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The hidden hands of politics in Kalat

Updated July 12, 2018

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PEOPLE gather at a public meeting in Khuzdar as leaders of the BNP-M and MMA address the crowd.—Dawn
PEOPLE gather at a public meeting in Khuzdar as leaders of the BNP-M and MMA address the crowd.—Dawn

WADH, situated in Khuzdar district in central Balochistan, is the ancestral town of Baloch nationalist leader Sardar Akhtar Jan Mengal; it is dominated by Mengal tribesmen that are scattered across the huge landmass. The Mengal family of Wadh has been a dominating figure in Balochistan’s political arena; in the 1970s general elections, when the National Awami Party (NAP) won the majority of seats in the province, Sardar Ataullah Mengal was appointed Balochistan’s chief minister.

Yet, you ask a Mengal in the rural areas of Wadh about citizen benefits, and he’ll reply that the biggest facility he has in Wadh is the national identity card. This speaks volumes about how the tribesmen have been kept in the dark age. Yet despite this, the tribesmen vote only for their tribal chieftains.

Similarly, Wadh, Naal and Zehri towns in the Khuzdar district of Balochistan are, respectively, dominated by the Mengals, Bizenjos and Zehris. This is why the tribal chieftains of these tribes are expected to win their seats.

“In Kalat division in particular and in Balochistan in general, deprivation-cum-greed overwhelms politics and determines their votes,” says Lawang Mengal, who is pursuing his PhD at the University of Balochistan and belongs to Kalat division.

The Balochistan National Party-Mengal (BNP-M) has had an alliance with the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F). Besides the BNP-M, the National Party (NP) and the Balochistan National Party-Awami (BNP-A) also have vote banks.

“Again, this is all about tribal chieftains, not the parties. In Mastung, Nawab Muhammad Khan Shahwani and Sardar Kamal Khan Bangulzai are in the NP, and the strength of their electoral position is due to their tribesmen. If they leave the NP, there won’t be an NP,” says Lawang Mengal. “The same is the case with other nationalist parties, and they are more or less the same.”

In Kalat division in particular and in Balochistan in general, deprivation-cum-greed overwhelms politics and determines their votes. Lawang Mengal, who is pursuing his PhD at the University of Balochistan

After the killing of Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti in 2006, Baloch nationalists in the province erupted as an resurgent force. There was sympathy amongst the Baloch for nationalists. Over the years, this is now on the wane.

“In 2013, Dr. Abdul Malik Baloch of the NP became chief minister, but it [the NP] is now almost non-existent. Nor do other parties, including the JUI-F, want to ally with it,” contends lecturer Manzoor Baloch, who teaches at the University of Balochistan.

“Similarly, the BNP too is passing through a critical situation. It is the underdog whether it wins or loses in the upcoming general elections. This is why I say that Ataullah’s political legacy is at stake.”

Religious groups, including the JUI-F, are gaining ground ideologically and politically in Kalat division. As stated earlier, Akhtar Mengal had to make an alliance with the JUI-F. According to Dawn correspondent Wahid Shahwani, who is based in Khuzdar, if a party wants to win, it has to ally with the JUI-F, because it is now a reality in Khuzdar and elsewhere in the adjoining districts of Khuzdar. In this regard, journalist Shahid Rind tells Dawn: “Undoubtedly, the BNP chief Sardar Akhtar Mengal, as compared to previous elections, looks different now. It seems they [he and his party] are well prepared for the upcoming general elections.”

Political parties without ideologies are formed overnight in Balochistan. This is why the Balochistan Awami Party was formed, and influential persons joined it. Jam Kamal Khan of Lasbela from the same Kalat division became the head of the newly formed BAP party. “[It] is an open challenge for all nationalists. If you do not conduct politics as per the circle drawn by the hidden hands, then you are unacceptable,” says Manzoor Baloch. “There is no difference between a federalist and nationalist party. To me, BAP is better because they talk between the lines, while nationalist parties cannot even do that. These elections are political suicide for Baloch nationalists.”

As compared to other provinces of the country, the constituencies in Balochistan have always been the largest in terms of area and population. In the same Kalat division, let us take one of its constituencies: NA-267. It is stretched across the Kalat division, covering three districts around 500 kilometres. Candidates cannot reach out to their voters in a short time period. Besides NA-267, there is NA-269 in Khuzdar district. “Not only in Kalat but also in Balochistan, there is competition, a race among parties,” laments Manzoor Baloch. “These do not have ideologies, except running and chasing each other for seats. In Baloch nationalist politics, the educated species have vanished.”

Saad Ullah Baloch, who is a National Party worker, does not agree that the NP and other nationalists are the underdog. He points out that “...the NP does have a following in Mastung, and there is probability our candidates will clinch their seats. In Kalat division, people have got their own tribal thinking and local psyche. As a student of politics, I would like to say that we have to conduct politics based on local people’s psyche and demands.”

Saad Ullah Baloch concedes that although the sardars rule the roost in the region, they cannot expel them from scene. “We, at the NP, are not out from the scene. We are still in the electoral arena in Kalat division.”

Kalat division has always been vital in the overall politics of the province. In the past, it used to have a greater say in the affairs of the province. As for now, Manzoor Baloch tells Dawn that Baloch nationalists now have little say. On the other hand, several groups have been formed. “Yes, the sarkar has formed several small pockets that now have importance,” concurs Manzoor Baloch. Nawab Aslam Raisani, who is contesting elections as an independent candidate and is close to the BNP-M, also told reporters that his younger brother Siraj Raisani has been fielded against him on a BAP ticket.

“In Balochistan, there are no politics,” concludes Dr Shah Mohammad Marri, editor of Sangat magazine. But he is pleased that the current political situation means that traditional forces are broken.

Published in Dawn, July 12th, 2018