The Reluctant Nationalist
The Balochistan National Party (B.N.P.) of Sardar Akhtar Mengal has rejected the results of May 11 polls and launched a massive protest campaign against what it calls as the rigged polls. The Pashtunkhawa Milli Awami Party and the National Party, which performed beyond expectations, are neither a part of Mr. Mengal’s protest nor are they very happy with his objections on the election results. The B.N.P. says government authorities have intentionally delayed the results of certain constituencies and seats that were traditionally won by the Balochs in Quetta have also been won by the Pashtun nationalists.
The B.N.P. supporters blocked the National Highway in Khzudar district on Tuesday to protest against the results. The protesters blocked the highway for 26 hours suspending road links between Balochistan and Sindh provinces. In addition, the B.N.P. has also called a more robust Balochistan wide campaign starting from May 15 as a part of its renewed protests.
By and large, most political parties in Balochistan seem satisfied over the outcome of the elections because all of them have won a certain number of seats. Unlike the three other provinces of Pakistan, Balochistan is the only place where one single party has not acquired absolute majority. That said, every party is somewhat represented in the provincial assembly.
The only parties dissatisfied with the results are the B.N.P.-Mengal, B.N.P-Awami and the Hazara Democratic Party. Rejection of one’s defeat is such a common practice in Pakistan’s politics that it is not very easy to convince the government, the media and the civil society about the validity of the complaints unless one truly provides incontrovertible evidence of fraud.
If the Establishment truly interfered in this year’s elections, the winners in that case should have been Pakistan People’s Party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid-e-Azam and the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam, which controlled the previous government.
Ironically, Sardar Mengal would not complain of corruption and rigging on the very seat he won from his hometown constituency. As a mature politician, Mr. Mengal should demonstrate sportsman’s spirit and accept the results of the election.
Mr. Mengal has to ponder over the following reasons why his party actually failed during the elections.
First, most of the Baloch people have turned hostile toward the State itself. They refrained from voting on the election day as a mark of protest against Pakistan’s repressive policies against the Baloch people. Even, a lot of people within the B.N.P. were not happy with Sardar Mengal’s decision to contest the elections in the first place because they believed it would make them look ‘insufficiently patriotic’ in the Baloch nationalist movement. The Baloch sense of boycott of every Pakistani institution and practice has reached an alarming level.
Such passionate anti-Pakistan sentiments may have their own counterproductive outcomes for the Baloch in the future. If they continue to remain so aloof to the system, they will lose more seats in the provincial parliament, civil and military bureaucracy, professional colleges and every other sphere of life. The Baloch youth is no longer enthusiastic to become the beneficiary of Pakistani offers of employment and development. Despondency has reached an unprecedented level. Nothing, including Imran Khan’s musical election campaigns, for example, cheered the Baloch youth. There seems no Baloch leader in the arena who can give the Baloch a sense of integration and reconciliation with the Pakistani federation. The gulf has significantly widened and the ordinary Baloch is more attached to the romantic mantra of Baloch freedom than promises of progress, success and development while living within Pakistan.
If politicians are change-makers and master negotiators then here is the challenge for them to win the hearts of the angry Baloch youth.
Two, many of the Baloch voters did not get out of their homes because the armed groups that seek Balochistan’s independence from Pakistan asked people to stay inside their homes. The armed groups and their supporters, such as the Baloch National Front, took several months to campaign, through wall chalking, SMS, newspaper statements and messages on the social media, to prepare the Baloch to boycott the “Pakistani elections.”
A part of the reason for the Baloch boycott maybe the fear of attacks from the nationalist armed groups but it is not entirely true that the Baloch people did not vote only because of the fear of the underground organizations. Those who supported the boycott were actually the ones who had been impressed and convinced by the very effective anti-election campaign. On the contrary, the parties that participated in the elections almost did nothing to reach out to the voters. Young Balochs supportive of the liberation movement are indeed far more sophisticated in the use of social media and SMS campaigns as compared to the parliamentary parties.In a nutshell, the armed groups have a strategy that seems to be working impressively in terms of disseminating their message among the general public.
Third, Sardar Mengal should know that his absence in the past four years has weakened the B.N.P. No political party can always remains the same if its leadership stays away from the party. In contrast, the top leadership of the Pakhtunkhawa Milli Awami Party and the National Party remained inside Balochistan despite boycotting the previous elections. Their leadership did not flee the country. They spent several years in identifying their weaknesses and preparing new strategies.
For instance, only one year after 2008 elections, Dr. Abdul Malik Baloch began to tell the media that he thought his party had made a blunder by boycotting the elections. Since then, he promised that his party would stage a comeback in the parliament.
The P.K.M.P and the N.P did so well in this year’s elections because they had been preparing for more than four years for 2013 elections. It is true that these have been harsh years for the B.N.P. as their central leaders and activists were killed during this time. But the National Party also faced a similar situation and still continued to stay in the ground to fight. The P.K.M.P and the N.P. recruited new people and opened new party offices at the union council level. As far as the B.N.P. is concerned, it campaigned for less than a month prior to this year’s general elections. It is common sense that parties that have four-year preparation perform better than the one (read the B.N.P.) that campaigns only for a month.
Sardar Mengal must respect the mandate won by all parties, particularly the P.K.M.P. and the National Party. He will have to learn from these parties’ success stories how to do politics. The open secret of these parties’ success is their flexible, pragmatic and inclusive politics.
But in order to normalize the B.N.P. Mr. Mengal will have to stay inside Balochistan with his party members for the next five years. He has to work tirelessly to rebuild the B.N.P. Moreover, the challenge would still not be very easy because he would have to persuade the Baloch people to like Pakistan and vote in its elections. Not many young Baloch voters will listen to such “unpatriotic” appeals. So, what should Mengal do? Well, that is his homework for the next five years.
Originally published in The Baloch Hal on May 14, 2013