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Balochistan National Party chief Sardar Akhtar Menegal. — File Photo

“THESE elections are nothing but a tool deployed by the central government in Islamabad to suppress the voices and demands of the Baloch people,” says Dr Allah Nazar, a commander in the separatist Baloch Liberation Front (BLF), in an exclusive interview with Dawn.

Akhtar Mengal, the leader of the Balochistan National Party-Mengal (BNP-M), will be landing in Pakistan on Monday amid pressures from Baloch separatists and radical nationalists calling on him to boycott the 2013 elections.

“If Akhtar Mengal takes part in this sham of an election, he will have compromised with the very same security establishment that has been responsible for the deaths of hundreds if not thousands of Baloch,” says Nazar.

Mengal’s arrival comes six months after he appeared in front of the Supreme Court demanding the immediate cessation of the security establishment’s kill and dump policies. His party’s central committee is planning to meet on Tuesday to finalise their position on elections and whether they will be taking part — though according to the party’s acting president, Jahanzaib Jamaldini, the decision is as good as final.

“We are already registered with the election commission, and have always been a party committed to a democratic struggle.

There is, of course, a possibility that our party will make a different decision on Tuesday --- we are concerned about security, the general state of affairs in Balochistan, and its impact on elections --- but so far there is no reason to think that we will boycott them,” says Jamaldini to Dawn.

Violence continues

According to Mengal, and other critics of the security establishment’s policies in Balochistan, little has changed since his last visit to Pakistan. In an open letter to the Supreme Court sent last week, Mengal counts “60 mutilated bodies, 70 targeted killings and 100 missing persons” since his court appearance in September. “The heirs of missing persons are suffering an agony which only they can relate to, and are losing hopes in the justice system,” said Mengal in the letter.

Mengal went on to accuse all previous elections, excluding the one held in 1970, of being “rigged in favour of the establishment and its cronies”. According to Mengal, the current “manufactured crisis” could repeat the mistakes of the past.

In an interview with Dawn at the tail-end of his visit in September last year, Mengal called his four-day tour a “last stand”, and said that “elections will become selections” if they are held in “the war-zone that has become Balochistan”.

“I have no faith in our killers. I have no expectations from the institutions that have spilt the blood of our young, or shed the tears of our mothers and sisters. I expect little — or nothing — to change,” said Mengal to Dawn.

Mengal stopped short of declaring an all-out boycott if “nothing change[s]” by the time elections take place, but his harsh critique of the security establishment and the governments in Islamabad and Quetta in his open letter and his quotes from six months ago have prompted many to ask why he and his party are so willing to take part in elections now. According to his critics, partaking in elections is the same as accepting the writ of a state that has killed the Baloch.

‘Legitimising illegitimate elections’

On March 12, the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA), another separatist guerrilla group, targeted and killed Mohammad Ziaullah Qasmi, the District Election Commissioner in Quetta.

“We will not let Pakistan hold elections in Balochistan,” said BLA’s spokesperson. Nazar’s BLF and the Baloch Republican Army (BRA) have also announced that they will carry out similar actions in order to disrupt what they call “illegitimate elections”.

The government in Balochistan has already announced that seven districts are vulnerable to attacks: Gwadar, Turbat, Awaran and Panjgur in southwest Balochistan; Khuzdar, a district 300km south of Quetta; and Dera Bugti in northeast Balochistan. But,  the attack against the election commissioner in Quetta is a testament to the fact that the guerrilla tactics of militants mean any election throughout the province is vulnerable to attacks.

Radical nationalists and separatists are especially critical of the Baloch political parties that “use the language of nationalism but want to remain part of Pakistan”.

The National Party (NP) has accused separatists of attacking its political workers — many of them in Khuzdar — and the BNP-M is similarly vulnerable. According to Nazar, “the establishment kills in the name of Pakistan, but the so-called nationalists kill in the name of Balochistan.”

“The Baloch have a soft spot for Mengal. There is no doubt about that. But if Akhtar Mengal decides to take part in the elections, he will have to cooperate with Shafiq Mengal, the son of the former acting chief minister and federal minister Naseer Mengal. Everyone knows that Shafiq is an agent for the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and Military Intelligence (MI), and that he is responsible for the deaths of the Baloch,” says Nazar.

“Taking part in these elections is the same as legitimising illegitimate elections, at a point where we need to stand united against the Pakistani state.”

“Establishment politicians who are members of the enormous and well-funded all-Pakistan parties like the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), or even the Balochistan National Party-Awami — an establishment darling — have the funds to protect themselves against these sorts of attacks. Parties like BNP-M and the NP who rely on political workers more than electables end up losing out,” says Malik Siraj Akbar, the editor of the banned online magazine, The Baloch Hal.

When asked whether the BLF is planning attacks on those who are running in the elections, or those who are administering them, Nazar says “the low voter turnout will be sufficient to prove that the Baloch believe these elections are a farce”.

“Pakistan does not exist in Balochistan. Doctors, teachers, the average Baloch, will not vote in these elections. They have killed our people, our culture, our language, our identity. If Mengal decides to go ahead with these elections, he will be complicit in Pakistan’s crimes,” says Nazar.