The nationalists have taken the first important step to become part of the mainstream politics; it is now Islamabad’s responsibility to respond. The nationalists’ decision presents a great opportunity to bring back the ‘angry Baloch youths’ into the mainstream and make a new beginning.
After his return from self-exile in Dubai/London on Monday, Sardar Akhtar Mengal’s Balochistan National Party (BNP-M) announced it would participate in the upcoming elections. Other nationalists, including the National Party, the Jamhoori Watan Party as well as the Pakhtunkhaw Milli Awami Party, all of which had boycotted the 2008 elections, are also preparing to take part in the electoral exercise. Mengal, a former chief minister of that troubled unit of the federation, says he does not want anyone to think Baloch nationalists are uninterested in the democratic process. They are ready for it though they remain apprehensive that elections would be stolen from them.
The other day, a BNP-M delegation called on the Chief Election Commissioner, Fakhruddin G Ebrahim, to apprise him of the party’s fears and deliver a letter from Mengal in which he had reiterated the concerns he had expressed earlier in a letter sent to Chief Justice Iftekhar Mohammad Chaudary. Mengal himself told journalists at a press conference in Karachi that the BNP-M expected opposition from the establishment and those who had filled the vacuum when the party had boycotted the last elections.
Others, like NP leader Mir Hasil Khan Bizenjo, have been speaking of dangers ahead pointing fingers in both directions: that of the insurgents and the establishment. The militants, in fact, have been threatening to make it impossible for Islamabad to hold elections in Balochistan. Holding good on that threat a few days ago, they killed an EC official in Quetta. According to press reports, the sense of fear is so strong in other cities that EC offices remain dysfunctional. Mengal though thinks the militants can be persuaded to stay out of the elections issue, and that the bigger threat comes from what he calls the ‘hidden forces.’ The Election Commission, which until this week had been proactively performing its duties in the rest of the country but ignoring Balochistan, finally announced EC officials led by the Chief Election Commissioner would arrive in Quetta on Thursday to hold meetings with different leaders. That though is part of the ECP plan to visit all provincial capitals to seek support for maximum mobilisation of voters, especially female voters. This may sound rather ironical given that the Baloch parties are eager to have their people cast their votes but the system is not.
The nationalists have taken the first important step to become part of the mainstream politics; it is now Islamabad’s responsibility to respond. The nationalists’ decision presents a great opportunity to bring back the ‘angry Baloch youths’ into the mainstream and make a new beginning. There are at least three steps that can, and must be taken to make best use of this chance to restore peace and ensure the federation’s integrity and stability. A good beginning would be to announce general amnesty. Second, the six points Mengal presented a few months ago before a Supreme Court bench hearing the Balochistan unrest case need to be given serious consideration and pursued in all honesty; third, the Election Commission together with the federal and Balochistan caretaker governments must see to it that every party gets a level playing field, and the people exercise their right to vote without let or hindrance. Needless to say, only a genuinely elected leadership of the Baloch people can find a lasting solution to the problems fuelling the fire of insurgency.