DAWN - Opinion; January 28, 2007

Published Jan 28, 2007 12:00am

Akhtar Mengal & his BNP

By Anwar Syed


THERE is nothing unusual about an opposition politician in Pakistan being sent to prison regardless of whether the charges against him are genuine or bogus. In some instances the charges may not be made known to the public, a court of law, or even the detainee himself, which is the case when one is held under a preventive detention law.

That being the established custom, the arrest and trial of Akhtar Mengal, a former chief minister of Balochistan, should not have made the waves it has. Benazir Bhutto (PPP), Altaf Hussain (MQM), and most of the opposition leaders, in addition to the Baloch “nationalists”, have been denouncing Mr Mengal’s detention for his alleged involvement in the kidnapping of two military intelligence operatives.

In the old British practice the king’s enemies, even when condemned to death, were given respect and amenities while they were in prison, awaiting execution. In British India the more prominent of the political prisoners were placed in comfortable quarters; comfortable enough for some of them to have written books during their detention, as Jawaharlal Nehru and Maulana Abul Kalam Azad did. In Pakistan’s early years, Faiz Ahmad Faiz wrote poetry when he was in prison in connection with the Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case.

Much of the world criticised Saddam Hussein’s execution not because he was put to death but because he was humiliated in the process: the guards who took him to the gallows taunted and insulted him. They should not have been mean and nasty to a man who was about to meet his death. Their conduct has justly been called barbaric.

Akhtar Mengal has recently been allowed “Class B” in jail but that was not the case during the first several weeks of his detention. His arrest and trial outraged the folks in Balochistan and the generality of opposition politicians, because of the humiliation the present government chose to impose upon him. He is being tried not in open court but in a Karachi prison. Mr Iqbal Haider, secretary-general of the Human Rights Commission in Pakistan, witnessed the first hearing in his trial and this is what he saw: Mr Mengal was brought into the courtroom and shoved into an iron cage, with bars all around, that stood in a corner away from his counsel. Why this atrocity, and why couldn’t he be placed at the defence table alongside his lawyer?

The answer may be that the government wished to treat him not as a leader of men, not even as a man himself, but as an animal. This was not only meanness of spirit but rank foolishness in that it further lowered the government in popular esteem in Balochistan and elsewhere.

I am reminded that the late Maulvi Mushtaq Hussain, chief justice of the Lahore High Court, who presided over Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s trial for alleged complicity in a murder, had a stall especially constructed and placed in his courtroom in which the accused would stand (instead of sitting at a table with his attorney) during the hearings of his case. This contraption was intended to belittle Mr Bhutto and to show that he was not to be treated better than any ordinary criminal. It angered his supporters and intensified the apprehension that his trial would not be fair, which indeed it wasn’t.

Akhtar Mengal’s father, Ataullah, has expressed the fear that the government might kill his son. That can happen, but we hope it won’t. We hear that Akhtar Mengal is a very sick man: he is said to be suffering from hepatitis, ulcers, kidney trouble, a clot in his brain, and high cholesterol. Yet, he was denied food from home, medical care, and visits from family and friends. One may wonder what the government would have lost if it had allowed him these amenities. Surely a modicum of comfort in prison would not affect the course and outcome of his trial. Why not then be seen as civil and decent, especially when it costs nothing.

Akhtar Mengal is president of the Balochistan National Party (BNP), which resulted from the merger of a faction of the Balochistan National Movement (BNM) and a faction of the Pakistan National Party (PNP). Ataullah Mengal was its head for a time, but he turned it over to his son, Akhtar, probably because he was getting along in years. It is a secular, moderate, and “nationalist” party that stands for extensive provincial autonomy (which at times advances to a demand for “national self-determination”), local control of the province’s natural resources and that of any development projects that may be launched for its advancement (including upgrading of the Gwadar port). It opposes the establishment of military cantonments in Balochistan, because it feels they will work as the central government’s agents for further consolidating its control of the province’s politics and resources and for suppressing its “nationalist” and progressive elements.

BNP spokesmen maintain that Islamabad has always wanted to exclude the better-known and progressive politicians in Balochistan from power. They observe that such politicians, taken together, have not been allowed to govern for more than 36 months during the last 60 years (Ataullah Mengal nine months, Akbar Bugti 18 months, Akhtar Mengal nine months).

It may be useful to recall one such case. Following the East Pakistan secession, the National Awami Party (NAP) and Jamiat-al-Ulema-i-Islam (JUI) came together in a coalition that commanded a clear legislative majority in Balochistan. Having reached an understanding with President Bhutto, they formed the government on May 1, 1972. Ghaus Bakhsh Bizenjo (NAP) became governor and Ataullah Mengal (also NAP) the chief minister.

None of the NAP-JUI leaders had ever held high public office and they embarked upon their new careers with a great deal of enthusiasm. They vowed to treat all persons, regardless of their affiliations, equally well and maintain the rule of law. They invited investments in the province and assured potential investors that their persons and property would be safe and secure. Ataullah Mengal declared that he and his colleagues were “working day and night” to make Balochistan a shining example of good governance.

But Mr Bhutto had other ideas. His ministers, notably Abdul Qayyum Khan (an old foe of NAP and now the interior minister) denounced the NAP leaders as traitors, foreign agents, and stooges of capitalist exploiters. They also sought to disrupt public order in Balochistan: Meraj Mohammad Khan, along with the more militant PPP workers, went out to urge peasants and tenants to seize the lands of larger owners and spill their blood.

In December 1972, the government of Balochistan arrested a few Jamote notables, whereupon the Jamotes mounted a revolt. Given the insufficiency of the regular police, the Mengal government raised a private force (“lashkar”), supplied it from the government armory, and sent it out to suppress the Jamotes. The latter spread out into the adjoining hills and the fighting went on.

Bhutto condemned this operation on various grounds and sent out army units to disarm the “lashkar.” Both Governor Bizenjo and Chief Minister Mengal objected to the army’s deployment in their province. Bhutto also levelled against the Bizenjo-Mengal government accusations that his successors, including General Musharraf, have levelled, namely that they were opposed to the central government’s development projects in Balochistan (schools, clinics, roads, industry), because they wanted to maintain their traditional control over their tribes, and to this end they wanted their people to remain untouched by modernisation. On February 6, 1973, Mr Bhutto dismissed the NAP-JUI government. This action on his part led to a civil war in Balochistan that did not end until after his own ouster from power.

Ataullah Mengal, Khair Bakhsh Marri and several other NAP leaders were sent to jail in Hyderabad where they languished for more than four years. Upon his release Mengal went abroad in voluntary exile, returned to Pakistan in 1996, and revived the BNP. Now a bitter old man, he believes that Balochistan cannot be liberated from the central government’s tyranny without armed struggle, a course of action to which oppressed nationalities have a right.

The current and preceding military campaigns against the politicians in Balochistan, both sardars and educated progressives, are hard to understand.

There is nothing weird about the Baloch “nationalists” wanting to manage their affairs and exclude outsiders from controlling their resources, especially when these outsiders have given Balochistan little other than neglect for the last 60 years.

The Musharraf regime’s drive against Akhtar Mengal and others is hard to understand also because the so-called “nationalists” are not numerous or strong enough to pose a credible threat to the good order of either the province or the country. It is usually quite difficult to assemble a coalition that can form the government in Balochistan. Akhtar Mengal’s party (BNP) did win a fair number of seats in the 1997 election, enabling him to form a government and serve as chief minister. But the ruling PML and the intelligence agencies are said to have split his coalition within a few months and made his government fall.

None of the “nationalist” parties in the province did well in the 2002 elections, partly because of the central government’s interference with the electoral process. The seats they won were as follows: BNP: two; BNDP (Balochistan National Democratic Party): one; BNM (Balochistan National Movement): three; JWP (Jamhoori Watan Party): three; Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party: four. Thus, all of the “nationalist” parties put together won 13 seats in a House of 51.

It seems to me that, given their modest capability, it is dysfunctional to hound the Baloch “nationalist” politicians. It is possible that they will do better in the next election if it is free and fair, but that remains to be seen. They can bring out people on the streets and organise demonstrations, which may disrupt public order. But if they are able to do so, that is because the central government’s provocative moves give them causes and slogans capable of agitating the ordinary citizens.

The writer is a visiting professor at the Lahore School of Economics for the winter semester.
Email: anwarhs@lahoreschool.edu.pk

Signs of hope on Kashmir

By Kunwar Idris


FOR the first time since the early years of independence there is a whiff of optimism in the air that a solution may be found to the problem of Kashmir. President Musharraf’s four-point plan and the visit of Hurriyet leaders from the Valley have combined to set in motion a hopeful process which the predictable opinion-mongers must not be allowed to scuttle.

The search for a solution began in January 1948 when Mr Jinnah directed Zafrulla Khan (soon after he was sworn in as foreign minister) to proceed to New York to defend Pakistan in the UN Security Council against India’s charge that Pakistan had sent tribal raiders into Kashmir. The plundering armed men, India alleged, threatened the security of the state after the maharaja had freely acceded to India.

Zafrulla was informed of his assignment to the UN on Jan 7. The Security Council was scheduled to meet on Jan 12 to hear the parties to the dispute. This is how Zafrulla in his memoirs recalls the haste and helplessness of the occasion: “I was to be accompanied by Mr Mohammad Ali, cabinet secretary, Syed Mohammad Waseem, advocate-general, and Col Majeed Malik, information officer and stenographer — the one comfort was that Mr Mohammad Ali was a wise, intelligent and sober-minded officer who could be completely depended upon in every contingency to offer good advice and render loyal cooperation.” He wrote that the “necessary documentation” was “quite bulky and for want of a proper container was stuffed into a gunny bag” (just compare the frugality of the pioneers of the time with the freeloaders of today).

The bulky gunny bag was opened en route. It was, Zafrullah writes, in a wooden cabin at a small snow-bound airport in New Foundland (the plane had to land there because of bad weather) that the lone stenographer thumped away on his archaic typewriter through the night to type the reply to the Indian complaint that the foreign minister had been dictating during the course of the journey.

In the long and contentious debate that followed in the Secretary Council the principle was conceded that the accession of Jammu and Kashmir to Pakistan or to India must be determined on the basis of the freely expressed wishes of the people of the state 90 per cent of whom were Muslims.

The Indian delegation, encouraged by Britain’s Prime Minister Clement Attlee, however, evaded immediate UN intervention by seeking an adjournment to return to Delhi for consultation. Nearly a year went by before the Security Council passed a formal resolution on January 5, 1949, for a “free and impartial plebiscite” but to be held only after Pakistan had withdrawn the tribal raiders and all of its own forces, and India too had withdrawn the bulk of its forces in a coordinated, balanced plan.

Despite the efforts of the two plebiscite administrators appointed in succession — Sir Owen Dixon and Dr Frank Graham — deadlock on the withdrawal plan, especially on the point of what constituted the “bulk” of the forces, persisted. In the course of time, India declared that it had ascertained the wishes of the people on its own, and the UN resolutions, not binding in the first instance, were overtaken by time and events.

Continued commitment to holding a plebiscite decades after India had declared the state’s accession to India a fait accompli may be a genuine or emotional issue for some but for most it is no more than a political gambit. Even in the best of times India could not be persuaded by world opinion, nor coerced by short wars waged by Pakistan or a long insurgency by the people of the Valley stoked by Pakistan to hold the plebiscite. India is now so formidable a military and economic power that no country, not even Pakistan’s closest allies, dare offend it by even suggesting a plebiscite. Partly responsible for the world’s changing attitude is the way Pakistan has administered its own part of Kashmir.

Gen Musharraf’s plan comes as a practical alternative to an elusive plebiscite, futile wars and a fading insurgency. The welcome reaction of the All Parties Hurriyet Conference to the plan also serves the original purpose of ascertaining the wishes of the people as it represents the aspirations of the vast majority of the Kashmiris. Syed Ali Gilani seems to be holding out against the Musharraf formula only out of remorse felt for his parent party (Jamaat-i-Islami) opposing the “jihad” when it was launched in the autumn of 1947 to prevent the maharaja from acceding to India.

Weakened by oppression and deprived of income from tourism, the people of the Valley (who really constitute the vanguard of the freedom movement) would not be able to sponsor another uprising nor would be able to sustain it without support from Pakistan, as in the eighties. Pakistan itself is now under close surveillance for training and harbouring terrorists.

The PPP leaders are right in demanding that Musharraf should bring his personal plan to parliament to make it a national compact. Barring a handful of jihadis and ideologists it would surely find wide support because of a general feeling that if a plebiscite at all were to be held the Kashmiris would opt not for accession to Pakistan but for independence. No reason is therefore left for Pakistan to insist on a plebiscite if the Kashmiris on both sides are content with self-governance.

The way India has put its once territorial claims aside to forge close diplomatic and trade relations with China shows that emotions there too are giving way to pragmatism. India is much more likely to view the settlement of Kashmir in the same pragmatic light for it is a source of much greater expense and trouble than Aksai Chin.

After more than half a century of strife, the people of India, Pakistan and Kashmir need to be given a chance to improve their lives unhindered by fanatics masquerading as ideologists in both countries. If the plan in hand falters or falls prey to power politics, only the extremists at the fringes would stand to gain — much more in Pakistan than in India for our stakes are higher.

That said, the Indian leaders would be making a mistake of the same magnitude as their forerunners did in 1946 by rejecting the Cabinet Mission Plan if they were not to settle the Kashmir issue on the basis of the four points put forth by President Musharraf. These points meet India’s condition precedent to a settlement that the frontiers should not be redrawn nor the state divided on religious lines. For Musharraf, the settlement would earn a place in history.

‘Grass-roots’ lobbying

A MEMBER of US Congress will sit up and pay attention when told that 1,000 — or even 100 — constituents have written or e-mailed about a particular piece of legislation. Paying attention to grass-roots opinion is part of a politician’s DNA.

But what if the voice of the people is really only an echo of a sophisticated pitch by professional lobbyists? In that not-uncommon situation, “grass-roots” lobbying of Congress has been dubbed the political equivalent of AstroTurf, the artificial grass first installed in the Houston Astrodome in 1966.

The real AstroTurf has its defenders. But no one argues that baseball or football players shouldn’t know if they are playing on grass or on a synthetic substitute. (The information would be impossible to keep from them anyway.) Likewise, shouldn’t lawmakers know whether a “grass-roots” campaign is actually “AstroTurf”?

The sponsors of the recently enacted ethics bill in the Senate thought so, and included in an early version of that legislation a proposal to require any organisation that spends at least $25,000 to stimulate grass-roots lobbying to file detailed reports with Congress. The provision was stripped out, however, after complaints that the restrictions would interfere with free speech by ensnarling activists in bureaucratic red tape.

Chastened, campaign reformers have narrowed their proposals for “AstroTurf” accountability in a way that should allay any legitimate concerns about free speech. Instead of applying to all organisations that might urge their members to contact Congress, the more modest proposals being discussed would be limited to organisations that already are registered as lobbyists.

Even this regulation would be protested by some activists, who contend that a constituent who writes to a member of Congress deserves to be heard regardless of whether the idea was suggested by an interest group.

—Los Angeles Times



© DAWN Group of Newspapers, 2007

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