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Mengal’s challenge

October 04, 2012


ELECTRIFYING though Sardar Akhtar Mengal’s dramatic intervention in Pakistan’s muddled politics has been, it may be too early to say anything about its long-term impact.

In an apparent rush to find a way out of the dark alley most of the Baloch people’s new friends and commentators have spent more time on hailing and endorsing Mengal’s six points than on analysing their import. In order to facilitate a fruitful discussion it seems necessary to go over Mengal’s demands. What he has asked for is as follows: — All military operations against the Baloch people, covert as well as overt, must cease forthwith.

— All death squads comprising non-state actors operating under intelligence agencies’ guidance should be disbanded.

— All victims of enforced disappearance should be produced before courts of law.

— Those responsible for torturing Baloch leaders and activists, killing them and dumping their corpses here and there should be brought to justice.

— The rehabilitation of the displaced Baloch families should begin.

— The Baloch political parties should be allowed to resume their activities without interference from any intelligence agencies.

Two things about these six points should strike any observer at first sight. First, Sardar Mengal has only reiterated the demands that have frequently and repeatedly been presented from various quarters, especially civil society organisations that have no partisan agenda. Indeed, Mengal has avoided going as far as civil society activists have gone more than once — he has not explicitly called for ending the military’s dominant role in all branches of Balochistan’s administration.

Secondly, except for the plea relating to the Baloch political parties’ right to function in freedom, all the other five points are related to the indescribably ugly affair of disappearances. This distinguishes Mengal’s charter from Sheikh Mujib-ur-Rahman’s Six Points. The latter defined the constitutional framework for the state the Awami League considered necessary for a workable unity between the two parts of the country.

Mengal is not saying anything about a constitutional structure that will be acceptable to the Baloch, or his party at least. There is little room for treating Mengal’s declaration as anything more than a call for clearing the decks for substantive negotiations by resolving matters related to disappearances and the role of the agencies named by him.

Sardar Akhtar Mengal’s reluctance to talk about Balochistan’s political future is quite understandable. As a practical politician he does not want to be at an unsafe distance from the Baloch nationalist youth that have already put the slogan of freedom on their standards.

Some of their spokespersons have been quick to reprimand Mengal for agreeing to engage with the state institutions and actors. Mengal had perhaps anticipated this reaction and for that reason he tried to treat the Supreme Court as a neutral host, separate from all other state institutions and instruments of power.

There could be a valid reason for Mengal’s decision to take a calculated risk. Perhaps, in his view, there is still time to find a non-violent way to realise the Baloch aspiration, a view not dissimilar to Mujib’s thinking when he rattled the anti-Ayub parties with his Six Points.

The goal of this non-violent effort need not be any different than the objective adopted by advocates of armed struggle. Mengal dropped quite a few hints about this when, for instance, he mentioned divorce by agreement as a better course than a bloody separation. Mengal can claim similarity between his six points and Sheikh Mujib’s charter to the extent that their acceptance is a non-negotiable condition for any further step towards ending strife in Balochistan.

Objectively speaking, no political party or group in Balochistan is likely to disagree with Mengal’s prescription, and this can also be said about the elements that are increasing their problems by parroting untenable denials.

What Mengal has done is to formalise a broad alignment, maybe a coalition even. No Balochistan politician worth his salt will aim at anything short of Mengal’s points for any dialogue on Balochistan’s future, regardless of his decision to join the electoral round or to stay out of it.

Once an agreement has been reached on Akhtar Mengal’s points being the minimum requisite for the start of Balochistan’s return to normalcy the crucial question obviously is as to how these conditions can be met. Mengal himself has said the establishment could do this. That may be true depending on how correct one’s definition of ‘establishment’ is. But perhaps matters are too complex to be solved through simplistic approaches.

The government spokespersons have chosen to deny the very premises of Mengal’s formulations. A better course might have been a call to an all-party initiative to pave the way towards a just and rational resolution of the issues involved. That neither the government, neither the present one nor any future regime, nor any other party alone can meet the agreed conditions should be clear to everyone.

The opposition political parties have been competing with one another in endearing themselves to the Baloch leader but they should not be surprised if he or other Baloch leaders/activists play hard to get. Nobody can forget that all the so-called mainstream parties are in varying degrees responsible for the injustices done to the people of Balochistan over the past six decades.

Everything may be fair during election time but no party will help a Balochistan settlement by using the situation to score points over the government parties or by deluding itself with the idea that it could settle everything by its labour alone.

Realism demands that no party should overestimate its capacity, even the capacity of the judiciary, to break the Balochistan logjam. Those responsible for everything that has driven the Baloch to the brink are not known for their amenability to reason. They are caught in the myths produced by a mindset distinguished by arrogance and misplaced self-righteousness.

Heaving Balochistan out of the quagmire will require a gigantic effort by all the political parties and associations. The question Sardar Mengal has put to the politicians is simply this: ‘Do you have the will and the ability to respect the Baloch people’s rights?’ He has not filed a petition for redress, he has thrown a challenge to all those who have recently discovered their love for his community to display the courage to honour their words. One should like to see how many are prepared to take up the gauntlet.

All political elements must realise that Mengal’s offer is unlikely to remain open for ever. The next time a Baloch leader speaks the terms of engagement may be stiffer.