The Balochistan National Party (BNP) was formed in January 1996 with seasoned Baloch politician and former provincial chief minister Ataullah Mengal as its chief.
The party stands to work in the interests of the Baloch people and has been outspoken over military presence in the province as well as on the issues of killings of political workers and enforced disappearances.
In 1997, BNP contested the general election and won nine provincial assembly and three National Assembly seats. Following which, Akhtar Mengal, son of Ataullah Mengal, was elected as Balochistan’s chief minister with the support of late Baloch nationalist leader Akbar Khan Bugti’s Jamhoori Watan Party.
Soon after the formation of the provincial government, differences surfaced between BNP and JWP. However, Akhtar stayed in power.
In 1998, Akhtar’s government suffered a major blow when six BNP MPAs, including Israrullah Zehri, Asadullah Baloch and Syed Ehsan Shan, parted ways with him amidst allegation of rigging in the party polls. The ministers and their supporters refused to accept the result of the party election in which Ataullah was elected BNP’s chief. Subsequently, a Zehri-led faction of BNP was formed called the BNP-Awami.
Akhtar stepped down from the position of chief minister in 1998 on the pretext that he had not been kept in the loop on the nuclear test carried out that year. However, it has been alleged that the division within his party forced him to make the decision after which Jan Muhammad Jamali of Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N) took over as Balochistan’s chief minister.
During the regime of former military ruler Pervez Musharraf, Akhtar was arrested on terrorism charges in Karachi and was freed after the Pakistan Peoples Party-led government came to power.
The BNP considers itself a champion of Baloch rights and has been vocal and critical of Islamabad’s policies towards Balochistan.
Recently, the party opposed the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project and the handing over of control of the Gwadar port to China. Expressing its reservations and apprehensions over agreements with Iran and China, BNP-M said the ventures were not in line with the interests and wishes of the Baloch people.
Over the years The BNP contested the 2002 general election winning two seats in the Balochistan Assembly and one in the National Assembly. The party also managed to secure a seat in the Senate.
However, in 2006, BNP decided to quit the Parliament in the aftermath of the killing of Baloch leader Akbar Bugti.
It moreover boycotted the 2008 election and Akhtar went into self-exile after his release from Karachi jail. The political climate for BNP during the PPP-led government at the centre as well as in the province was not conducive and several party workers, including its dynamic secretary general Habib Jalib Baloch, were killed in different acts of targeted killings.
In Akhtar’s absence, Jehanzaib Jamaldini led the party through a difficult time when the political process in Baloch-dominated areas of the province came to a near halt. The party’s Information Secretary Agha Hassan Baloch was also active at the time, coordinating with the media and propagating the party’s stance on issues relating to Balochistan.
The BNP has vote bank in Balochistan’s Khuzdar, Kalat, Wadh, Mastung, Quetta, Panjgur, Naushki areas as well as its Makran belt. The party enjoys street power in Quetta and its workers frequently stage protest demonstrations against the non-recovery of missing persons and killings of political workers in the province.
For the May 2013 election, BNP launched a campaign from Quetta on April 7, demanding all ‘missing’ persons be recovered before the date of the election. On the occasion, Akhtar also said that boycotting the election was still an option for the party.
The party further set conditions for free, fair and transparent polls in Balochistan, with the first demand being the recovery of ‘missing’ persons. The BNP also demanded an end to the killings of Baloch political activists, rehabilitation of internally-displaced persons of the province as well as guaranteed safety for election candidates and workers.
Ataullah Mengal, Akhtar Mengal, Sanaullah Baloch, Jehanzaib Jamaldini, Agha Hassan Baloch.
— Research and text by Syed Ali Shah