The Legacy of Jam Yousaf (1954-2013)


jam-yousaf137_lBy Malik Siraj Akbar

There are very few good facts historians will recall to pay flattering tributes to Jam Mohammad Yousaf, Balochistan’s former chief minister who passed away on February 2nd due to a heart attack in Islamabad while serving as the country’s minister for privatization. History will, however, always come to his rescue by presenting him as a ‘better’ politician whenever compared with his successor Nawab Aslam Raisani.

The fact that he served as the chief minister of Balochistan under the military dictatorship of General Pervez Musharraf will make him deeply unpopular among his detractors but, at the same time, his term coinciding with a military regime will help his supporters argue how he lacked ‘actual authority’ as the chief minister when Musharraf carried out a military operation in Balochistan.

Yousaf was deeply committed to Pakistan’s interests in Balochistan and he was not apologetic about his point of view in a province where anti-Pakistan sentiments run deeper than any other place in Pakistan. He spent his entire political career as a centrist politician believing that Balochistan’s future was interlinked with Pakistan and vice versa. He did not criticized Islamabad’s policies toward Balochistan. Mr. Yousaf had a rare quality which is hard to find among most of Pakistani politicians: He did not publicly challenge, provoke or ridicule his political opponents. He was not very fond of press conferences, newspaper statements or the issuance of rebuttals and clarifications in response to his opponents’ press statements. He was a soft-spoken man who did not quarrel publicly with his rivals. He knew his opponents passionately disliked him and he treated such resentment as the part and parcel of politics.

Mr. Yousaf minded his own politics and the core of his ideology was to stick to power by hook or by crook. He was among the “good sardars” representing the breed of Baloch tribal chiefs who compromised on Baloch interests in return of pleasing Pakistan. Some may call him a pragmatic leader as he deemed any kind of confrontation with Pakistan (in the wake of nationalists’ demand for separation of Balochistan) as suicidal. As a result, he held key positions in the governments of the Pakistan Muslim League as well as the Pakistan People’s Party. However, Mr. Yousaf’s electoral constituency Lasbela is a the classic place to disprove Islamabad’s theory of “good versus bad sardars”. In spite of holding several key offices, Mr. Yousaf failed to improve the living standards of his voters and build better infrastructure to show that his ideology (of supporting Balochistan’s attachment with Pakistan) was better than the nationalists’ call for separation. He knew the art of politics and for him it meant to acknowledge the fact that it was not possible to please everyone. So, he spent more time in guarding his own political and financial interests instead of caring how much his opponents (mostly Baloch nationalists) hated him.

Until his election as the chief minister of Balochistan in 2002, Mr. Yousaf was only known among the Baloch nationalists as an opportunist but he was still not a very controversial figure because Balochistan is full of opportunist politicians and this does not necessarily disqualify anyone from retaining a distinctive political identity. Even Nawab Akbar Bugti’s Jamori Watan Party (J.W.P.), which possessed four seats in the Balochistan Assembly, voted for Mr. Yousaf to become the chief minister. Unlike Nawab Aslam Raisani, who participated with the Khan of Kalat in a 2006 jirga promising to challenge Pakistan at at the International Court of Justice and then became Balochistan’s chief minister in 2008, Mr. Yousaf did not have double standards. He knew what he stood for and, as a result, he supported General Musharraf’s so-called ‘development policy’.

As long as Mr. Yousaf served in his office, he said his government was committed to the development of Balochistan. During his term in the office, the Musharraf regime constructed the Gwadar Port, the Mekran Coastal Highway and the Kachi Canal. Mr. The Baloch nationalists objected to Musharraf’s development policies and insisted that they were meant to colonize Balochistan and cause demographic imbalance. Yet, Mr. Yousaf did not cause problems for the opposition benches in the Balochistan Assembly. He did not buy off everyone’s political loyalties. One top politician who was detained during Mr. Yousaf’s government was none other than his own cousin Sardar Akhtar Mengal, the head of the Balochistan National Party. Mengal was in fact arrested on the instructions of General Musharraf who ridiculed Mengal’s anti-government long march known as the “Lashkar-e-Balochistan” saying that only one Lashkar i.e. the Pakistan army was accepted to his regime and every other Lashkar would be quashed.

Controversy over Mr. Yousaf’s politics rose after General Musharraf initiated the military operation, killed Nawab Akbar Bugti and forced to disappear hundreds of political activists. The opposition parties said Mr. Yousaf’s government was complicit in the military operation; the family of Nawab Akbar Bugti named him among people responsible for the killing of the veteran Baloch leader; the hardliners accused him of ‘sell-out’ to the federal government; the underground Baloch insurgents pledged to kill him. While Mr. Yousaf remained safe, his spokesman, Raziq Bugti, was killed in 2007 by the Baloch Liberation Army in Quetta.

Mr. Yousaf thought he was being unfairly blamed for the killing of Nawab Bugti and the military operation in Balochistan because General Musharraf was already too powerful and he would not consult the chief minister regarding his key decisions including those pertaining to Balochistan. It was not the first time a Baloch politician cited the lack of authority as a pretext to seek exemption. For example, the supporters of Nawab Bugti say he had no control over Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in 1970s when the latter carried out a military operation in Balochistan while the Nawab served as the governor of the province. Likewise, Sardar Akhtar Mengal, the chief minister of Balochistan in 1998, has repeatedly said that he had no powers to prevent former prime minister Nawaz Sharif from using the Baloch land for nuclear tests. Baloch historians and generations will not entertain Mr. Yousaf’s plea on the same lines as they have treated the mistakes of Nawab Bugti and Sardar Akhtar Mengal but it is clear that he would be offered a saving face whenever his time in the office is compared with that of Nawab Aslam Raisani.

While people disappeared when Mr. Yousaf held office, they were not exposed to the policy of ‘kill and dump’ until then. Political opponents, students, activists and journalists were not killed on such a large scale in Balochistan during Mr. Yousaf’s government. For the Baloch nationalists, Mr. Yousaf’s demise is the end of a full-time ‘collaborator’ but it is a much greater loss for Pakistan in the wake of deepening resentment against the central government in Balochistan.

This editorial was originally published in The Baloch Hal on February 2, 2013

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