Leadership vacuum in Balochistan

By Latif Baloch
THE exit of the big three — Sardar Ataullah Mengal, Nawab Khair Bukhsh Marri and Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti —- from the political landscape of Balochistan has created a leadership vacuum in this province.
These leaders, who once dominated the political scene of the province, have ostensibly disengaged themselves from the current politics. The vacuum created by them is now being filled in by religious elements harping on anti-American sentiments.
The ideology of nationalism has thus been replaced by a new religious force which will continue to dominate the politics of the province for years to come if the nationalists fail to adopt a pragmatic approach to the new economic and political realities.
They have already paid a heavy price for doing fractionalized politics and for not taking a clear-cut stand on the US action in Afghanistan and for keeping a distance from a military regime on one pretext or the other.
A few years back when Nawab Khair Bukhsh Marri, chief of the powerful Marri tribe and popular nationalist leader known for his leftist leanings, and Sardar Ataullah Mengal, a nationalist, ended their self-exile to return home, there was a general feeling among the nationalists that they would open a new chapter of political accommodation and understanding among the various nationalist groups. Besides, they were expected try to settle tribal feuds.
For years Balochistan has been in the grip of tribal feuds. Many tribal sardars have been assassinated and property worth millions of rupees has been destroyed in clashes among various tribes. The feuds have destroyed the traditional fabric of Baloch society.
There is no doubt that in their absence many important developments have taken place in the province. The religious parties have also established themselves and their area of influence is now extended to areas which were once the stronghold of Baloch nationalists.
The people had expected that Marri and Mengal would play an active role in bringing about rapprochement among nationalist groups and devote their attention to the settlement of disputes among the various tribes.
Adding to the disenchantment and despondency among the Baloch people was the self-confinement of Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti after the murder of his son, Salal Bugti. He has confined himself to his hometown, Dera Bugti.
Taking advantage of the Nawab’s inactivity, the agencies boosted the rival faction of the Nawab and created other problems for him.
Nawab Bugti was expected to play a leading role in Baloch politics. He could have united all factions of Baloch nationalists and also achieved a coalition with Pakhtoon nationalists because he was once equally popular among the Pakhtoons.
But his engagements in tribal feuds limited his political role. On the other hand, no other personality in any faction of the Baloch nationalists is in a position to play a national role to bring unity in the fractionalized nationalistic politics.
The departure of the big three from politics has raised many questions in the minds of political workers. The more they try to find the answers to these questions, the more confused they become.
Sardar Ataullah Mengal, who preferred to live in London and left the political affairs to his scion, Sardar Akhtar Mengal, is the head of his own faction of Balochistan National Party and was barred from taking part in the 2002 election because of the graduation bar.
The BNP (Mengal) which was the single majority in the 1997 polls has this time secured one NA seat and two PA seats.
Nawab Marri has never shown any enthusiasm about the Baloch national politics after his return from Afghanistan when he ended his self-exile when the Taliban captured power in that country.
Instead, he keeps himself busy with the rehabilitation of his tribesmen who returned with him from Afghanistan after 14 years of self- exile.
He was also kept engaged with the Bijarani section of his tribe who had revolted against him and refuse to accept him as their chief.
There were differences between the Bijarani faction of Marris and the followers of Nawab Khair Bukhsh Marri. Discovery of oil deposits in the Bijarani area has further strained the relations between the Bijaranis and the followers of the Nawab. The Bijaranis wanted that oil drilling should not be carried out in their area without an agreement with them.
They blame the Nawab’s sons for striking a deal with the government for exploration of oil in their area. On the other hand, the Nawab’s followers blame the agencies for creating a rift between the two factions of the Marri tribe and for “exploiting the strained relations between the two factions to their advantage.”
The situation took a serious turn after the death of Justice Khuda Bukhsh Marri, a notable personality of the Bijarani faction, which led to the imprisonment of Nawab Marri. He was released on bail because of his fragile health.
Thus, Nawab Marri is in troubled waters. Moreover, his age and health have rendered him immobile while his scions have never been politically active.
Observers are of the view that the role of the big three seems to have come to an end for various reasons. First, the political conditions of the province have changed. They argue that Balochistan needs a new leadership which should see the political and economic realities of the province beyond the narrow tribal and parochial parameters and mobilize the people on a new political and economic basis.
Gone are the days of ideological conflicts. It is an era in which people want more jobs, more education and health facilities.
They have learnt that mere ideological slogans would not solve their problems. The election has proved that fractionalized or smaller parties could not deliver the goods. It needs a larger forum and a vast mass mobilization programme.
New infrastructure facilities in many tribal areas have already opened avenues for development and provided new opportunities for socio-economic activity. This has created awakening to some extent among the people and has dealt a crippling blow to the tribal system.
A mass awareness programme is needed to enlighten the people and narrow the traditional communication gaps between the tribes. People by the large have tasted the fruits of new socio-economic changes.
Secondly, the politics of militancy and ideology of the sixties have lost their appeal. It is a positive development to see that all political parties in the province are now committed to parliamentary democracy and want to bring about socio-economic changes through democratic process.
Besides, the people of the province have bitter memories of the militant movements which have failed to achieve their desired objectives.
Under the changed conditions, if the nationalists want to continue to play an active political role in the province, they have to revise a new strategy and have to join the democratic current.
Although both Marri and Mengal, because of health reasons, are not in a position to play an active role in parliamentary politics, they may influence politics of the province through their successors.
Mengal’s son Akhtar is already leading his faction of the Balochistan National Movement (BNM). Khair Bukhsh Marri’s sons Ghazen and Changenz Marri could also play an active role in politics. For this, they have to settle their tribal feuds and have to join a political party.
Mir Ghous Bukhsh Bizenjo’s scions — Bizen and Hasil Khan of Balochistan National Democratic Party — Dr Abdul Hayee of the Balochistan National Movement, Prince Mohyuddin Baloch and Dr Abdul Hakim Baloch and Meem Khan Baloch of the BNP (Awami) must realize the gravity of the situation and shun fractionalized politics and work for a wider nationalist forum free from tribal and parochial approaches.
The message of the election is clear: a new leadership must step in to replace the old tribal guard, prove its credibility by fulfilling popular demands in the changed geo-political situation.
The coastal belt of the province has become an important trade route to Central Asian countries. A new era of prosperity and development could take place in the province and new forces will emerge after the completion of the Gwadur deep-sea port and the Makran coastal highway.
The new leadership must keep all these factors in view while framing a new strategy and political policy.

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