Another election that brings some nationalists and most old faces in power but still does not address fundamental issues relating to Balochistan will be a futile exercise.
Since the killing of Nawab Mohammad Akbar Bugti in a military operation in August 2006, elections in Balochistan have become a yardstick to measure the intensity of Baloch disillusionment with the Pakistani federation. Unlike the rest of Pakistan, elections in Balochistan are not merely about public representation, transparency and the accommodation of underrepresented voices in the so-called mainstream politics. Balochistan, after Bugti’s killing, has become a significantly different place and the dynamics as well as the requirements of the regional politics have remarkably changed.
When Baloch separatists call for the boycott of the next elections, it does not in any way translate into resentment to the very idea of democracy and people’s right to vote. What they, as well as this newspaper, oppose is basically based on Balochistan’s unresolved disputes with the federation. Whenever Islamabad oppresses the Baloch people and does not take in consideration their will in making key decisions (such as the recent Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline and the handover of the Gwadar Port to the Chinese), the Balochs believe an election season is the best time to express their ‘democratic right” to cast a ‘vote of no confidence’ in the current Pakistani system. After all, developed democracies in the world, including the United Nations system, provide the people and the member states the right to ‘abstain’ from certain democratic exercises.
For the Baloch people, election 2013 is the best time to show their ‘democratic right’ to ‘abstain’ from Pakistani polls. The people of Balochistan are not averse to voting but they are simply not ready to vote at this time. Another election that brings some nationalists and most old faces in power but still does not address fundamental issues relating to Balochistan will be a futile exercise.
By participating in the elections, the ‘moderate’ Baloch nationalist leaders will be validating and legitimizing the massacre of Baloch youths during the previous ‘democratic government’. More than 300 missing Baloch people’s dead bodies were recovered during the P.P.P. regime. If that is what democracy provides then Balochistan should truly fear the kind of democracy Islamabad is enthusiastically contemplating to introduce us with. That said, democracy failed, as much as General Musharraf’s junta, to provide justice to Balochistan. They all mistreated the Baloch.
Those who say that the boycott of elections by the Baloch nationalists will only increase the number of pro-federation parliamentarians have a solid argument. But participation in the election before punishing those ‘democratic’ leaders who committed human rights abuses in Balochistan, indulged in massive corruption and encouraged foreign countries’ exploitative initiatives will encourage and cement a culture of impunity and unconditional remission. That is precisely what is going to happen on May 11.
By deciding to return to Pakistan and participate in the upcoming general elections, the Balochistan National Party chief Sardar Akhtar Mengal and National Party have clearly indicated that they are exhausted and can no longer continue their battle against the federal government. But were they ever in the forefront of the anti-Islamabad struggle? No, they were not. They only pretend to be the actual powers who could bring peace to Balochistan and those Islamabad should patronize and negotiate with. They perhaps now realize that they have done enough blackmailing of the central government and the time has come for them to get back to power.
However, nationalist’s surrender does not mean that Islamabad’s behavior toward the Baloch people has also improved at any level or in any form. The two nationalist parties that boycotted the last general elections are more than welcome to contest polls as they are absolutely free to make their own decisions. What we see from their behavior is hasty and poor judgement of the conflict in Balochistan. It is ironic that even Sardar Akhtar Mengal, the B.N.P. president had also
voted in support of a Baloch boycott of the elections during the party’s Central Committee Meeting in Karachi last week. He is only proceeding with the polls to respect the majority’s decision in the B.N.P. The problem with the B.N.P., on the other hand, is the penetration of some opportunistic and compromising elements in the party’s key position during the past four years when Sardar Mengal was on self-imposed exile.
By opting for elections, the Baloch nationalist parties have significantly disappointed the Baloch masses who have always wished to deal with Islamabad in a dignified and honorable manner. This time, it is a sad case of absolute and unconditional submission to the federation.
The B.N.P. can still do some damage control by asking the Election Commission of Pakistan to reschedule the elections in the province. This period should be taken to initiate dialogue with the Supreme Court of Pakistan, the Election Commission of Pakistan and major national political parties, particularly the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz and the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf to put forward a set of Baloch demands and recommendations.
This is a unique opportunity to withdraw the Frontier Corps (F.C.) from parts of Balochistan, dismantle the death squads, recover the missing persons and punish those who have been involved in the killing Baloch youths with the help of Pakistani intelligence agencies. In addition, the Baloch nationalists, particularly the B.N.P., should publicly assert its stance on the Gwadar Port and its handover to the Chinese. Until these Baloch demands are met, elections will only perpetuate a flawed and repressive system that provides no relief to our people.
MALIK SIRAJ AKBAR
The Baloch Hal