Understanding B.N.P and its Initiatives – and their Policy Implications on Baloch Politics
Date 2012-10-31 | Topic: Opinions
|By Belaar Baloch|
The president of Balochistan National Party (B.N.P) Sardar Akhtar Jan Mengal’s recent visit to Islamabad raised many eyebrows. His appearance before the Pakistan Supreme Court, his discussions with opposition politicians and, more importantly, his proclamation of conflict resolution agenda – embodied in Six-Point confident building measures – came under intense scrutiny in Baloch political circles.
On the one hand, the opponents, who suspiciously look these initiatives, argue that Sardar Akhtar made a mistake by appearing before the Court. Chiding his efforts, they further claim, that without some degree of consent of Pakistani establishment, Sardar Akhtar’s visit was unfeasible; while on the other hand, Sardar Akhtar, along with his advisers, refutes these charges and call such criticisms deeply cynical.
Moreover, while defending his policy of “new opening”, Sardar Akhtar argues that presenting the case of abducted persons before the highest court of Pakistan is a necessary step towards a peaceful resolution of this protracted crisis that engulfed Balochistan for almost a decade. In doing so, he chose to put premium on confident building measures, highlighting issues relevant to the moral side of the conflict, (i.e., humanitarian catastrophe), while focusing less attention (at least, when speaking to media) on the political dimension which is central to any settlement of a crisis that is as complex as this one: Baloch versus Pakistani state.
As to the substance of his initiatives (the Six Points and the long statement presented before the court), we shall discuss these significant issues in a separate piece. But, first, let’s assess two key questions: Why does B.N.P pursue a Go-It-Alone policy and what are the likely policy implications on Baloch politics?
There is little doubt that B.N.P forms the largest established party in Baloch politics, though its centre of gravity is confined to the central regions of Balochistan. The party draws its organizational strength from an array of social groups – ranging from tribal to urbanite classes – thus, representing various social and political segments.
Although the Mengals, who are historically associated with the Baloch national movement, sit on the top of the party hierarchy, there is, nonetheless, a pool of professional middle class cadres and likeminded intellectuals who play much influential role in shaping party policies. Hence, it is no exaggeration to say that policy-making process takes place in institutional settings – albeit a rather Baloch political standard.
The Party’s genesis goes back to early 1990s when political splintering was at its peak. To be sure, in Baloch political culture, political fragmentation is not an unusual occurrence; it is indeed a general pattern: opportunist sardars as well naive political activists are prone to change their political affiliations every now and then.
Nonetheless, during 1990s polarization Sardar Akhtar’s Party emerged as the sole beneficiary: not only did he pick up the fragments left behind by various shattered groups, but also worked hard to strengthen the party base, thereby, transforming B.N.P into a viable electoral force.
This transformation occurred not just because of his influential tribal background – though he inherited political legacy of his father, Sardar Attaullah Mengal – but because of his inclusive style of politics. Since, the crux of all kinds of politics lies in engagement with people, and he skilfully employed this method to consolidate his support.
With a modest electoral success, as well as aligning with key tribal figures, B.N.P first time succeeded in forming the government in Balochistan in 1997. But, the ill-fated B.N.P led government did not last long, neither did the cohesion of the party itself. In the aftermath of nuclear tests, Nawaz Sharif – with the help of intelligence apparatus – encouraged defection within B.N.P’s ranks. As a result, the party suffered severe blows.
Despite this, the core of the party, which centred around Sardar Akhtar’s charisma, did survive.
With the coming of military rule in 1999, political space in Balochistan began to shrink. By invoking unrestrained use of force, the state strangled political discourses. Consequently, such development squelched the way politics was conducted in the past two decades. And B.N.P, with no coercive power, tried to meet with new challenges: adopting a strategy of protest in line with nationalist principles. Following this strategy, the Party did make some spectacular attempts to mobilise public opinion against the state excesses – contrary to many populist assumptions that BNP’s initiatives, in the early phase of insurgency, were a series of cynical gimmicks aimed at expanding its vote bank.
Quite naturally, in a warlike situation such as this one, a party that has no coercive arm, but increasingly relies on popular support, is bound to walk on a tight rope. This was nowhere more evident than in the case of B.N.P’s pragmatic style of politics.
Since, the ultimate goal of the state is to put down the insurgency by whatever means necessary, decapitating the top leadership is the first step towards achieving this objective. Massive crackdown against nationalist forces is not just aimed at targeting selective leaders and activists alike, but indeed its ferocity has been felt across the board. And B.N.P, too, contributed its fair share of sacrifice to this end.
So far, the state policy of using force in Balochistan, is not formulated on the basis of who is who, but who is Baloch nationalist. Consider the martyrdom of Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti and Mir Balaach Marri on the one hand, and Waja Ghulam Mohammad and Habib Jaleb on the other: the former two were part of Baloch elite class and the later two hailed from middle income families. And yet, all became the victims of Pakistani state. The reason: not because of their dissimilar social or political backgrounds but, of course, because of their staunch commitments to the national cause.
To understand B.N.P’s policies, one has to understand party’s support base, its modus operandi and, more importantly, the environment within which it formulates policies. However, as a large, as well as a responsible, force in Baloch national politics, it has to tread carefully when handling national issues. In dealing with such issues require national efforts not partisan initiative. Unilateral initiatives (of which we discuss in the second piece) bear negative impact on the fragile cohesion of the national movement.