EVERY party releases manifestos during election season. But the BNP-M’s unveiling of its manifesto on Friday in Quetta is particularly significant. At its launch, the BNP-M senior vice-president Dr Jahanzaib Jamaldini said his party wished to end the political and economic stand-off between the centre and his province. In a charged atmosphere with separatist insurgents calling for a boycott of the polls and disillusionment with the state common amongst the Baloch population, this is a bold, timely move. Most of the BNP-M’s aims — an end to military operations, tracing of missing persons, giving Balochistan control over its resources etc — are justified. But moderate nationalists like the BNP-M are in a tight bind: on one side are radical separatists who have rejected elections, while on the other is the establishment; the party has complained forces are at work trying to keep the BNP-M out of the polls. It is welcome that despite the pressures Akhtar Mengal’s party, as well as others such as the National Party, have opted to struggle for Balochistan’s rights through the ballot box, within the framework of Pakistan.
It has been a long journey for Akhtar Mengal and the BNP. Mr Mengal was tried (and acquitted) in a treason case following Akbar Bugti’s death and only returned to Pakistan in March following several years in self-imposed exile in the Gulf after his disillusionment with the political process. The Baloch moderates’ participation in the electoral process is significant for while separatist violence is down, the province is far from peaceful and some very serious issues remain unresolved. There may be a lot of ‘ifs’ involved, but if parties such as the BNP-M, NP and JWP can secure a popular mandate it may be possible to reintegrate the disillusioned Baloch into the national mainstream. That is, of course, if the establishment allows Balochistan’s elected representatives a chance to implement their agenda. The Baloch need to participate in the electoral process and the state must provide a secure environment for them to exercise their democratic right.