Conflict Alerts

Conflict Alerts # 115, 24 June 2020

Baloch Disappearances cause rift in ruling coalition, as a Baloch party leaves the PTI government
D Suba Chandran

In the news

Last week, the Balochistan National Party (Mengal) walked out of the coalition led by the PTI at the national level. Citing the failure of the PTI to fulfil the two agreements signed, Sardar Akhtar Mengal, leader of the BNP-M officially ended his party's alliance with the PTI government by making a formal announcement in the Parliament. 

Subsequently, the PTI announced a high profile team led by the Defence Minister Pervez Khattak to dialogue with Sardar Mengal, and get the BNP-M back to the coalition. The PTI team met with Sardar Mengal; however, the effort to win back the BNP-M have not succeeded, as the latter has refused to reconsider the decision to quit the coalition. 

Later, the BNP-M has made a formal request to shift their seats in the Parliament to the opposition benches.

Issues at large

First, the issue of Baloch disappearances. This is an emotional issue within Balochistan province. During the last two decades, successive federal governments in Islamabad have pursued Balochistan as a security issue; as a result, the security agencies took the upper hand and pursued a military approach towards the Baloch demands. On the one hand, the security approach led to violence and the killing of Baloch youths, who were suspected of militants. However, the bigger issue was the disappearance of Baloch youths. More than 5000 Baloch have been considered as missing.

Second, the issue of broken promises between the federation and the province. According to Sardar Mengal, both the parties – the BNP-M and PTI came together with an understanding, that focussed on the following six points: recovering the missing persons; implementing the National Action Plan; implementing six per cent quota in the federal government for the Balochistan; repatriating the Afghan refugees; and constructing of dams in Balochistan. According to the BNP-M, the PTI has failed to honour the promises with the province.

Third, the missing political dialogue with the Baloch. Announcing his decision to part ways with the government, Sardar Mengal also announced that the PTI is more worried about Kashmir more than Balochistan. According to him, the government "is constituting committees on Kashmir, which is not with it, but is not worried about losing what it already has." He also said in the Parliament: "This House can discuss issues of wheat, sugar and tomatoes, but not the blood of the Baloch people."

In perspective

The PTI government at the federal level is stable, despite the BNP-M leaving it. Hence BNP-M leaving the coalition is a political issue, but not an immediate crisis for the government. Hence, Imran Khan is less likely to walk the Baloch talk, and get the BNP-M back into the government. The latter has only five seats in the Parliament. 

Second, elected governments have yielded too much space to the Deep State in Balochistan. Even if the PTI government wants to pursue a proactive Baloch strategy (which is less likely), it does not have space within Pakistan's political decision-making process on the future of Balochistan. Neither is the PTI keen to bulldoze its way and create a space for the government.

D Suba Chandran is the Professor and Dean, School of Conflict and Security Studies, at National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS).

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