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Promising news: BNP-M contesting elections

March 28, 2013

SARDAR Akhtar Mengal has taken a bold and welcome step by declaring that his party is re-entering electoral politics. In conversations with the newspaper, Baloch separatist and radical nationalist groups have warned that they have no trust in the upcoming elections, consider them a tool of oppression and will view him as having “compromised” with the security establishment if he participates in them. So the Balochistan National Party-Mengal leader has a tricky balance to strike now that he has declared that his party will do so. He will already have lost favour with hardcore nationalists by making this announcement — particularly after the strong stand he took against the state’s Balochistan policies during his visit to Pakistan in September last year — and the murder of Quetta’s district election commissioner earlier this month has proved that some groups will not hesitate to use violence to express their rejection of the polls. But Mr Mengal also claimed on Tuesday that his party is under threat from the establishment. His will be a perilous campaign, fraught with security risks and the need to sustain his nationalist credentials by focusing on the legitimate grievances of the Baloch while at the same time not going so far that he risks disruption to his campaign by those who would rather uphold the status quo.

Here the Election Commission of Pakistan has an important role to play in making sure that the BNP-M and other nationalist parties are able to freely campaign and contest. If enforced disappearances and the dumping of bodies continues during the run-up to the elections, that will only make it harder for Mr Mengal and other nationalists to safely and successfully prove their support among the Baloch people. But the last few years have seen little progress in the relationship between Baloch nationalists and the state; it is critical that these parties are able to join the provincial assembly this year and vocalise the concerns of the Baloch through a legitimate, parliamentary process.