SHAFQAT ALI ISLAMABAD - Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif yesterday announced replacing Dr Abdul Malik Baloch with loyalist Nawab Sanaullah Zehri as Balochistan chief minister after hectic lobbying by all the stakeholders.

Nawaz Sharif was under pressure by his Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz leaders from Balochistan to implement the 2013 deal that endorsed power-sharing between the PML-N and the nationalist parties in the troubled province.

The three major partners in Balochistan coalition government – PML-N, National Party (NP) and Pashtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP) – had agreed after the 2013 general elections to have two chief ministers within the five-year term.

The PML-N and NP were supposed to have their CMs, one after the other, for two and a half years under the agreement known as Murree Accord. As for PkMAP, it was given the governor slot.

As an olive branch, the prime minister offered the NP the first chance to take the CM’s office. Dr Baloch, who became the 21st chief minister of Balochistan on June 7, 2013 as the first non-tribal leader, was supposed to resign after completing two and a half years in office giving way to a PML-N nominee.

The nationalist parties had been pressing the prime minister to let Dr Baloch continue as levels of violence and targeted killings comparatively dropped during his time amid peace efforts and rapid development.

Nawaz Sharif however succumbed to the pressure from his own party to realise the deal and allow Zehri to take the powerful seat. The PML-N provincial leaders accused Dr Baloch of trying to corner the PML-N during his rule and they even threatened disintegration of the party if he was allowed to continue against the 2013 pact.

Almost all who mattered in Balochistan from different parties were in Islamabad this week lobbying for change or status quo. There were a series of meetings behind the scenes before a final decision was arrived at.

A spokesman said yesterday, the federal government had decided to nominate Nawab Sanaullah Zehri, PML-N Balochistan president, as the next chief minister to complete the remaining two and half years of tenure.

He said the decision was taken by the prime minister in a meeting attended by incumbent Balochistan CM Malik Baloch, NP chief Mir Hasil Khan Bizenjo, PkMAP leader Mehmood Khan Achakzai and PML-N representatives.

The decision to replace Mr Baloch has been taken in the light of Murree Accord reached between the PML-N, the PkMAP and the NP in 2013.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said Balochistan was close to his heart and expressed hope that Zehri will ensure peace and security in the province. He said the federal government will extend full support to him in developing Balochistan.

Officials said the new CM will take charge very soon. “It should be done in a couple of days. The sitting CM will resign and a new one will be elected to replace him,” said a close aide of the premier. He said the PM had asked Zehri to respect the collation partners and ensure the peace process with the dissidents.

NP chief Mir Hasil Khan Bizenjo said his party had no objections to the change as they had signed the agreement with the PML-N. He hoped the PML-N will do well for the rest of the term in Balochistan. The veteran nationalist leader said the NP had handed CM’s office to the PML-N and they were free to nominate anybody for the slot.

“We will accept Zehri or whosoever they nominate for the post. It is now up to the PML-N. Dr Abdul Malik Baloch will resign in the next couple of days,” he added.

Bizenjo said the NP’s struggle for the Baloch rights was not conditional to the party’s government as it had been active in difficult circumstances. “The basic idea is to serve the people and we will support the PML-N to do so,” he added.

Balochistan National Party (Mengal) Senator Jehanzeb Jamaldini said his party was not part of the power-sharing deal and was happy with any arrangement agreed by the partners. He hoped the new CM will deliver and continue contacts with the nationalist for permanent peace and stability in the province.

Senator Jamaldini said Zehri will need to continue social reforms and ensure projects that reduce the sense of deprivation in the province.

NP lawmaker Sardar Kamal Khan Bangulzai said Dr Baloch led the government well since 2013 but the PML-N still decided to implement the Murree Accord. “We have nothing against it but the PML-N must continue the good work done by Dr Malik and should not ruin what has been achieved. The PML-N must not do traditional politics,” he added.

Bangulzai said the NP never wanted to stick with the CM’s House but will always advocate for the rights of the Baloch people. “Dr Malik Baloch was from the middle class and knew their problems. The main objective should not be power struggle but the development of the province,” he remarked.

He rejected the claims of some PML-N leaders that the Baloch administration victimised them. “We did not allow corruption, if that is victimisation, we may have done it,” he contended.

Separately, in a meeting with students of Mastung Cadet College yesterday, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif vowed to further speed up development activities in Balochistan province. He said peace has gradually been restored to the province.

“Today’s Balochistan is far better as compared to previous years. A coalition government is working in the province and federation is giving all necessary resources to the province to carry out the development activities,” an official statement quoted him as saying.

Emphasizing the need for promoting the environment of brotherhood, the prime minister said several road infrastructure projects were under construction from Gwadar to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

He said Balochistan was as dear to him as any other area of the country and quality education institutions including medical colleges and university will be constructed in the province. The prime minister also announced Rs20 million grant for cadet college Mastung.