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Bizenjo and his politics

December 21, 2017

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BEFORE we say goodbye to 2017, it seems appropriate to remember Mir Ghaus Bakhsh Bizenjo, whose birth centenary fell this year and was celebrated by his friends and admirers in Quetta some time ago. But as he had fought for the interests of the entire human family of Pakistan, his services deserve to be recalled outside Balochistan too.

Indeed, the tendency in the country to ignore the heroes of Balochistan — not only the Baloch but also the Pakhtuns — has been a factor in that province’s alienation from the state.

Bizenjo’s choices from the very beginning of his long and extraordinarily active political career did not qualify him for admission in the club of patriots as defined by the establishment. For instance, he did not conceal the fact that as a young man he was attracted to the Indian Congress and not the Muslim League. His reasons for this choice are worth noting.

First, as a footballer he interacted with players, from various regions, who subscribed to different creeds and this “lent a broader dimension to my thinking and perceptions”. Secondly, in Baloch society, tribal values mattered more than religious strictures and thus he “associated with the nationalist students subscribing to the secular political philosophy of the Indian National Congress”.

Bizenjo’s choices did not qualify him for admission in the club of ‘patriots’.

Further, privileged political pundits never forget Bizenjo’s speech in the lower house of Kalat’s bicameral legislature in which he had preferred the princely state’s independence to accession to Pakistan. The fact that Bizenjo’s views were in harmony with the Muslim League’s pledge to the Khan of Kalat and the Quaid-i-Azam’s advice to him is forgotten.

While in the beginning Bizenjo’s politics was limited to Kalat and Balochistan as a leading member first of the Kalat State National Party and later on of Ustman Gul, by the mid-1950s he had become active on the West Pakistan stage with the formation of the Pakistan National Party. Shortly afterwards, the whole country became the arena of Bizenjo’s politics when the PNP and Maulana Bhashani’s faction of the Awami League formed the National Awami Party (NAP).

Much of Ghaus Bakhsh Bizenjo’s time was spent on fighting for the people’s democratic rights (opposing martial law and One Unit during the Ayub regime). The regime used Nawab Nauroze Khan’s revolt to imprison the leaders of NAP Balochistan, including Bizenjo, for a year or so. Bizenjo was again arrested and after six months in the notorious torture camp called Quli he was awarded imprisonment for six months and five lashes or Rs10,000 as fine in lieu of lashes.

The regime couldn’t keep the retired footballer away from politics. Sardar Ataullah Mengal is reported to have said about him: “He cannot live without politics. He has to have it all the time, or he will perish.” During the Ayub regime he also benefited from a rift between president Ayub Khan and governor Kalabagh and won the Lyari seat in the National Assembly in a by-election with the help of Mahmoud Haroon.

Before the year 1966 ended, Bizenjo was sentenced to 14 years imprisonment for possessing a currency note on which somebody had stamped a slogan against One Unit. The Lahore High court ordered his release after two years.

Bizenjo was an active political player during the most tumultuous period in the country’s history — 1969 to 1971. He witnessed the Round Table of 1969, Ayub Khan’s fall and the rise of Yahya Khan. He was elected to the National Assembly in 1970, and the establishment chose him to persuade Sheikh Mujib to talk to Yahya Khan.

He has kept a valuable record of what he was told by the main actors in the macabre drama of 1971. For instance, he recalled Gen Yahya Khan telling him before the 1970 election that “sooner or later, East Pakistan will have to be amputated. And if at all that is to happen, why let them suck our blood for two or three years more?”

He also recalled asking Yahya on the eve of the military operation in East Bengal whether the crisis could be resolved through the use of military force and the general surprised him with an answer in the negative.

The years 1972-1977 witnessed Bizenjo’s rise as master negotiator who came to be called ‘babai-i-mazakrat’, sometimes approvingly and sometimes derisively. He successfully negotiated the NAP-Bhutto accord as a result of which NAP named the governors of Balochistan and Frontier and the NAP-JUI coalition governments were formed in these two provinces.

Pakistan might have avoided quite a few of the wrong turns it took if this accord had been sincerely implemented. It was broken by Bhutto when he sacked Bizenjo from the governor’s post and manipulated the fall of the Ataullah Mengal ministry in Balochistan. And Bizenjo was stabbed in the back by the leftist extremists in his party. Even then, he contributed significantly to the accord on the 1973 Constitution. He was rewarded by being arrested soon after the new Constitution came into force.

Bizenjo also played an important role in the MRD movement. His success in persuading the MRD leaders to sign an accord on the federating units’ autonomy was a significant step forward and could be described as a precursor of the 18th Amendment of 2010. It was in those days that he affirmed his absolute commitment to democratic values by demanding for the federating units the right to secede if the democratic process was disrupted.

Democratic politics owes a huge debt to Ghaus Bakhsh Bizenjo, one of the most accomplished leaders Pakistan (and not Balochistan alone) has had. Unfortunately, both for him and Pakistan, he could not realise his full potential because he was born in Balochistan and could compromise neither on Balochistan’s autonomy nor on the Pakistani people’s right to democratic rule. (The details of Bizenjo’s life are taken from his autobiography, In Search of Solutions, edited by B.M. Kutty.)

Published in Dawn, December 21st, 2017