Sardar Akhtar Mengal, former Chief Minister of Balochistan, recently presented before the Supreme Court of Pakistan a "Six Point Charter" to resolve the ongoing political conflict between the nationalist forces in Balochistan and the country's federal government. The Balochistan National Party (BNP) leader's submission of the charter before the apex court was in connection with cases of forced disappearances of Baloch nationalists in the context of the ongoing conflict there.
The six demands Mengal put forth are the following:
- All covert and overt military operations against the Baloch should immediately be suspended;
- All missing persons should be presented before a court of law;
- All proxy death squads operating under the supervision of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and the Military Intelligence (MI) should be disbanded;
- Baloch political parties should be allowed to function and resume their political activities without any interference from intelligence agencies;
- Persons responsible for inhuman torture, killing and dumping of dead bodies of the Baloch political leaders and activists should be brought to justice; and
- Measures should be taken for the rehabilitation of thousands of displaced Baloch living in appalling condition.
Mengal's charter reminded the powers that be in Pakistan about another Six Point Charter raised by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in 1966, which ultimately led to the dismemberment of the country. The similarity between the charters of the Baloch leader and Mujibur Rahman is only in name - in substance they are poles apart.
Mujibur Rahman's Six Point Charter demanded the total revamping of the politico-administrative structure of the undivided Pakistan. Due to the enormity of the changes he demanded on behalf of East Pakistan, the ruling establishment and the political elite of West Pakistan could not have accepted it. Mengal's charter is well within the limits of the constitution of Pakistan. He is only demanding the constitutionally sanctioned fair deal to the people of Baluchistan.
Though Balochistan is the largest province in Pakistan, in terms of socio-economic development, it is the most backward one. The mineral and hydrocarbon wealth of Balochistan, instead of becoming a blessing, has turned out to be a curse for the province. Balochistan is a clear case of internal colonialism happening in a post-colonial context. The underdevelopment of Balochistan is carefully perpetuated for the benefit of other provinces - mainly Punjab - in the federation.
The Baloch never wanted to be part of Pakistan. They were brought in to the fold of Pakistan by outright military annexation. Many a time after the forced merger of Balochistan with Pakistan, the Baloch people rose in revolt against Islamabad. The two previous Baloch uprisings, in 1958 and 1973, were suppressed by the Pakistani state by brute force. The ongoing revolt started in 2006 after the killing of Nawab Akbar Bugti by the Pakistan army during the regime of Gen. Pervez Musharraf.
The spectrum of political opinions visible in the current insurgency in Balochistan includes provincial autonomy to outright secession from Pakistan. Mengal only represents the section which demands maximum provincial autonomy. Hence the Six Point Charter proposed by him is not acceptable to the ultra nationalists in and out of Balochistan. Some Baloch nationalists are even suspecting Sardar Mengal's move as a conspiracy hatched at the higher levels.
So far the Mengal plan has received support from the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), Jamaat-e-Islami and Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf. It seems the Muttahida Quami Mahaz (MQM), a partner of the ruling coalition, is also in support of Mengal. On the other hand, the government of Pakistan and its intelligence agencies, have denounced the charter. The government has even dismissed Mengal's allegation about the existence of "death squads" run by the intelligence agencies as fanciful imagination of the Baloch leader.
The Six Point Charter has no doubt triggered a live debate about the current political situation in Balochistan. Though the government and the agencies are in a state of denial about the human rights violations that happen in Balochistan on a daily basis, the people of Pakistan are not willing to believe that.
The failure of the federal government to implement the much publicized "Aghaz-e-Haqooq-Balochistan" economic package of 2009, among other things, created the condition for Sardar Akhtar Mengal to come out with his Six Point Charter. Had the government fulfilled even half of the promises made in the "Aghaz-e-Haqooq-Balochistan" package, the political climate in Balochistan would have been different.
From any standpoint, Mengal's charter is a minimalist demand one can expect for the people of Balochistan in the current situation. If the federal government of Pakistan is not ready to listen to the rightful demands of the Baloch, they might once again forcefully resort to the demands of self-determination and secession in a big way.
It would be difficult for the government to contain an all-out uprising in Balochistan on nationalist lines in the changed regional strategic context of the American withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2014. The timing of the release of the Six Point Charter indicates Mengal has certainly taken this into consideration. An altered regional strategic context in the near future poses many challenges to the Pakistani state as well as the people of Balochistan.
(The author is a Reader at the MMAJ Academy of International Studies at Jamia Millia Islamia in New Delhi)