THERE are a lot of things currently going right for the Balochistan-based National Party (NP). It leads the coalition government in the province, has good relations with the ruling party at the centre, has just had a newly-elected leadership and its ranks of workers are reported to have swelled in recent months.
Yet despite all these successes, especially the intra-party polls that are a rarity in Pakistan, commentators see the NP still struggling to face the admittedly complicated challenges that confront Balochistan and to bring the province into the national political mainstream and bridge its widening gap with the federation.
The NP elected Senator Mir Hasil Khan Bizenjo as its new president earlier this week and has succeeded to some extent in reforming the political culture of Balochistan with leaders from non-tribal backgrounds now playing a prominent role in provincial politics.
“One should not doubt that the National Party is in fact a populist party of Balochistan,” says Siddiq Baloch, a senior journalist who is regarded as an authority on Balochistan’s
political history and security. “At the same time it enjoys support from the nationalist segment and moderates of the province. It has also strengthened itself over the past few years to fill the political gap in the province, but only to some extent.”
The NP was established in October 2003 when Mr Bizenjo’s non-tribal, essentially middle-class Balochistan National Democratic Party (BNDP) merged with the nationalist Balochistan National Movement party (BNM) led by Dr Abdul Hayee Baloch.
Dr Hayee became the first chairman of the party while Mr Bizenjo became secretary general. In 2008, Dr Abdul Malik Baloch was elected party president, who resigned from office after becoming Balochistan chief minister in June 2013.
Since then Mr Bizenjo had been taking care of the party as acting president, only to become its elected president in the fresh party polls defeating senior leader Dr Hayee, who contested against him. The party, which boycotted the 2008 general elections under now retired Gen Pervez Musharraf in protest against the ‘military operation’ in the province, staged a comeback in electoral politics in the 2013 polls to establish a coalition government in Balochistan with support from the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz.
“But I don’t think they [National Party] are empowered yet,” says Mr Baloch, the senior journalist. “They have not even made any serious effort to address the key issues of Balochistan despite winning support from the centre and the establishment. With a government in hand, I don’t think they would be benefitting in the near future after serving their terms.”
Whether it is the matter of missing Baloch activists or dialogue with those involved in the separatist insurgency, Mr Baloch says there has been no change in issues faced by Balochistan despite the fact that the NP has spent more than a year in government.
“You see the security situation of Balochistan has overshadowed every other [issue] — whether it is political or cultural. So one can’t expect any political party to bring change to Balochistan as the solution to the province’s problems lies with the centre and the security establishment.” His thoughts echo sketchy details shared by the NP’s spokesman, Mir Jan Mohammad Buledi, about the future plans of the party. Under the leadership of Mr Bizenjo, a son of prominent Baloch politician the late Mir Ghaus Bakhsh Bizenjo — who was one of the founding members of the National Awami Party — the NP seems more focused on its organisational structure, conventional politics and cordial relations with other parties instead of touching the fault lines in the province.
“We have decided to expand the party structure in Balochistan’s districts,” says Mr Buledi, who has been re-elected as information secretary in the fresh party polls. “We have developed good relations with other political parties within the province and also at the centre. Even a large number of people from Balochistan’s Pakhtun belt, who were once associated with the Communist Party, have joined the National Party recently. After the fresh party polls we are going to launch a membership campaign across the country in a move to expand it nationally.”
But the party, which eyes a political role at the national level, still falls short of covering all the bases in its own stronghold. Mr Buledi agrees that in a number of districts in Balochistan political activism has lost ground.
“Political activity falls as the first casualty of militancy,” he says. “So this is the case with several of our districts where politics is not allowed. The main affected areas include our coastal belt and Khuzdar, Turbat, and Panjgur. We are doing our best to keep political activism as the only [path of the] struggle.”
The NP’s plans and resolve may help motivate its workers when it is also leading the coalition government in the province, though if one looks at the ground realities there appears to be no immediate solution to Balochistan’s crises.
“Only a couple of days ago a close relative of Mr Bizenjo, who was also our worker, was killed in Khuzdar. Later an armed group claimed it had executed [the individual]. Even though the situation is not very [supportive] we stand firm to continue a true political and democratic struggle,” says Mr Buledi.
Published in Dawn, November 15th , 2014