By Zia Ur Rehman
Thursday, June 11, 2015
Minister of State for Communications Abdul Hakeem Baloch’s differences with the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leadership over “meddling” in the ministry by party bigwigs have deepened and he has been thinking of resigning from the ministry, The News has learnt.
Baloch, a Karachi-based veteran politician, was elected on a PML-N ticket from the NA-258, a constituency comprising rural and coastal parts of Malir District and Landhi Industrial Area, defeating Raja Abdul Razzaq of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and local tribal chieftain Jam Abdul Karim. He was the only PML-N’s candidate who won a National Assembly seat from the Sindh province on the party ticket.
After becoming an MNA from Karachi, political analysts and close aides of Baloch were expecting that PML-N chief Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will give him the portfolio of port and shipping, a ministry Karachi keeps traditionally. But Sharif gave the ministry to Kamran Michael, a senator from Punjab, and made Baloch minister of state for railway. In the presence of powerful Federal Minister for Railway Khawaja Saad Rafique, Baloch had been serving as a dummy state minister. It was only after protests and complaints that Sharif made him minister of state for communication in June last year. Interviews with close aides of Baloch and officials in the ministry of communications suggest that in this ministry too, real powers were never given to him. He was not consulted on the appointment of Shahid Ashraf Tarar as secretary of the communication ministry and chairman of the National Highway Authority, leaving him frustrated. Also, Tarar literally refused to follow Baloch’s orders, they say.
“As a mark of protest, a frustrated Baloch has not been sitting in the ministry office for several months,” said an official in the ministry in Islamabad on Wednesday. He said Baloch also boycotted the foundation stone-laying ceremony of the Karachi-Lahore motorway in March this year near his constituency in Karachi, in which Sharif participated.
Sources in the ministry said that Baloch had recently refused to follow the directives of the Prime Minister House to summon a meeting of the National Highway Council.
Before joining the PML-N, Baloch was a key leader of the PPP in Karachi and served as provincial minister and Karachi District Council’s chairman. However, in the 2002 general election, he developed differences over the allotment of tickets and formed a Malir-based electoral alliance against the PPP candidates. In that election, Baloch could not win the NA-258 seat, bagging more than 27,000 votes against PPP candidate Sher Muhammad Baloch, who secured 38,225 votes. In the 2008 polls, he contested an election on a PPP ticket for the provincial assemlby seat PS-126, Gadap Town, but lost to MQM’s Faisal Sabzwari.
Before the 2013 polls, Baloch, along with other influential politicians of District Malir, joined the PML-N and won the NA-258 seat. One of his colleagues, Haji Shafi Jamot, won the PS-129 seat, but another associate, Saleem Baloch Kalmati, lost with a low margin in PS-130.
NA-258 residents’ woes
NA-258 residents said Baloch had largely ignored the constituency in development funds. “The constituency, having a mixed population, had voted Baloch but he could not initiate any big development project in the area,” said Essa Khan, a resident of Old Muzaffarabad Colony.
However, his close aides said the non-allocation of development funds for his constituency was the key reason, angering his voters. Khurshid Anwar, an associate of Baloch, said there was much pressure on the powerless minister to quit the PML-N and the ministry.
He said Baloch had refused to work as a powerless minister and had already quit his ministerial post after successive postings were made in the ministry’s departments without taking him into confidence.
Talking to The News, Baloch said he was ashamed of not carrying out development projects in his constituency. “It is because I have no funds and no powers,” he said in his brief conversation on the phone. However,, he did not confirm or reject the reports of his differences with the PML-N leadership.
Gul Hassan Kalmati, a prominent social activist from District Malir, believed that Baloch felt he had been let down by the party’s central leadership because of the mutual understanding of the PML-N and the PPP over not interfering in affairs of Punjab and Sindh, the provinces they rule. “In such a situation, residents of Malir have been suffering because of the non-allocation of development funds by the federal government,” he told The News.
Ahead of the local bodies’ polls scheduled for September 20, there is much pressure on Baloch to form an electoral alliance in District Municipal Corporation Malir and Karachi District Council, local analysts say.
Recently, Baloch has formed Karachi Indigenous Rights Movement, a socio-political alliance, for safeguarding the rights of rural areas of the city, especially Malir.
The News has also learnt that Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) leaders have also been trying to convince Baloch and his colleagues to join the party ahead of the local bodies’ polls.