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An Interview With Sardar Attaullah Mengal

Malik Siraj Akbar interviews Balochistan's first chief minister and veteran Baloch nationalist leader Sardar Attaullah Mengal about the conflict in Balochistan and his views on Baloch politics.

Sardar Attaullah Mengal, Balochistan’s first chief minister, is among the three sardars who General Pervez Musharraf believes are creating mischief in Balochistan and hindering its development. He has been running nationalist and separatist movements for several years. In 1972, he became the first CM of Balochistan. However, then-Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto dismissed his government on February 13, 1973, leading to a bloody insurgency and fanning anti-Pakistan feelings in Balochistan. Sardar Mengal, widely known as a staunch Baloch nationalist, has also severed as the president of the Pakistan Oppressed Nations Movement (PONM). Recently TFT sought his views on a number of contentious issues. Here are some excerpts.

The Friday Times: What factors have caused the turmoil in Balochistan?

Sardar Attaullah Mengal: There are scores of factors. The roots of the present mess are entrenched in the past. Since Balochistan’s forceful accession to Pakistan in 1947, relations between the province and the centre have been overshadowed by mistrust and abhorrence. The Centre has always adopted a domineering and arrogant attitude towards this province and its people. But the more the rulers have suppressed the Baloch, the more they have resisted. Resistance has always been here; it is nothing new. In the past, there have been bloody resistance movements. Now, the people are fighting the oppressors once again.

But why armed resistance? Struggle for just rights can also be waged politically.

I agree. The Baloch have always believed in political struggle. But how can you continue to engage in political struggle when the rulers invade us with sophisticated US weapons? Not on a single occasion have we opted for a military settlement of disputes. But the Centre has constantly inflicted violence on the unarmed and poor Baloch. One cannot stop that merely by chanting slogans.

So you support the armed resistance?

In today’s world armed struggle is the only option of the oppressed. Giving one’s life for a cause is not easy. The Baloch have tried their utmost to develop friendly relations with the Punjab-dominated establishment but they have backed us against the wall. The offensive has come from the other side. The Baloch are only defending themselves.

What do you know about the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA)?

Your guess is as good as mine. I also hear that an organization calling itself BLA is fighting for the Baloch rights.

A reputed magazine recently reported that you are leading the BLA.

(Laughs) I know nothing about the BLA. But if someone crowns me as the BLA chief then I am honoured. I wish I were the BLA chief. I respect the BLA because it is fighting for a just cause.

So you support them?

Of course, I do. Why should I oppose them? After all they are sacrificing their lives for a just cause and fighting in self-defence.

What are these rights?

I have told you that we did not join Pakistan willingly. We were forced to accede. Then we said that now that we are obliged to live with Pakistan, we should be treated with honour and dignity. In a federation, no one is a master or a slave. All federating units must be treated equally and with respect. Unfortunately, only one province, the Punjab, has dominated the entire federation. We have been insisting that our right of ownership to our resources should be accepted. We are the masters of our land. We, not Islamabad, should decide the fate of our province. We demand full provincial autonomy; nothing less will do.

What is your idea of provincial autonomy?

We want the federal government to deal with only three subjects: foreign affairs, defence and currency. All other matters must be in the hands of the provinces. We have been insisting that the provinces should be granted provincial autonomy as enshrined by the 1973 Constitution.

Then why do you also demand a new constitution?

The 1973 Constitution is no longer in its original form. It has been completely distorted. Our problem is not with the Constitution. We want complete provincial autonomy. If the current government is willing to amend the 1973 Constitution and grant us provincial autonomy, then we have no problems. The reason we insist on a new constitution is simply because that would make it easier to ensure provincial autonomy to the provinces. It will be more difficult to do so within the 1973 Constitution in its present form. Secondly, we do not have much hope in the current set-up; the Punjabi establishment will never back the idea of granting full autonomy to other provinces.

There is a general opinion that the sardars of Balochistan are the main obstacle to development. What do you say?

I am tired of hearing this. This is disinformation spread by the rulers to hide their own failures. I ask the rulers to name a single project that I opposed in my constituency or elsewhere in the province. On several occasions I have given my own lands to the government for the construction of schools and hospitals. But the officials are so inefficient that they have not been able to bring any teachers or doctors to these schools and hospitals.

Why do the Baloch nationalists oppose the Gwadar Port?

We have never opposed the idea of developing Gwadar or any other part of Balochistan. We apprised the Mushahid Hussain-led Parliamentary Sub-Committee about our reservations. Since Gwadar is a small coastal town, the influx of a large number of outsiders when the Port becomes operational will result in serious demographic changes. The total population of Balochistan is half of Karachi’s population. The government is planning to set up another Karachi at Gwadar. We will be outnumbered. We have asked the government to debate the entire proposal with us. We want to know who is going to benefit from this mega project. If the project is meant to bring economic prosperity to others at our cost, we won’t let that happen. The government should not give outsiders the right to vote in Gwadar. We welcome anyone who is interested in investing in Gwadar. But they should pay taxes to the government of Balochistan. Moreover, the revenue collection against imports and exports from Gwadar Port should go to Balochistan. The federal government mustn’t interfere in the matters of the Port. It should be up to Balochistan to decide how much it wants to contribute to the divisible pool.

General Pervez Musharraf says it is just three sardars that are opposed to development.

There are 72 sardars sitting in Musharraf’s lap. He should go and develop their areas. But the state of those sardars’ areas is as deplorable as that of any other area in the province. If the General has the backing of 72 sardars then why does he require our support? He should go ahead and complete his development agenda.

Why are you so anti-Punjab and why do you always hold the Punjab responsible for the mess in Balochistan?

I know people perceive me as anti-Punjab. I am not against the ordinary Punjabi. However, I have a genuine compliant against the people of that province. The Punjabis from various segments of life never came forward to condemn their politicians who treated us shabbily. Those who kept us backward and usurped our resources are all Punjabis.

Last year, Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti floated the idea of a single Baloch National Party. Why was the proposal so coldly received?

I backed the idea of a single Baloch national party. Initially, Nawab Khair Baksh Marri did not support the proposal. Later, he agreed to join negotiations on the single Baloch national party. Agha Shahid Bugti, general secretary of Jamhoori Watan Party (JWP), was also in contact with me. I said let’s hold a party convention in Quetta to decide the structure of the party and the future course of action. But we could not make headway due to the political change in the province.

Are you in contact with Nawab Bugti?

Yes. When I was in Karachi, he called me. I have also called him on a number of occasions. We have been in constant contact.

How do you view the Charter of Democracy?

What democracy? I don’t accept this democracy. How can you call it democracy when there is 56 percent domination of the Punjab in the federation? There is no federal system in Pakistan. The Baloch will only support a democracy that grants them full provincial autonomy.

This interview was originally published in the Friday Times in 2006

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