News Analysis: Mengal’s Quest for New Allies

By Malik Siraj Akbar

Months after ending an alliance with the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) at the Center over the latter’s failure to fulfill several electoral promises, former Baluchistan chief minister and the head of the Balochistan National Party (BNP) Sardar Akhtar Mengal is now trying to work with the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N). 

In a meeting between Mengal and Maryam Nawaz, the daughter of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, at Jati Umra on October 27, the two leaders emphasized the need to collaborate to attain mutual goals. 

The PML-N and the BNP are both parts of the 11-party Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) that recently held a grand gathering in Quetta. 

Another area where Mengal and Ms. Nawaz seem to share common ground is the issue of enforced disappearances in Baluchistan. Ms. Nawaz spoke as passionately on the subject as never before. However, a leader of the Voice for Missing Baluch Persons mocked Ms. Nawaz, stating that only wearing a Baluchi dress does not suffice to recover the missing persons. He is right because several government officials also wear the traditional Baluchi dress or/and turban on special occasions. However, they still get blamed for human rights violations in the province.

The meeting between Mengal and Ms. Nawaz proves two people right, although Mengal would certainly wish they were wrong.

First, Sheikh Rasheed Ahmad, the federal minister for Railways, while commenting on Mengal’s withdrawal of support from the PTI, had said Mengal was not going anywhere. Many people found his remarks extremely offensive and disrespectful when he said, “These Mengals, Shengals don’t go anywhere. I have seen so many of them.” Rasheed’s comments created a storm on social media and even inside the parliament. Many politicians asked him to apologize for his remarks. He did not until he was proven right, and Mengal once again returned to Punjab to find a new political ally. In that sense, Ahmad had made calculated remarks about the limitations of Baluch nationalists’ influence and their dependence on support from Punjab/Islamabad. 

Secondly, the Baluchistan Cheif Minister Jam Kamal is also right in taunting Mengal that the Baluch nationalists preach hatred toward the Punjabis among their voters but then end up seeking support and political alliances with them. Kamal has been on a Twitter honeymoon since the PDM gathering in Quetta and the recent meeting between Mengal and Ms. Nawaz. He has behaved like a local Donald Trump by endlessly tweeting about what he sees as contradictions, inaccuracies, and inconsistencies in the opposition’s politics. 

What Kamal is saying reflects a classic dilemma of the moderate Baluch nationalists (i.e., those who want to operate within the Pakistani federation): They know that they cannot accomplish their demands without support from a national mainstream party or the approval of powerful quarters in Islamabad, but, at the same time, their politics also considerably hinges on the anti-Punjab(i) narrative. Most of the Baluch nationalist politics will perish the day it stops talking about Punjabi dominance and exploitation.

Mengal is currently Baluchistan’s most vocal opposition leader, but his search for like-minded allies is continuously taking him to awkward, uncomfortable, and unfruitful destinations. 

  • The partnership with Nawaz had failed in the past. 
  • The alliance with the PTI ended recently. 
  • The marriage between the secular BNP and the pro-Sharia Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam seems illogical and incompatible.
  • The partnership with the National Party under the defunct Four-Party Baluch Alliance has long been dead.
  • An alliance with the Pashtun nationalists does not seem possible due to their competing narratives on demographics, the Afghan refugees etc.

With the recent sharp attacks on the Army Chief by Nawaz Sharif about his alleged role in the 2018 elections that brought the PTI into power, Sharif seems to have burned his bridges. With the recent Ayaz Sadiq comments, the gap between the PML-N and the Army is only going to widen further. Therefore, the BNP would accomplish less in a partnership with the PML-N as compared to the PTI in terms of convincing the military establishment to revisit its approach and policy toward Baluchistan. 

Malik Siraj Akbar is the editor-in-chief of the Baluch Hal
Email: malik@thebaluchhal.com

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