A voice of moderation

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ATAULLAH Mengal once said of his mentor Mir Ghaus Baksh Bizenjo: “He cannot live without politics. He has to have it all the time or he will perish.” It may also have been true for his son Hasil Bizenjo. He too lived and breathed politics. In his death, the country has lost a sane voice and a symbol of resistance.

His outburst in the Senate last year was not just an expression of rage against extra-democratic interventions but also a note of warning to those who play with the destiny of the country. There was no mincing of words. He dared to say what others avoided saying.

Hasil was a Baloch nationalist and a fervent fighter for the rights of his people but he also believed in democratic federalism. That may have earned him disapproval of both the establishment and the separatists for opposite reasons. Yet he always stood his ground. It was not so easy in the highly polarised atmosphere in Balochistan.

Hasil’s journey from student activism to national politics is a story of struggle. It was also a reflection of whatever happened in Balochistan over the past more than five decades. While his father was in and out of jail he made his impact in politics as a leader of the Baloch Students Organisation in the 1970s.

There was no mincing of words. He dared to express what others avoided saying.

His activism was not confined to student politics but also extended to national issues. The BSO had provided a platform for political and intellectual development for young Baloch students. It was there that Hasil got his political training beside his father’s tutelage. Hasil entered national politics after his father’s death. There was no looking back for him from there.

Undoubtedly, politics in a highly volatile region is much more complex. As a leader of the National Party, which has a sizeable support base among the younger population in the non-tribal belt of the province, he soon rose to prominence in his own right. He entered mainstream politics in the 1990s when the situation in Balochistan was relatively better. The insurgency that had gripped the province in the past two decades had petered out and the situation was almost back to normal, though there still existed some sources of discontent. All the Baloch nationalist parties were then part of the political process.

The situation, however, completely changed in the province because of an irrational policy pursued by Gen Musharraf’s military-led government. The killing of Akbar Bugti, a former governor of the province and one of the most influential tribal chieftains, ignited a highly volatile situation. I remember spending several days in Dera Bugti months before the death of Akbar Bugti.

Although under siege he was willing to talk to the federal government but the military leader out of hubris was not ready to take a rational view of the situation. The Musharraf government brushed aside even a Senate Committee recommendation to resolve the dispute over payment of gas royalties to the province. Instead, it resorted to brute military force.

That triggered the third Balochistan insurgency that was much fiercer than the previous ones. It was virtually a mass uprising. The military operation forced many youths to join the separatist armed groups. In fact, the centre of gravity of the insurgency this time was the non-tribal region of Makran, the home district of Hasil and political stronghold of his National Party.

That situation presented moderate groups like National Party with a huge challenge. It was hard to stay neutral in the face of the state operation. The forced disappearances had also alienated the saner voices. Almost all Baloch nationalist parties boycotted the 2008 elections. There was no real representation of the Baloch population in the government.

Yet Hasil and his party didn’t shun the path of moderation. They along with other Baloch nationalist groups showed great courage when they participated in the 2013 elections, ignoring the call of militant groups for a boycott. The National Party emerged as the single largest bloc in the province and formed the government in coalition with the PML-N.

The provincial government raised hopes for Balochistan to return to normality. The insurgency also receded. Hasil as president of the National Party had a huge role in mending fences. He and Chief Minister Abdul Malik Baloch took the initiative to open communication with the militant Baloch leaders based in foreign lands.

With the support of the federal government they succeeded in persuading some of the separatist leaders to return with some conditions that were not difficult to accept. It was a great opportunity to weaken the insurgency and bring some if not all the separatist leaders to the mainstream. But that chance was lost because of the stubbornness of a section of the security establishment which argued that the situation was already under control. The country had to pay a high price for this short-sightedness of the establishment.

Hasil would often lament that lost opportunity. It was also a huge blow to the forces of moderation that were trying to address the alienation of the population. With the issue of missing people not resolved, it gave new recruits to the separatist groups. This situation also provided hostile foreign intelligence agencies an opportunity to fish in troubled waters. Their imprint is apparent in the latest surge in terrorist attacks by Baloch separatist groups.

One other problem making things more difficult in Balochistan is the constant political manipulation by the establishment to prop up pliant politicians. This did not allow the democratic process to work. That was the frustration that caused Hasil’s outburst following the dubious election of the Senate chairman.

It was an expression of extreme dejection of a moderate politician who had invested in democratic politics. We never seem to learn lessons from blunders and short-sightedness that has cost this country hugely. There is always a political solution even to the most complex problem. That’s what people like Hasil believed.

The writer is an author and journalist.

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