Baloch nationalist parties not interested in APC


By Malik Siraj Akbar

The nationalist parties of Balochistan are apparently not enthusiastic about an all-parties conference (APC) that Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Co-chairman Asif Zardari has called for to address Balochistan’s grievances.

Following in President Pervez Musharraf’s footsteps, the PPP also apologised yet again to the people of Balochistan for military operations and injustices in the country’s largest but the most disillusioned province. For him, it is a time when negotiations and not guns can settle the Balochistan issue for good.

But the nationalist political parties, which boycotted the February elections, refused to attend the APC because they say they have lost their faith in conferences and committees.

The trust deficit is at its peak after a devastating military operation by the previous government, the subsequent displacement of tens of thousands of Baloch people from Marri and Bugti tribal areas, the killing of two prominent Baloch nationalist leaders – Akbar Bugti and Balaach Marri – and an indefatigable cycle of enforced “disappearances”.

The policies of the previous government included freezing several Baloch leaders’ bank accounts and putting many of them on the Exit Control List. While some managed to leave the country, their families accuse the government of harassment. Two brothers of Balochistan National Party (BNP) Secretary General Senator Sanaullah Baloch were abducted in Quetta , allegedly by intelligence agencies to coax him to give up his anti-government stance.

Signs of a change began to appear in Balochistan when assassinated PPP chairwoman Benazir Bhutto opposed Musharraf’s policies vocally and suggested a political approach to the settlement of the Balochistan conflict.

Baloch leaders recall that she had vowed in a conference in London to end the military operation in Balochistan and release all the detained political activists. After the PPP formed the government after winning a majority in the February elections, the Baloch leaders demanded that the party fulfil all the promises its slain leader had made.

Balochistan Chief Minister Nawab Muhammad Aslam Raisani, who belongs to the PPP, has been trying to win the Baloch nationalists’ trust. But the nationalists say they see no change in Islamabad ‘s Balochistan policy.

Although the provincial government has withdrawn all the cases, including two of sedition, against Balochistan’s jailed former chief minister Sardar Akhtar Mengal, his Balochistan National Party (BNP) is still unwilling to participate in the APC. A senior political writer said: “It is ironic that Mengal was freed from sedition charges but is held in a case in which he allegedly slapped a Hawaldar of the Military Intelligence.”

BNP Secretary General Habib Jalib Baloch says, “The Baloch have been cheated time and again by the Centre under the disguise of parliamentary committees and APCs. We are tired of such measures which, at the end of the day, do not yield any positive results.”

According to him, the withdrawal of “fake” cases against Sardar Akhtar Mengal can by no means be described as a confidence building measure. “All cases, expect for which the Mengal Sardar is in jail, have been withdrawn. This is a joke… and then they want us to sit on the negotiations table.”

Abdul Rauf Mengal, a former BNP member of the National Assembly, said although Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani had ordered the release of all the judges under house arrest, he “did not utter a word of sympathy with the Baloch people … We wonder why the promises made to us have been forgotten after the PPP has come to power.”

Another liberal progressive nationalist party in Balochistan that is not interested in the APC is the National Party (NP). An ardent critic of the ongoing insurgency in Balochistan and a supported of parliamentary politics, the National Party believes that the PPP is oblivious to the original issues faced by the province.

NP secretary General Mir Hasal Khan Bizanjo says the PPP wants to make history before creating an atmosphere enabling talks. “We have asked them to stop the military operation in the province, send the troops back to the barracks, and release the missing persons. Until these measures are taken, the APC will have no significance,” he said.

The activities of Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA), a key player in Balochistan trouble, have increased since the induction of the new government. The BLA has rejected the offer for negotiations. Asked how it viewed the proposed APC, a BLA spokesman told Daily Times it was “a sheer waste of time”. The BLA claims responsibility of the killing of a Punjabi professor last week saying he was a spy for intelligence agencies. The BLA has killed dozens of government personnel in Balochistan citing the same reason. Most of those killed are Punjabis.

Political analyst Shahzada Zulfiqar contends that participating in the APC would be suicidal for the nationalist parties, without confidence-building measures by the PPP.

Referring to Balochistan Governor Nawab Zulfiqar Ali Magsi’s disclosure of having a list of 900 missing persons, Shahzada Zulfiqar suggests that the government should at least release 500 of them as a confidence-building measure.

A veteran political commentator told Daily Times that the fate of the APC would be even more disastrous than the parliamentary committees constituted in 2004. “The parliamentary committees managed to talk to the heavyweights of Balochistan, including Nawab Akbar Bugti and Sardar Attaullah Mengal,” he reminded, “but this time even the moderate forces, such as the National Party, are unwilling to talk.”

Billing the APC as a political gimmick, the analyst asks what he calls the million-dollar question: “Who is Zardari going to talk to, when everyone has lost faith in the so-called political process?”

The PPP believes the nationalist parties should not reject the APC in haste. PPP Balochistan President Haji Lashkari Raisani said that the errors made by the previous government in nine years could not be corrected overnight. “The nationalist parties should co-operate with the PPP in making the APC a success,” he said.

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