Malik Siraj Akbar

Dr Mahrang Baloch should consider parliamentary politics

baloch missing persons, Balochistan, enforced disappearances, missing persons

You could not fault Dr Mahrang Baloch for saying she smelled a revolution during one of the largest political rallies in Balochistan’s history last week. The Baloch long march – which survived the hostilities in Islamabad for over a month and returned to Balochistan like a World Cup-winning team – was a revolution in itself, as was the massive crowd that had responded to her call in Quetta. But the charismatic leader did not specify what that revolution would look like going forward.

No matter how impressive, grand rallies do not help much in the long run unless they lead to meaningful change. This is not to say what Dr Baloch and other young leaders of this generation, especially women, have done is not remarkable. It is. Only a few years ago, seeing Baloch women in political rallies, let alone as the main speakers on the stage, was inconceivable. The tables have turned in a fashion that no one had imagined. The Baloch women have led from the front and, in doing so, have given society the confidence to break free from the atmosphere of fear the State has tried to instill through its repressive policies over the years, mainly to prevent the youth from speaking out against injustices. However, the million-dollar question is where this movement goes from here and how long it can sustain its momentum.

In my opinion, the real change would be the movement eventually taking over the province’s political institutions to bring down the corrupt political elite that’s brazenly indifferent to the plight of the people and submissive to the military establishment. This would require an electoral earthquake that takes the Balochistan Assembly away from these politicians and hands it over to a new generation of the Baloch leaders with a high level of public trust and uncompromised integrity. Because there are so many areas that need urgent attention, or rather revolutionary intervention.

It’s true that support for and trust in parliamentary politics has eroded significantly in recent years. Encouraging the youth to vote in general elections has become sort of a taboo given the narrative that has been successfully promoted by Baloch separatist nationalists, who insist that the Assembly is absolutely powerless, serving as a platform for corrupt politicians that spend a fortune to become its members only to make more money.

These complaints are valid to a great extent. Some families have been inheriting their seats for several generations due to their strong tribal roots and some others have unfairly won and retained seats with the support of the establishment as a quid pro quo for keeping their mouths shut on Islamabad’s injustices. But that’s precisely why rising stars like Dr Baloch must step forward and seize control of the provincial legislature. This new breed of dynamic, educated and passionate individuals should utilise their popularity to capitalise on the prevailing public anger fueled by numerous socio-political issues and oust the corrupt political elite. The status quo will change only if the organisations such as the Baloch Yakjheti Committee devise a strategy to ultimately take over the Balochistan Assembly by fielding their candidates in every district in the future. It will be risky, but it cannot be more dangerous than marching to Islamabad and challenging the country’s powerful spymasters on their turf.

It’s certain that the Baloch armed groups and their supporters would have their set of arguments against it, but it would be unwise for the Baloch to take their lessons about democracy from the armed groups for the simple reason that it’s not their area of expertise. They have left the masses amid false expectations that Balochistan’s independence is imminent. I don’t see that happening anytime soon. Despite the existing animosity, both the Baloch and Islamabad will inevitably have to deal with each other in the foreseeable future. There is no simple way to evade this deadlock.

Another argument that is often put forward in favour of staying away from the parliament is that it’s dysfunctional. But, it is important to note that this problem is not unique to the parliament. For instance, the Pakistani courts have a backlog of millions of pending cases, yet the families of the missing persons continue to file petitions with them, and rightly so. Similarly, despite the underperformance of public hospitals and universities, people still go there for treatment and education. Why, then, this deep resentment towards, and rejection of, the Assembly? This approach warrants reconsideration, and soon.

Parliament is an essential part of democracy. No country has a flawless parliamentary system. Even in the United States, it does not always deliver on its promises. Despite its shortcomings, though, acknowledging the pivotal role this institution plays in shaping our societies is important. In Pakistan, all the four provincial legislatures have their flaws. The National Assembly has problems too, and yet this has not stopped anti-establishment leaders such as Mohsin Dawar and Ali Wazir from contesting elections.

Balochistan faces complex and multifaceted challenges, but the solution lies in improving and strengthening democracy, not abandoning it. By staying out of the parliament and leaving seats open to unscrupulous politicians, the Baloch are inadvertently undermining their own interests. The province cannot afford to let incompetent and disingenuous politicians continue to occupy important seats and squander vital resources that solely belong to the people without accountability. The longer the Baloch remain cynical about joining electoral politics, the more it benefits pro-establishment figures like Sarfaraz Bugti. It will even get worse when kids like Jamal Raisani emerge as ‘elected representatives’.

The Balochistan Assembly holds immense potential to address the province’s pressing issues, but only if it is led by leaders dedicated to serving the people. The province needs a resilient chief minister, independent of Islamabad’s influence, capable of sternly cautioning the federal government against any unlawful actions by intelligence agencies targeting Balochistan residents. This can only be done by a leader who is democratically elected, not appointed by the establishment.

 If that ever happens, it will be Balochistan’s real revolution.

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Malik Siraj Akbar is a Baloch journalist based in the United States.

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