THE life and struggles of Hasil Khan Bizenjo, who passed away last week, defines the conundrum the state of Pakistan has turned Balochistan into. He succeeded in achieving many things he attempted but his efforts to secure for Balochistan the degree of democratic self-rule, allowed to a large extent to other federating units, were frustrated.
The second son of Ghaus Bakhsh Bizenjo, one of the finest politicians Pakistan has produced and from whose services the state chose not to benefit, he was spared the privileges of a prince or heir apparent, which fell to the share of his elder brother, Bizen Bizenjo. That did him a lot of good, enabling him to enjoy a normal childhood and learn to look at men and matters from the eyes of an ordinary young man. In the non-feudal environment of Karachi, Hasil took studies less seriously than student politics and a bit of naughty playfulness. A whimsical smile became his trademark.
Gifted with his father’s chief quality ie an immense capacity to negotiate but without the sarcasm- loaded flashes of anger with which Ghaus Bakhsh could tear his opponents apart, he proved more successful than his father, perhaps more successful than any other Baloch politician, in retaining his position as a parliamentarian. He was elected twice to the National Assembly and thrice to the Senate. Each of these successes revealed his ability to use the political culture of the country to his advantage, though the tactics sometimes used didn’t make his puritan or principled colleagues happy.
Hasil was a left-leaning democrat by training and therefore consistently upheld constitutionalism, rule of law, and justice for women and the minorities. His contribution to developing a consensus on which the 18th Amendment was based has been widely acknowledged. He was a most committed and consistent defender of women’s rights and interests. He would walk a mile to join a rally in support of women’s causes and he was never far away from labour. He excelled in the defence and promotion of human rights. On top of everything, he was the most undemanding guest at events to which he was invited. These qualities made him one of civil society’s favourite politicians.
Like his father, Hasil wanted to secure the interest of Balochistan and its people within Pakistan. But while the senior Bizenjo stuck to the fundamentals, the son chose to be a pragmatist, willing to concede a point to gain two. To achieve his objective, he adopted the policy of aligning himself with a mainstream Punjab-based political party, PML-N, in the hope that this should lead to a healthy change in Punjab’s attitude towards Balochistan, especially towards his province’s right to autonomy. It proved to be a poor bargain as he had to agree more with the PML-N than the latter did with him.
The 2013 election improved the National Party’s chances to play an important role in resolving the Balochistan-centre confrontation. He was able to persuade PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif to share power in Balochistan with his National Party and to allow it to administer the province for the first half of the government’s five-year term.
His party’s ministry, headed by Dr Abdul Malik Baloch, did fairly well in some respects, especially in getting prepared a blueprint for Balochistan’s development by Kaisar Bengali’s team, and which is available in the book, Balochistan’s Cry for Justice. But the ministry had no cure for the fact, stressed repeatedly by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, that the process of revival of democracy in 2008 did not reach Balochistan. As a result, the Malik government could not tackle the factors that are used by power brokers to sustain a stifling security environment.
In his eagerness to keep Balochistan’s toehold at the centre, as exemplified in his entry into the Nawaz cabinet of ministers, Hasil started looking at Balochistan from the PML-N perspective. What he did not realise was that the more he identified himself with the PML-N the less popular did his party become in Balochistan. One wonders whether he ever realised a cardinal rule in the centre’s manual of operations in Balochistan that forbade the state from reaching an understanding with a popular Balochistan party.
Frustration at the inability to push the party’s agenda for Balochistan’s progress, Hasil developed a tendency towards cynicism. He seemed to have lost the ability to enjoy the few successes that came his way and did not appear hurt at setbacks. The federal government paid him the compliment due to a high-status adversary by winning over his supporters and getting him defeated in his bid to be elected the Senate chairman. He continued laughing as artlessly after losing as he had been while confident of winning the election.
More dangerously, in order to win peace in Balochistan he offered too many concessions to the state. The most outlandish concession was to go mute on enforced disappearances, an issue that was not given up by Akhtar Mengal even while his party was the PTI’s coalition partner. One wonders about the line of argument for this posture. It is possible that the policy was to avoid issues that could not be solved. But this amounted to a virtual betrayal of the Balochistan people’s most crucial cause. And this is something his friends might not be able to swallow and his foes might not be able to forgive.
It may not be considered good form to recall a friendly politician’s stumble when he is no longer present to respond but some facts must never be overlooked so that Balochistan’s political leaders do not overstep the safe limits of engagement with a wily centre.
The centre’s failure to review its policy of rejecting any accommodation with Balochistan’s nationalists, whether it is dealing with Nawab Akbar Bugti or Hasil Bizenjo, raises basic questions regarding its long-term objectives. A time must come when the ordinary Baloch could safely make a modest living in the safety of his tent.
Published in Dawn, August 27th, 2020