Political Developments in Baluchistan - Changing Perceptions
By Jamil Ahmed: Dawn, October 29, 2007
ELECTIONS appear to be round the corner as the incumbent — though powerless — assemblies are about to complete their term.
Political parties in Balochistan have started consultations to decide on suitable candidates and chalk out their election strategy. The situation in the province is, however, different from the rest of the country.
Faced with a military operation, the Baloch nationalists face a dilemma. The educated youth is radicalised and along with the defunct Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) they reject parliamentary politics, considering it to be an utter waste of time.
The Jamhoori Watan Party (JWP), Balochistan National Party (BNP-Mengal) and the National Party are the major nationalist parties which had participated in the 2002 general elections. The BNP (Awami), which had contested the polls, also claims to be a nationalist political entity but it is not recognised as such by the people. It is perceived to be close to the establishment.Nawab Khair Bakhsh Marri, who is a respected figure amongst Baloch youth and nationalist forces, has no political party of his own and has announced that he will not be a part of the election process. Serious criminal cases have been registered against Nawab Marri’s sons, with the exception of Nawabzada Jangez Marri, on charges of inciting a low level insurgency in Balochistan. Police have approached Interpol to get them arrested. Jangez Marri, the eldest son of Nawab Marri, is politically affiliated with the PML-Q. His participation in the elections cannot be ruled out.
The JWP, which had emerged as a political force on the Balochistan scene in 1990, has been split into two after the assassination of Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti in a military action in August 2006.
One faction of the party is headed by Nawabzada Brahmdagh Khan Bugti, the grandson of late Nawab Bugti, who is now leading the armed resistance. This group has announced that it will not take part in elections. The other group led by Nawabzada Talal Akbar Bugti, the son of Nawab Bugti, is not only inclined to participate in general elections but has also declared that the party would continue its struggle within the constitutional framework.
The united JWP under its founder Nawab Bugti had bagged more seats in the 1990 general elections than any other political party. But it could not form a government in the province because of the strong stand taken by Nawab Bugti when he was the chief minister of the province during Benazir Bhutto’s first term as prime minister. He had firmly stood for the rights of the Baloch, which had annoyed the establishment. The number of seats the party won steadily declined in the 1993, 1997 and the 2002 general elections.
The JWP won only four general seats in the provincial assembly and one reserved seat (for women) in 2002. Its showing inn the National Assembly was worse, with only one seat to its credit. After Nawab Bugti’s death, the JWP has been under tremendous pressure. Its members proceeded to vote for General Pervez Musharraf in the recent presidential elections.
Hence the chances of Talal Bugti’s faction winning any seat in the upcoming elections — even from Dera Bugti — are bleak. Large-scale migration has taken place from the area on account of the military operation while the opponents of Nawab Bugti are enjoying the full support of the government and its powerful agencies.
The BNP (Mengal)’s central committee decided in August to take part in the elections. Its members had resigned from the assemblies in protest against the killing of Nawab Bugti. It had been believed then that it would bid adieu to the electoral process forever and that had made the party popular with the hard-line nationalists and Baloch youth. But its popularity rating will fall with the central committee’s decision to participate in the elections.
Its patron-in-chief, veteran Baloch nationalist leader Sardar Attaullah Mengal, recently said, ‘I am convinced that the Baloch cannot achieve their objectives through parliamentary politics but if they leave the field of elections open then the rulers in Islamabad will get their own agents elected and showcase them to declare that no Baloch problem exists,’ he said. ‘The Baloch should continue their struggle on all fronts,’ he exhorted.
Though the BNP is not involved in an armed struggle it faces the brunt of the government’s wrath following its announcement of a long march from Gwadar to Quetta against the killing of Nawab Bugti and Gwadar’s mega projects. Not only has its president, Sardar Akhtar Mengal, been behind bars since last November, a large number of its leaders and workers, too, were arrested, to be released after three months under court orders. The inflexible attitude of the government towards the BNP shows that an unannounced ban has been imposed on the party because it has not been allowed to hold any political rally for the last one year.
The government and its powerful agencies are supporting Senator Mir Muhammad Naseer Mengal, the federal state minister for petroleum and natural resources, in the Khuzdar area, the JWP stronghold. The senator is a staunch rival of the party in Dera Bugti.
The National Party has so far not faced any challenge from the government. However, the BNP (Awami), an ally of the ruling PML, enjoys the support of the government in Mekran and other parts of the province which are the strongholds of the National Party.
The defunct BLA has urged Baloch nationalist forces to keep themselves away from the poll process, as, according to the banned outfit, participation would harm the Baloch nationalist struggle. All Baloch nationalist parties have not paid serious heed to this advice. They are in trouble because of the military operation, the opposition of the Baloch youth to elections and the support of the government for their opponents.
Keeping in view this situation, some political observers are of the view that Baloch nationalist parties would never find a level playing field in the next elections. There are far too many hurdles of the government’s making.Understanding the gravity of the situation, the Baloch nationalists are now stressing the need for an electoral alliance. Former governor of Balochistan, Lt Gen (retd) Abdul Qadir Baloch, is now trying to rally the Baloch nationalists around one electoral alliance. He met Sardar Ataullah Mengal and leaders of the National Party with this aim.
Sardar Ataullah Mengal has admitted that the former governor met him and urged the nationalist forces to contest elections jointly. ‘Baloch nationalists should contest elections from a single platform and show the world that they are the real representatives of the Baloch by obtaining over 50 per cent votes,’ he said.
The National Party has constituted a six-member committee, headed by Dr Abdul Hayee Baloch, to form an electoral alliance with other political parties, particularly those with nationalist leanings. It is to be seen whether the nationalist parties will actually go in for an election alliance. Without an electoral arrangement they could find themselves in deep waters in the next elections.