Nationalists divided over polls boycott

By Malik Siraj Akbar

Baloch nationalist parties are deliberating whether or not they should contest the upcoming general elections. While some parties and strong Baloch tribal sections have clearly indicated they will boycott the polls, the remaining parties maintain that their participation hinges on future political developments.

The Jamhoori Watan Party (JWP), founded by the late Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, is split into two separate factions, each headed by a son of the late nawab. A proponent of parliamentary politics, Nawabzada Talal Bugti, who leads one of the JWP factions, said his party would contest the upcoming elections. He said participation in was in the greater interest of the people of Balochistan since a boycott would only help the pro-government elements. “We will put up candidates from all four provinces in the next general elections,” he said.

Talal Bugti said his party would participate along with the rest of the mainstream national political parties that met in the recent All Parties Conference in London. However, he said that the JWP would dissociate itself from any political party that brokered a deal with the military government.

On the other hand, Nawabzada Jamil Bugti, who runs the other JWP faction, said unequivocally that his faction would not contest the elections under General Pervez Musharraf, regardless of whether or not he remained in uniform. “As long as Musharraf and the military are a part of the government, contesting the elections would be a totally futile exercise,” he said.

According to Jamil Bugti, military rulers have weakened all the democratic institutions in the country. The present parliament and provincial assemblies have proved totally helpless before the military rulers. “When we are convinced there is no actual democracy in the country, why should we waste our time and energy on such a useless exercise?” he asks.

Jamil Bugti says he is running the real JWP. His stepbrother Talal is running “the Military Intelligence (MI) faction” of the JWP, he alleges. “All my father’s friends are with me. I represent the actual JWP.”

Balochistan National Party (BNP) secretary general Habib Jalib told this scribe that his party was also leaning towards boycotting the elections due to the political situation in the country in general, and in the province in particular. He said his party had already relinquished its seats in the national and provincial assemblies last year to protest Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti’s killing. Contesting the elections would be a suicidal step for nationalist forces, he said.

“Balochistan faces more serious problems. Elections do not matter to us. We are confronted with the issue of military operations, forced disappearances and large-scale arrests of our leaders,” said Jalib.

Although the BNP has not made a final declaration of boycotting the elections, Jalib said one thing is clear: “We will never contest the elections with our president Sardar Akhtar Mengal, several hundred party workers and fellow citizens remaining in government custody, facing fake cases.”

In a recently broadcast interview, another leading Baloch nationalist leader, Nawab Khair Baksh Marri, announced he would boycott the elections. Marri said the government had not created a democratic atmosphere in the country and his sons were being billed as chiefs of the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA).

Amid speculation about a deal between the establishment and the National Party (NP) headed by Dr Abdul Hayee, the NP leadership says it has not yet decided whether or not they will participate in the elections. News about a deal is being disseminated by the establishment to create rifts among the nationalist parties and to tarnish their public image, the party says.
Tahir Bezanjo, a senior NP leader, said the party would never compromise with the present military establishment. However, the decision of participating in or boycotting the elections should be made collectively with other parties in the province. “Our relations with the BNP are at their best. We are in touch with the remaining parties and will soon make a decision that suits our interests,” he added.

Bezanjo said the political situation in the country was so uncertain that it was not possible to even predict the future course of action. “We may not have elections at all. The country is likely to be placed under a state of emergency. We do not want to make a hasty decision. We will observe all developments and then decide what to do,” he said.

There seems little likelihood that the nationalist parties will make a common strategy. Talal Bugti says he has no faith in the four-party Baloch alliance because all member parties, he alleges, work for the establishment and its intelligence agencies. Jamil Bugti admits he is in consultation with all the Baloch parties but says he will not reconsider his decision to contest the elections. In the past, consultations between the BNP and the NP on the issue of resigning from the assemblies did not prove fruitful. Both parties eventually opted for unilateral decisions in the end.

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