Islamabad’s divide and rule game in Balochistan
By Malik Siraj Akbar
Only the desolately pessimists would conclude that the situation in Balochistan has reached a no-return point. Sardar Attaullah Mengal, the province’s first chief minister, said in September 2006 in an interview with Pulse magazine that the killing of Nawab Bugti had plunged the Balochistan situation into a point of no-return. Mengal’s charismatic son, Sardar Akhtar Mengal, also a former chief minister, went a step further when I sought his comments on the phone the night when the news of Nawab Bugti’s killing flashed on TV screens. “Nawab sahib’s killing has permanently disconnected all the Baloch links with Pakistan,” said an annoyed Akhtar.
Encouragingly, in the recent weeks we have heard some sane voices emerging from the country’s politically powerful quarters about the Balochistan imbroglio. Nawaz Sharif, the PML-Nawaz chief, has suddenly risen as a staunch proponent of the Baloch demand for maximum autonomy and control over their coast and resources. Along with his chief minister-brother Shahbaz Sharif, Nawaz has generated hopes that he would end up as a peace-maker in Balochistan. The former twice-elected prime minister of Pakistan has assured that he would come up with an All Parties Conference (APC) on Balochistan. In addition, he would not hesitate from launching a long march, like the one that he led for the restoration of the chief justice, to persuade the government to acquiesced the Baloch demands.
Back in Quetta, the Baloch capital, however, not everyone is submissively cheerful about Sharif’s fresh gestures. Currently, the Baloch skeptically debate whether Sharif –after the extraordinary triumph in the judicial movement – is desperately searching for a new issue to prolong his political ambitions or sincerely straining to settle the Baloch dispute once and for all. After all, many in Quetta still remember how an autocratic Sharif, while sitting at the Prime Ministers’ House in 1998, deceitfully conspired to dislodge the elected Baloch chief minister, Sardar Akhtar Mengal, and replace him with one of his loyalists.
Political pundits insist that both the PPP and the PML-N, two of the country’s largest political parties, equally contributed to the Baloch alienation, loss of faith in parliamentary politics, instigation of armed movements and promotion of hatred against the strictly centralized federal government.
On February 15, 1973, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto undemocratically dismissed the popular government of Sardar Attaullah Mengal which consequently led to a deadly insurgency. Similarly, the heavily-mandated PML-N central government rudely snubbed and domineered Akhtar Mengal’s provincial government. Primer Sharif even did not inform, let alone ‘consult’, CM Mengal that the Center contemplated nuclear tests in Balochistan. Poor Mengal came to know about the nuclear tests only when he watched the news on the television.
Historically, Nawaz Sharif had proved himself as a crook and anti-Baloch leader. In 1990, for instance, he asked Nawab Akbar Bugti to jointly struggle to oust the PPP from power so that they could form a coalition government in Balochistan. In the elections of October 29, 1990, JWP won 13 seats in a house of 43. During the election campaign, JWP did not make any alliance with its former allies, Balochistan National Movement (BNM) and Jamiat Ulema-e- Islam (JUI). Consequently, Sharif came up with his favorite government in Balochistan and excluded Nawab Bugti from power.
The root cause of the problem in Balochistan is in fact Islamabad’s flawed policy of divide-and-rule. Instead of shrewdly taking on board all the stakeholders to resolve Balochistan’s outstanding problems, successive governments exploited the tribal enmities within the Baloch. Such wrong trends were encouraged as early as 1948 when the State of Kalat was merged into Pakistan. While the Prince Abdul Karim, the younger brother of the Khan of Kalat, resisted Kalat’s accession, the elder brother, Mir Ahmed Yar Khan, was officially pampered for his support to the central government in Karachi.
Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto also continued the same crooked policy. While the ousted CM, Sardar Attaullah Mengal, Governor Ghose Baksh Bizanjo and nationalist leader Khair Baksh Marri were implicated in notorious Hyderabad conspiracy case and imprisoned, another tribal chief, Nawab Akbar Bugti, on the other hand, was installed as the governor. Bugti not only consented to ZAB’s military operation but also fulfilled the latter’s desire to victimize the political opponents.
Among all rulers, Pervez Musharraf most impressively played the divide and rule game. He coaxed the Baloch chief minister Jam Yousaf to get his cousin Sardar Akhtar Mengal immured. It was Musharraf’s stint when Nawab Bugti was killed but all four MPAs, one MNA and one senator from his Jamori Watan Party (JWP), ironically, extended support to pro-Musharraf PML -Quaid-e-Azam. Likewise, while the Khan of Kalat, Suleman Dawood, threatened to challenge Pakistan at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), his younger brother, Prince Faisal Dawood, the then minister for Communication and Works, and two other female MPAs from his family supported Musharraf till the end.
In Khuzdar, pro-establishment Naseer Mengal was encouraged to challenge nationalist Mengals’ influence. Khair Baksh Marri’s popularity was questioned with the help of the rival Bijranis. Akbar Bugti’s family was kept out of Dera Bugti with the cooperation of the rival Kalpars.
Learning no lessons from the past, the PPP has now continued with the same policy by pitting Mir Aali Bugti, a grandson of Nawab Bugti, against his rebellious cousin Nawabzad Bramdagh Bugti. Aali, who is the son of former MNA Saleem Akbar Bugti, was brought back to his native Dera Bugti district last month after four years of displacement under the covert official patronage. It is likely that the government would encourage Aali to be crowned as the successor of Nawab Bugti. This seemingly is a deliberate attempt by the government to field Aali against Bramdagh Bugti, also a contender for the coveted seat of leading the Bugti tribe. The recent development, which the government contends is meant to bring peace to Dera Bugti, is likely to backfire and push Balochistan into a conflagration of tribal clashes and anti-government movements.
A solution to Balochistan issue is possible if the PPP and PML agree to jointly work on a mechanism that will not betray the Baloch but empower them. Similarly, attempts to pit one Baloch elder against the other should be shunned this time. Everyone’s fears should be allayed while taking them on board. The Baloch leaders should be mandated and encouraged to engage in a process of internal and external dialogue among themselves and with the Center.
Those who talk of impossibilities should know that the Baloch tirade can solely be responded with granting them maximum autonomy and control over their natural resources. Nonetheless, power should not be shared only with those who try to blackmail the state for their self-aggrandizement. For example, a similar attempt was made by Nawab Zulfiqar Ali Magsi, Nawab Mohammad Aslam Raisani, and Sardar Sanaullah Zehri during the Kalat Jirga on 21st September 2006 by warning to challenge Islamabad at the ICJ. But once these leaders were accommodated into lucrative slots of power, they never checked in to fly to The Hague.
Balochistan’s issue does not pertain to one tribe only. Therefore, everyone should be made a part of the negotiation process. An approach of empowering individual sardars against the others and the impoverished masses of Balochistan would only trigger more future rebellion.