Pakistan Reader# 196, 7 September 2021
Mengal’s exit, marks truly the end of an era. The era of Baloch titans, who fought the military leaders of Pakistan and also its insensitive polity
Along with Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, Mir Ghaus Bakhsh Bizenjo, and Nawab Khair Bakhsh Marri, Sardar Ataullah Mengal represented an era of Baloch leaders in Pakistan. Mir Ghaus Bakhsh Bizenjo, was the early one to depart in 1989; he served as the Governor of Balochistan between April 1972 and February 1973. Bizenjo was followed by Akbar Khan Bugti, who served as the Governor of Balochistan between February 1973 and November 1974. Akbar Bugti, also served as a Chief Minister of the province later (1989-90); but met a tragic death in August 2006, as he was hounded by the Musharraf led Pakistan military and killed in a cave, where he was hiding. Nawab Khair Bakhsh Marri, a former member of Pakistan’s National Assembly, considered to be the leader of Baloch Liberation Army, passed away in 2014.
Sardar Ataullah Mengal, is the last one from the above era of towering Baloch leaders, who stood up for the rights of Baloch, fought the military of Pakistan, and also its polity to demand what Balochistan deserved. Sardar Mengal, became the first Chief Minister of Balochistan, and served between May 1974 and February 1973. His government was dismissed by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, then the Prime Minister of Pakistan; along with other Baloch leaders, he was placed in prison. He was to be released later by Zia, following the coup and the imprisonment of Bhutto. Later, he went into exile, only to return in 1996 to Pakistan to form Balochistan National Party (BNP); the party could win the provincial elections, and his son Akhtar Mengal became the Chief Minister. However, the party could not stay united; the split led to the formation of BNP-Awami led by Sardar Isarullah Zehri.
Perhaps, one of the biggest regrets for Sardar Ataullah Mengal would have been his limited success to keep the Baloch Sardars together to espouse the cause of Baloch nationalism. Despite walking with the titans like Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, Mir Ghaus Bakhsh Bizenjo, and Nawab Khair Bakhsh Marri, Sardar Ataullah could not covert the big names into a big Baloch project. Even his own party – the Balochistan National Party could not stay united.
While it is easier to blame the military leadership and the role of the ISI in keeping the Baloch leaders divided, one has to understand the role played political leadership – from Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in the 1970s to Asif Ali Zardari into the 2010s. Both the leaderships – political and military ensured, that the Baloch leaders do not come together. In this context, the big four – Marri, Mengal, Bugti and Bizenjo have to share the responsibility in forging a common Baloch identity vis-à-vis the rest of Pakistan.
Sardar Ataullah Mengal has to be remembered is for his progressive views on tribal identity. In an interview in 2018, he talked about the Sardari system and the tribal nature of the Baloch society. He mentioned: “The sardari system has lived its life. It is completely outdated now and of no use in the modern world. The world moved on from the tribal age long ago.” He also mentioned: “The first tenet of this tribalism is enmity. Tribes divide the Baloch and they don’t let them work for a common cause or for unity. Even our Baloch nationalists, who claim to be fighting for the rights of the Baloch, don’t come out of their tribes.”
One of his wishes was to find an alternative system to the tribal nature of Baloch society. He said: “Until or unless an alternate system is introduced in Balochistan, the tribal system will keep ruling the Baloch. But it is high time that an alternative be formed.” It is unfortunate, he had to exit, without seeing the alternative.
Mengal’s exit, marks truly the end of an era. The era of Baloch titans, who fought the military leaders of Pakistan and also its insensitive polity.