“ The days to fight political battles ore over…” Mengal
Interview by Malik Siraj Akbar
Sardar Attaullah Mengal, Balochistan’s first chief minister, and chief of Balochistan National Party (BNP) has had a love-hate relationship with the slain Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti. In the wake of Bugti’s killing in a military operation on August 26, Mengal has chosen to take a very hard stance against the federal government, with the BNP announcing on September 3 that it was resigning its seats from the senate and the national and Balochistan assemblies.
Mengal is also peeved at how the media has been exposing his old animosity with the late Bugti and tries hard to dispel the impression that his party is using Bugti’s death to build support for itself and present itself as the major Baloch opposition to Islamabad.
“We [Bugti and Mengal] have known each other for several decades and jointly fought against the powerful federal government for the rights of Balochistan. This is what politics is about: sometimes you are on good terms and at other times you fall out. These differences exist. Akbar Khan [Bugti] and I also had our differences but we had things in common also. So don’t underestimate us. We won’t remain silent spectators; we will avenge Akbar Khan’s murder. Every Baloch will stand to avenge this tragedy,” Mengal told TFT.
Mengal, like Bugti, says he has never expected the Punjab-dominated federal government to do any good for the Baloch people. “I have never had two opinions about Punjab and the army. They have done no good for us at any point in history. But I also never thought they would go to the extent of killing Bugti and humiliating the body of an elderly politician. The handling of Akbar Khan’s dead body was against larger religious codes as well as the Baloch culture. This has hurt every Baloch’s feelings, whether or not he is Bugti’s friend,” says Mengal.
Mengal also rejects the idea that Bugti died in a cave and insists that this is a “white lie” the government is feeding the public. He says the government used lethal weapons to kill Bugti. “No one can subscribe to these lies. Akbar Khan was a brave man, who, I am sure, resisted fearlessly and inflicted heavy casualties on the troops. When the army found itself trapped, the sole option left for it was to use lethal weapons against him and finish him off. It is for this reason that the government hesitated in showing his body to the world. That would have revealed what weapons had actually been used to kill him. We are all very proud of Bugti and he has shown us the right path to follow,” Mengal said.
And what does Mengal believe this path is? The former Balochistan chief minister, the dismissal of whose government in February 1973 by then Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto sparked a bloody insurgency in the country’s largest province, contends that the sole option left for the Baloch now is to proceed to the mountains to wage an armed struggle for their rights.
“I will lead the Baloch in the mountains if my health permits me,” he declares. “Armed struggle is the sole ‘legitimate option’ left for the weak and suppressed nations of the world. The Baloch tried their best to reconcile with Pakistan. But I am convinced Bugti’s murder has explicitly demonstrated the fact that our existence with Pakistan in general and this government in particular is impossible. We have never tried to shut the door of reconciliation. Time and again we have abjured violence and sat in the assemblies. But these assemblies have done us no favours. We raised our voice for Baloch rights, but no one heeded our plea,” says Mengal.
In fact, for Mengal, there is no relationship between Punjab and Balochistan. “Someone needs to ask Punjab why it has not woken up to protest Bugti’s killing when the rest of the country has. It is because we have no relations with Punjab. They [Punjabis] don’t cheer with us during happy times and don’t mourn with us on the deaths of our beloved ones. This is a sad but undeniable truth.”
When questioned about the houses and property of the Balochistan-based Punjabis that are being targeted by angry protestors, the elderly Baloch nationalist says: “But this was inevitable. The Punjabis have driven everyone here to this anger; they have set a fire and they can’t escape its flames now. I have been after the people of the Punjab to oppose their leaders’ oppression but these nincompoop Punjabi leaders have done nothing but invited the wrath of the angry Baloch. I have told the Punjabis to take their leaders to task about the injustices they have done to the Baloch but there has been no response from that side.”
Despite serious trouble in the resource-rich province of Balochistan, there are still no signs of sincerity on the part of Islamabad to solve “political problems by political means”, says Mengal. “I am tired of hearing that the Baloch are receiving external assistance. This is subterfuge, one of the many ways to distract attention from the crux of the problem in Balochistan. Accusing us of getting external assistance is not going to solve problems. We are fighting for our just rights as we have been doing ever since the forceful accession of Balochistan to Pakistan in 1947. And we will continue to do this but this time, it is not going to be a political war. The days to fight political wars are over,” he says.