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Smokers’ Corner: The Baloch electoral enigma

April 07, 2013

One can be left rather perplexed trying to figure out the number of Baloch nationalist parties out there and their many factions and sub-factions. Even though one can say the same about Sindhi nationalist outfits as well, the difference is that unlike the Sindhi parties, the Baloch parties actually have it in them to win national and provincial elections.

The question is, if almost all Baloch parties and their factions have the capability as well as a history of winning NA and PA seats, and the fact that, more or less, they all stand for the same things, why don't they simply merge into becoming a single and more effective electoral unit?

One reason is that in spite of the fact that all Baloch parties and factions have roots in left-wing politics, are staunchly secular, and analyse the economic and politics issues facing Balochistan with almost similar lenses, they are divided on the basis of class and in their solutions to tackling these issues.

For example, some Baloch parties claim to be made up of middle-class Baloch leadership and are likely to criticise another Baloch outfit of being under the influence of a Baloch sardar or tribal lord.

Secondly, some Baloch parties believe in solving the many problems that the Baloch nationalists have faced from the state of Pakistan through political and democratic means, whereas other Baloch groups support an armed insurgency as the solution.

At the moment there are about 10 Baloch political parties operating in the troubled province.

The leading parties in this respect are Balochistan National Party-Mengal (BNP-M), BNP-Awami, National Party (NP), Jamhoori Watan Party (JWP) and Baloch Republican Party (BPR).

Apart from these there are various factions of the Baloch Students Organisation (BSO) and insurgent groups such as Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) and Balochistan Liberation Front (BLF).

Out of these, the two BNP factions, NP, JWP and maybe BPR are expected to contest the May 11 general election.

The BNP factions emerged from the Balochistan National Party (BNP) formed in 1996. The BNP itself surfaced from Balochistan National Movement (BNM) that sprang from Balochistan National Alliance (BNA), a left-wing alliance of youth leaders belonging to BSO and radical Baloch politicians.

BNA was formed in 1987 and managed to win two NA seats from Balochistan in the 1988 elections. It evolved into becoming Balochistan National Movement that split into BNM-Mengal and BNM-Hayee. The Mengal faction then became Balochistan National Party (BNP) but that too split into BNP-M and BNP-A.

The National Party (NP) emerged in 2004 when the BNA-Hayee faction merged with the Pakistan National Democratic Party (PNDP which itself was an evolutionary offshoot of the Pakistan National Party (PNP), formed in the late 1980s as a centre-left Baloch party that shunned Baloch separatism.

The PNP failed to win any NA seat in the 1988 election. In 1990 it won one NA seat and none in 1993. In did not take part in the 1997 election and had become the Balochistan National Democratic Party (BNDP) for the 2002 elections but failed to win a seat. In the 2008 elections it merged with BNM-Hayee to become National Party but couldn’t win any NA seat.

Jamhoori Watan Party (JWP) was formed in 1989. It won two NA seats in 1990, 1993, 1997 and one in 2002 but boycotted the 2008 election.

Recently, a faction split from JWP and formed the Baloch Republican Party.

Before it split into three factions, the Balochistan National Party (BNP) won three NA seats in 1997 but failed to win any seat in 2002.

After the split, only the BNP-A faction contested the 2008 election, winning just one NA seat.

None of these parties seem inclined to launch a joint electoral venture for the forthcoming elections. Yet, interestingly, almost each and every party mentioned here has roots in a united political singularity called the National Awami Party (NAP).

Formed in 1957, NAP was an outfit made up of mainly Punjabi and Mohajir communists merged with leading Sindhi, Baloch, Pakhtun and Bengali nationalist groups.

Many believe that had the promised direct general elections been allowed to take place in 1958, NAP was in a position to win the largest number of seats in both the wings of the country (East and West).

NAP was banned in 1959 when Ayub Khan imposed martial law. It revived itself as the country’s largest left-wing party in 1962, broke into two factions at the onset of another leftist party, the PPP in 1967.

The pro-China faction of NAP became NAP-Bhashani and the pro-Soviet faction became NAP-Wali. The Wali faction (named after Pakhtun nationalist, Wali Khan) was the larger faction, having in its fold leading Pakhtun and Baloch nationalists and Marxist Mohajir and Punjabi members.

During the 1970 elections, NAP-Wali won the largest number of NA and PA seats in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and Balochistan. It managed to form coalition governments in these two provinces whereas Sindh, Punjab and the Federal government went to Bhutto’s PPP.

In 1973, the Bhutto regime dismissed the NAP set-up in Balochistan (on charges of instigating a Baloch separatist movement). The KP government resigned in protest.

On the plea of the federal government, the Supreme Court banned NAP in 1975. With most of NAP’s leadership in jail, the remaining Baloch, Sindhi and Pakhtun members of NAP formed the National Democratic Party (NDP) and became part of the anti-PPP alliance, the PNA, for the 1977 elections.

However, after Ziaul Haq's military coup (in July 1977), differences erupted in NDP and its Pashtun, Sindhi and Baloch leaders formed their own nationalist parties.

In 1986 these parties merged once again to form the Awami National Party (ANP). But by the time the 1988 elections were held, ANP had become a Pakhtun nationalist party when the party’s Baloch and Sindhi leadership broke away to again form their own localised outfits.

Out of these only some Baloch outfits (apart from the Pashtun version of ANP), has exhibited any ability to win seats during NA and PA elections.