Not the mango season in Balochistan
By Malik Siraj Akbar
If Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani does not understand the politics of Balochistan then he cannot accurately assess the magnitude of his success notched on Saturday by meeting with veteran Baloch nationalist leader Sardar Attaullah Mengal. In fact, Mengal’s willingness to meet the head of Pakistani government is a much bigger progress than even the presentation of Aghaz-e-Haqooq-e-Balochistan Package which was unveiled in November last year.
Irrespective of Sardar Mengal’s contributions, if any, to the ongoing armed struggle in Balochistan, the very meeting on Saturday has staggered everyone in Balochistan. Preparation of development or constitutional packages for Balochistan has not been the biggest problem the government has faced since the outset to resolve the Balochistan conflict. In fact, it has been the utter unwillingness of seasoned Baloch nationalist leaders to meet any high-ranking official of the government of Pakistan.
It is premature to say that the meeting between Gilani and Mengal is going to entirely normalize the situation in Balochistan but no word except “extraordinary’ suffices to describe it. This is a very crucial meeting for the government for its reconciliatory process initiated across the country, including Balochistan. Likewise, this meeting is very significant for the future of the ongoing Baloch resistance movement. With the younger lot of Balochs supporting the armed struggle and championing the cause of an independent Balochistan who would say Sardar Mengal is insignificant in the armed movement, one could still argue that the meeting at least gives a clear sense of what the Balochistan National Party (BNP) is thinking about its future plans.
Along with Nawab Khair Baksh Marri, Sardar Attaullah is the most important living Baloch leader. He was elected as the first chief minister of Balochistan in 1970s. His National Awami Party (NAP) government is known in the Baloch history as the only government fully owned and revered by the Baloch people. When Mengal’s government was undemocratically removed by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and a military operation was carried out by the Pakistan army against unarmed Balochs, that phase gave impetuous to the Baloch movement. Later on, his son and the president of Balochistan National Party (BNP), Sardar Akhtar Mengal, also served as the chief minister of Balochistan. The junior Mengal was immured during Musharraf’s dictatorial regime for more than one year. He was released only after the exit of Pervez Musharraf and induction of the PPP government.
One still does not know with certainty who actually arranged this meeting between the elderly Baloch leader and the prime minister of Pakistan. After all, Sardar Mengal had grown so disillusioned with Islamabad’s policies that he had disconnected all contacts with the center and its leaders. During Musharraf’s regime, he had gone to the extent of extending so much support to the Baloch armed struggle that he told Lahore-based The Friday Times, “I wish I were the BLA chief”. Likewise, he told the same news magazine days after the killing of Nawab Akbar Bugti that days for fighting political battles were over. Some times back at the outset of this year, President Asif Ali Zardari, during a visit to Karachi, had reportedly expressed his desire to meet Sardar Mengal but the Baloch leader had politely declined the offer saying that he did not see any progress on the part of the government towards the situation in Balochistan which could be taken as a pretext to meet the President of Pakistan.
Later on, Chief Minister of Balochistan Nawab Mohammad Aslam Raisani had called on the Mengal Sardar to discuss the situation of Balochistan. The Mengal Sardar did not waste much time to convey through his spokesmen in the media that he had met Raisani in a tribal capacity, not as the patron-in-chief of BNP.
The meeting between Mengal and Gilani, as analyzed on the basis of their conversation with the media soon after the talks, seemed to have taken place in a very conducive atmosphere. The Mengal Sardar stunned everyone by saying that Balochs were as good Pakistanis as the people living elsewhere in the country. Given the turmoil in Balochistan, it is even very hard to find a little child who would proudly say he is a a good Pakistani. Such pronouncements by a top Baloch leader should, therefore, be taken as a breakthrough for the government. Sardar Mengal was expected to have told the media that every Baloch was not as well-fed, educated, protected, respected and empowered as rest of the people living in Pakistan. His remarks must have hurt many Balochs whose loved ones were killed in the military operation or have not returned home after having ‘disappeared’. The patron-in-chief of BNP chose the very wrong timing to stand and address the media with the prime minister of Pakistan when even 40 days have not passed since the mother of a BNP activist was killed by the security forces in Quetta city. What were Mengal’s compulsions, many Baloch youth would surely ask in the coming days, to establish contacts with a government that has not abandoned polices of Pervez Musharraf towards Balochistan.
Exit Control List is no longer the headache of ordinary Balochs. Not many Balochs are contemplating “exiting” the country. Majority of them are simply pleading the case of their ‘existence’ as respected citizens.
Sardar Mengal jokingly said it was the season of mangoes and he had been invited by Premier Gilani to visit Multan to enjoy mangoes. Unfortunately, it is still not the mango season in Balochistan. The province is still experiencing the season of disappearances, search operations, check posts, humiliation, torture and exploitation.
Establishment of contacts between the government and BNP, which are reported to be the culmination of secrete talks by some junior leaders and government officers from both the sides in the previous weeks, have hopefully disappointed many young Balochs, who spent jail terms inside torture cells. In a nutshell, Sardar Mengal made a political blunder by not openly taking the Baloch nation into confidence before meeting Gilani. It is totally unfair on the part of the nationalist leaders to entice the younger activists to adopt hardliner approach and then suddenly abandon them by entering into negotiations with the government when all these young leaders like Mushtaq Baloch, Kabir Baloch, Sangat Sana and many others are all languishing in the torture cells.
(The Baloch Hal is the first online English newspaper of Balochistan)