April issue 2013

By | Newsbeat | Published 7 years ago

The return of Sardar Akhtar Mengal, head of the Balochistan National Party (BNP), to the country after spending three years in exile and the announcement of his participation in the general elections has been welcomed in all circles, including the country’s establishment. However, Mengal’s announcement came with a clear warning: the establishment would be held personally responsible if any harm came to the BNP candidates contesting the elections.

Two MPAs from the BNP, along with a senator and MNA, had tendered their resignations following the killing of Baloch leader Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti in a military operation in the Kohlu Marri area on August 26, 2006. In 2007, Mengal, who was also a former chief minister of Balochistan, served 18 months in solitary confinement in Landhi jail, Karachi on charges of keeping two personnel of the military intelligence in illegal confinement.

Besides the BNP, the National Party (NP) and the Jamhoori Watan Party (JWP), who had also boycotted the 2008 general elections, have also decided to take part in the upcoming polls.

Incidentally, all Baloch groups, along with one of the Pashtoon nationalists group, the Pashtoonkhawa Milli Awami Party (PMAP), had boycotted the last general elections on the ground that in the presence of then president, General Musharraf, fair, free and impartial elections could not be held in Balochistan where a military operation was being conducted following Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti’s killing. Only the Balochistan National Party-Awami, led by Senator Mir Israullah Zahri, remained a part and parcel of the Musharraf regime.

The Jamhoori Watan Party leader, Nawabzada Talal Bugti, son of Nawab Bugti, is contesting the elections from Dera Bugti, where the army is fully in control and backing those candidates who, in return, support it. Members of Nawab Bugti’s family have been barred from entering Dera Bugti ever since the slain leader took up arms against the state, thus leaving the electoral field wide open for their opponents, who are allegedly being backed by the armed forces.

Incidentally, Nawab Mirali Bugti, the grandson of the slain chieftain, has also filed his nomination papers for a provincial seat from Dera Bugti, annoying his mentors, the “security forces,” who helped him become the head of his tribe. These forces are said to have given “party tickets” to Attaullah Kalpar, grandson of the late Wadera Khan Mohammad Bugti, for a National Assembly seat and Sarfaraz Bugti, son of Mir Ghulam Qadir Masoori, for a provincial assembly seat. Masoori is running the show in gas-rich Dera Bugti as the official tribal representative, allegedly on behalf of the security forces.

The NP and BNP are likely to enter into a seat-to-seat adjustment to confront their common enemies — the military establishment and the Baloch militants/separatist forces. Around three dozen leaders or workers of the BNP have been killed in the province in the last five years, mostly by Mussala Defa, a pro-military militant group allegedly formed by the intelligence agencies. Musla is led by Haji Shafique Mengal, son of the PML-Q leader Mir Naseer Mengal, a former caretaker chief minister and federal minister. Incidentally, six National Party leaders, including Maula Bakhsh Dashti, have been gunned down by the Baloch Liberation Front last year.

The Baloch Liberation Army and the Baloch Liberation Front regard both the BNP and NP as pro-establishment groups serving the interests of the Punjab-dominated centre. Mir Jawaid Mengal, son-in-law of the separatist leader Nawab Khair Bakhsh and the elder brother of BNP leader Sardar Akhtar Mengal, is also running a separatist group, Lashkar-e-Balochistan, in the Khuzdar area.

In a recent interview, Jawaid Mengal, while disassociating himself with his brother, declared that there was no future for the Baloch nation in Pakistan. Akhtar Mengal, too, holds strong views against the military establishment, but believes in parliamentary politics.

The national political leadership, comprising both the PPP and the PML-N, and the military establishment as well, appear keen to bring the Baloch nationalists, particularly Sardar Akhtar Mengal, into mainstream politics in order to weaken Baloch militant groups. They realise that Musharraf made a big blunder by keeping them out of the assemblies. Their exclusion from parliamentary politics only served the interests of separatist elements. Akhtar Mengal has agreed to contest the polls but is uncomfortable with the presence of the Shafiq Mengal group that has been let loose against him and his family in Khuzdar district. Shafiq and his brother, Atta-ur-Rahman, are extremely powerful and just last year the latter held the deputy commissioner, Abdul Mansoor, in illegal confinement in a government residence for hours, after disarming the levy force escorting him.

Knowledgeable sources claim that the Inspector General of the Frontier Corps, Balochistan, Major General Obaidullah Khan Khattak, made a personal effort to bring about a reconciliation between the warring Mengals and held meetings with the elderly Baloch nationalist, Sardar Attaullah Mengal, in his hometown, Wadh, and Mir Naseer Mengal and his sons. However, Shafiq Mengal refused to bury the hatchet until and unless he had settled the score for the murders of his two dozen men. Shafique Mengal claims that over two dozen persons, including his close relatives, have been killed by Javed Mengal’s Lashkar-e-Balochistan activists Meanwhile Akhtar Mengal alleges that over 30 of his party leaders and activists have been killed by Naseer Mengal’s Mussala Defa.

“As far as taking any action against them (the Mussala Defa group) for their involvement in crimes is concerned, we are helpless. They are very powerful people as they have the agencies backing them,” said a senior police officer who served in Khuzdar for many years.

It is rumoured that intelligence agencies are unwilling to scrap the squad, since they consider it to be their “asset.”
Sardar Sanaullah Zehri, chief of the Jhalawan area and a PML-N leader, who also hails from Khuzdar, claims that the criminal elements functioning in his district enjoy the full support of the Frontier Corps and intelligence agencies as they are their card-holders, which entitles them to carry illegal guns and roam around the area with impunity.

“One of my party workers was gunned down in Khuzdar town on the day of my arrival in Karachi (March 24), and it appears to be a message from the intelligence agencies, through their death squad, that they have not changed their policies towards us,” Sardar Akhtar Mengal told Newsline. BNP insiders say that given the situation, Sardar Akhtar, in a recent party meeting, said he was not in favour of contesting the elections and putting the lives of party workers at risk in Khuzdar district. However, the majority of the central committee members felt that the party can face the “death squad” and their patrons by having a representation in parliament instead of on the streets.

Although the participation of Baloch political forces would hardly contribute to the government’s efforts to improve the law and order situation or help the forces quell militancy in the province, it would help the establishment create the impression that Baloch political forces still believe in parliamentary politics.

“Their (Baloch nationalists) participation in the elections will not bring any change in the situation prevailing in Balochistan. Enforced disappearances, the murder of Baloch youth and the dumping of their dead bodies on the streets and in desolate places as well as targeted military operations in various areas will continue. However, it will help create an impression that the Baloch people believe in a parliamentary struggle for their rights instead of an armed one for independence,” said a senior local journalist, Mohammad Kazim Mengal.

Both the BNP and NP have fielded candidates in almost all constituencies of Balochistan and are expected to win around four to five out of a total of 17 National Assembly seats and six to eight out of a total of 65 provincial assembly seats. It is widely believed that if the PML-N were to come to power in the centre, it may take the Baloch nationalist forces along, both at the centre and in Balochistan, where it would form a coalition government with them.

And if that were to happen, Sardar Akhtar Mengal may lead the ruling coalition in Balochistan, and succeed in getting the nationalists back into the political mainstream so as to rid them of the feeling of alienation caused by the indifferent attitude of successive governments. Additionally, this would provide Mian Nawaz Sharif the best opportunity to atone for his past mistake of supporting the coup within the ruling coalition in the province against Akhtar Mengal, who had to step down as chief minister after losing his majority in 1998. Akhtar Mengal had sought the support of Nawaz Sharif, then prime minister and PML president, but got a cold response. But today is another day.

The writer is a journalist based in Quetta and is President of Quetta Press Club (QPC).