BALOCHISTAN’S political history shows that nationalists have traditionally been against each other — except in the 1970s when the National Awami Party was making strides.
The Baloch — politically speaking — can be divided into three categories: those who work within the constitutional framework of the country; the hardliners who do not see any point in talking with the state; and finally, the confused bunch — who are neither here nor there. They are what we could refer to as ‘swing’ voters.
There are also three nationalist parties in the province right now that are willing to work within the law — the Balochistan National Party (BNP), the Balochistan National Party-Awami, and the National Party. All three, however, are opposed to one another.
The BNP led by Sardar Akhtar Mengal is the biggest party in the province. In 1997, Sardar Mengal was appointed chief minister of Balochistan but his government was overthrown just over a year later. Since then, the party has remained out of power — a fact that has taken its toll on its leadership.
The situation of the Baloch nationalists has worsened with the formation of the Balochistan Awami Party (BAP). Some analysts believe that the province will clinch many victories now by playing the ‘deprivation card.’
Quetta-based journalist Jalal Noorzai maintains that “Balochistan’s deprivation has become a tool. The new party is the party of the establishment. If the king-makers could make Sadiq Sanjrani chairman of the Senate, how can they not get their men appointed as chief minister and governor in the next provincial set-up?”
In Ramazan, Sardar Mengal warned a group of journalists in Quetta, that “if this time the establishment tries to steal the mandate of his party, and of the people — like it did in the 2013 elections — he will sit home and ‘allow’ his workers to do whatever they want.” He said that there would be dire consequences. Sardar Mengal apparently sees no other way as he alleges that his workers have been silenced for two decades now.
Senior analysts, however, believe that the Sardar is trying to woo the establishment to get his party in power. The BNP lost its two constituencies in Quetta in the previous elections, where it historically won by large margins. The Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party of Mehmood Khan Achakzai defeated the BNP.
Political commentators claim that “the new party can win about 20 seats in the polls, and it can ally itself with the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islami-Fazl among others. The party is filled with ‘electables’ and it will play an important role in the formation of the new government.”
Professor Abdul Manan Kakar of the University of Balochistan argues that “the BAP is the B-team of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf, and the party that forms the government in the capital, usually forms one in Balochistan as well.”
Dr Kahoor Baloch, a Quetta-based political analyst, contends that middle-class leftist politicians, instead of filling the void in Baloch nationalist politics, have widened it.
In 1988, when the Baloch nationalists contested elections, their supporters campaigned with all the hope in the world. One such dedicated worker, active in Kech district, was Tahir Baloch. Now in his 40s, the once idealistic party worker, is a professor at the University of Balochistan.
As he adjusts his spectacles — which add to his intellectual demeanour — the professor recalls how his contemporaries had struggled to elect Dr Abdul Malik Baloch, a nationalist politician, who had legendary status for the youth at the time.
“We had such high hopes in Dr Baloch that many of us including myself sold whatever valuables we had to fund the campaign. We were determined that poverty would not prevent us from getting the leaders of the Balochistan National Youth Movement elected.”
“Someone told us about an old man — an octogenarian — who lived in the mountains. He could not make it to the polling station on his own so we decided to help him. We trekked the rugged mountains up to his house, and carried him down on our shoulders. It took us eight hours and we reached at midnight. He cast his vote and we helped elect Dr Baloch to the provincial assembly. He became health minister in Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti’s cabinet, when he was chief minister.”
Unfortunately, according to Tahir Baloch, other workers and he himself were sidelined by their nationalist leaders. “Had I not got back on my feet on my own, I would have been suffering to this day. I had sacrificed my career for Dr Baloch. But I was one of the lucky ones. Many of my colleagues who struggled with me for the cause, are still paying for it.”
It would not be inaccurate to claim that political workers — when the curtain falls — usually end up losing more than gaining. Tahir Baloch’s anguish, and regret, is not uncommon among his contemporaries.
In 2013, Dr Baloch won the elections again from Kech, becoming the province’s first chief minister to belong to the middle class. Despite that achievement nothing changed for the people. Dr Baloch sees how the people have lost hope in him, which is perhaps why he is not running for public office in the 2018 elections.
Published in Dawn, July 4th, 2018