway Gilgit-Baltistan in the snowy heights of the Siachen Glacier, the 138 soldiers and civilians swept away by the massive avalanche on April 7 remain untraced despite hectic rescue efforts. Tears and prayers have followed these and other tragedies as our resilient nation tries to cope with one tragedy after another.
The government set up a judicial commission to probe the Bhoja Air plane crash in the hope that it will calm down emotions and check the intrusive debate in the media about the circumstances in which the airline got its license renewed after remaining grounded for 10 long years and the way private airlines are operating in Pakistan. Lahore High Court chief justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed was right when he pointed out that there was no use forming judicial commissions to probe different issues if recommendations of previous ones remained unimplemented.
One has lost count of commissions and committees tasked to carry out probes at different points in our tumultuous history and then being conveniently forgotten. The present PPP-led coalition government could make the dubious claim of having set up more judicial commissions than any other in the past.
Much is happening right now in our courtrooms. The Supreme Court as always is preoccupied with a number of cases involving the ruling elite. Some of its judgements arenít being implemented by a government that professes to respect the higher judiciary, but which is sometimes found ridiculing the judges. More court verdicts are awaited and one that has almost sealed Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilaniís fate has just been delivered though there isnít any guarantee that these judgements will be implemented. All the verdicts could have political consequences now or in the future and this is a debate that keeps the people engrossed in endless discussions.
To revert to the PTI public meeting in Quetta, nature was unkind to the party as it was raining on April 20 and rainwater had accumulated at Ayub Stadium. According to the PTIís Balochistan president, Qasim Suri, Imran Khan arrived just in time for the meeting and not the previous day as scheduled because inclement weather had forced cancellation of his flight.
The case of the 41-year old Qasim Suri explains the strength of the PTI, which has attracted a new generation of political workers who arenít linked to big, wealthy and known families. These are the ďoldĒ loyalist workers of the PTI now competing with newcomers, who are well-known and have served in previous parliaments and government, for influence in the party.
Qasim Suri is almost unknown and unheralded but he claims to have organised the PTI at the grassroots level in Balochistan and this includes 225 units in Quetta alone. If one were to believe him, the PTI has an active organisational presence in every district in Balochistan, including those inhabited by the Baloch, and that Baloch party workers came from all over the province to the Quetta public meeting. It wasnít surprising that Pakhtuns outnumbered others at the public meeting because they make up the majority in Quetta, but the presence of Baloch in whatever numbers at Ayub Stadium must have been heartening at a time when many Baloch nationalists are no longer willing for the province to remain part of Pakistan.
The PTI presently has no former member of parliament in its ranks in Balochistan. It has been unable to attract any known sardar or wadera. The exception is Nawabzada Humayun Jogezai, a former police officer who recently joined the PTI and gave it an impetus in some of the Pakhtun areas in Balochistan. It is, therefore, common party workers led by Qasim Suri who organised the PTI in the province and are the real strength of the party.
They may not be ďelectablesĒ but none could doubt their commitment to the party and its leader. Imran had made a gamble by announcing that the PTI would be next holding a public meeting in Quetta after having attracted huge crowds in Lahore on October 30 and in Karachi on December 25, but committed party workers such as Qasim Suri knew they will be able to pull it off despite the security concerns and the absence of any big-name politician from Balochistan in the PTI. When the party postponed the scheduled public meeting in Quetta on March 23, its opponents claimed the PTI had received warnings from Baloch militants not to hold the event on Pakistan Day. However, for Qasim Suri the reason for the postponement was the cold Quetta weather in March, and nothing else. Whatever the reason, the PTI managed to hold a successful public meeting in Quetta, even if it was a month late, and showed the way to other mainstream political parties to focus their attention on Balochistan instead of writing it off.
It remains to be seen if the PTI would be able to translate its scattered support in Balochistan into votes and assembly seats. It certainly has gained a toehold in Balochistanís politics and is now poised to compete with other parties on its own or as part of an electoral alliance to try and win seats in the assemblies.
More importantly, the message that Imran conveyed at the Quetta public meeting was timely. His declaration that a military solution is ďno solutionĒ to the Balochistan problem or any other conflict needs to be heeded as the use of force to solve political issues has brought Pakistan to the brink.
The writer is resident editor of The News in Peshawar. Email: rahimyusuf firstname.lastname@example.org