COMMENT: Significance of Raisani-Mengal meeting
Tuesday, January 05, 2010
COMMENT: Significance of Raisani-Mengal meeting —Malik Siraj Akbar
An unexpected but a very significant meeting took place between Balochistan Chief Minister Nawab Mohammad Aslam Raisani and veteran Baloch nationalist leader Sardar Attaullah Mengal last Saturday (January 2) at the latter’s residence in Wadh, Khuzdar district. Limited details of the meeting were very cautiously issued to the media by both sides, as they insisted that it should be treated as a meeting between two prominent tribal elders, not politicians. They also insisted that Raisani had not called on Mengal, who became the first chief minister of Balochistan in 1972, as a head of the Balochistan government. Likewise, Mengal spoke to Raisani not as the patron-in-chief of the Balochistan National Party (BNP) but as a seasoned politician whom Raisani admires for his political sagacity.
Regardless of the agenda of the meeting, Saturday’s visit by CM Raisani to Sardar Mengal is indeed a major breakthrough in the government efforts to reconcile with the Baloch leaders. It was the first time in two years that Raisani met Sardar Mengal. No doubt, Mengal is the most influential living Baloch leader along with Nawab Khair Bakhsh Marri. He has had an illustrious career of political struggle for the rights of Balochistan. Mengal played a pivotal role in the struggle against the infamous One Unit. After the 1970 general elections, he was elected as the first chief minister of Balochistan on the platform of the erstwhile National Awami Party (NAP). The Baloch delightedly billed Mengal’s government as their ‘own’ government. Unfortunately, the then prime minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto snubbed the Baloch mandate and dismissed Mengal’s government.
Attaullah Mengal was put into jail along with his governor Ghaus Bakhsh Bizenjo, Nawab Khair Bakhsh Marri and Gul Khan Nasir in Hyderabad jail for several years. In addition, a young son of his, Asadullah Mengal, and his friend Ahmed Shah Kurd were allegedly whisked away by the security forces. Mengal never learnt about the whereabouts of his missing son nor was the dead body of Asadullah ever recovered. Since then, his followers have been subjected to repressive treatment by the establishment.
General Pervez Musharraf publicly mentioned Sardar Mengal, Nawab Khair Bakhsh Marri and late Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti as “the only anti-development sardars of Balochistan”. The former military dictator said every tribal chief in Balochistan supported him except for the three recalcitrant Baloch nationalist leaders. In fact, it was these three leaders who had overwhelming popularity among the people of Balochistan and only freelance opportunist sardars backed Musharraf.
Prior to Musharraf’s takeover and the subsequent military operation in Balochistan, Mengal’s Balochistan National Party (BNP), the largest party of the province, stood for maximum provincial autonomy for the provinces. In an interview with a Lahore-based weekly, Mengal said his party wanted the federal government to devolve powers to the federating units and only control three subjects: defence, foreign affairs and currency. The BNP moved a step further and adopted a hardliner approach after the killing of Nawab Bugti. It was the only party that resigned from all of its seats in parliament. Later on, BNP’s president and Attaullah’s son, Sardar Akhtar Mengal, who became the chief minister of Balochistan in 1997, was detained in a Karachi jail where, the senior Mengal charged, the government attempted to poison and kill him. The supporters of Akhar Mengal were extremely irked after Iqbal Haider, the secretary general of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), told the media that he had seen the former Baloch chief minister being produced in the court room in an iron cage. After the barbaric killing of Nawab Bugti, Mengal was the second Baloch chief minister to be humiliated. It was surely not the right way to treat a former elected head of the government. The junior Mengal was released by the Pakistan People’s Party government through Nawab Raisani’s efforts. However, more than a year after his release, Akhtar Mengal has not been able to actively participate in politics due to his poor health that deteriorated during the period of his imprisonment in Karachi. He has been travelling extensively for his medical treatment but has still not fully recovered.
BNP lost faith in the country’s political system to such an extent that it boycotted the general elections of February 2008. Moving a step further, the BNP now began to ask for the right of self-determination for Balochistan against its previous demand of provincial autonomy within the federation of Pakistan. Currently, another key demand of the BNP is the inclusion of foreign mediators, preferably the United Nations or the European Union, in any proposed dialogue with the government of Pakistan.
One finds it very strange when political leaders tell the media that they discussed everything in their meeting except politics. A similar impression was given by the Khan of Kalat Mir Suleman Dawood when he met Governor of Balochistan Nawab Zulfiqar Ali Magsi last year. In an interview with Samandar Askani of Sweden-based Balochi Radio Gwank, Dawood admitted having hosted the Balochistan governor for about five hours. He said he had discussed everything with Magsi but not politics. Why not? No one knows.
Meeting Sardar Mengal must be a big accomplishment of Nawab Raisani as he had been struggling to use his influence as a towering tribal chief to hold talks with Baloch leaders who matter in the conflict. The BNP is shying away from disclosing the details of the meeting because it believes time is not ripe to meet government representatives as many Baloch people think the PPP has not completely undone the policies initiated by Pervez Musharraf.
A former member of the National Assembly and a senior BNP leader told this writer that initially President Asif Ali Zardari had expressed his desire to call on the veteran Baloch leader during his recent visit to Lasbela district. Zardari had come to Lasbela to inaugurate the Winder Dam. When the presidential message was conveyed to the seasoned Baloch leader, Mengal politely spurned the request saying that he would not agree to meet any government representative. Nonetheless, CM Raisani continued to insist for a meeting with Mengal saying that he would not call on him as the head of the Balochistan government. Instead, he would visit the aging leader as the chief of Raisani tribe. On his part, Mengal could not decline the meeting request as a part of the Balochi traditions where a guest is always welcome.
Even if held in a tribal capacity, the meeting between Nawab Raisani and Sardar Mengal is a welcome development. They should keep on meeting each other to discuss all issues, including political, because political issues need political solutions. No matter how they identify themselves — as tribal elders or political leaders — Nawab Raisani and Sardar Mengal should seriously debate on the issues of Balochistan and the problems faced by the masses on economic, social, political and cultural fronts.
Raisani must be applauded for making personal efforts to reconcile with the Baloch leaders. On the directives of Prime Minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani, Raisani instantly announced the withdrawal of cases against 992 Baloch political leaders and activists. Of course, Balochistan problem goes far beyond the withdrawal of some cases, as many more tangible measures are required to eliminate Balochistan’s sense of alienation and deprivation.
It is hoped Nawab Raisani will also approach Nawab Khair Baksh Marri to hear his point of view as well. Similarly, Nawabzada Bramdagh Bugti should also be approached and dealt with respect. These are the real popular and influential people of Balochistan. The government must not snub these leaders. They should be contacted; their grievances and demands should be heard patiently. Nawab Raisani can surely play this important role by starting meeting the key Baloch leaders in his ‘tribal capacity’. If ‘tribal meetings’ lead to developing mutual trust, political issues will gradually be discussed in the subsequent phases of such interactions.
The writer is a staff member. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org