At noon last Sunday I dialled my radio to City 98 FM to listen to the ‘Red Baron’ interviewing Sardar Attaullah Mengal, one of the three Baloch sardars loathed by the Chowkidar in Islamabad
For those not familiar with the latest radio scene in Pakistan, let me tell you that recently there has been a mushrooming of FM stations. And the ‘Red Baron’ is a pseudonym that has been embraced by a well known local – and as your Blogger rigorously sticks to his own anonymity, it would be unfair to expect him to expose the Red Baron’s actual name.
Interspaced with lengthy bits of Balochi ballads, Kafis and other local music, the Red Baron interviewed the Mengal chief about his political life and his views on the current volatile situation in Balochistan.
Here is a gist of what Mengal said:
- The Kalat State was never a legal part of British India, but in fact a ‘Treaty State’ similar in status to the Kingdom of Nepal. In 1947 the Khan of Kalat, after obtaining legal advice from constitutional lawyers, opted for independence (ironically one his earlier lawyers had been one Mohammed Ali Jinnah). In 1948 the state was amalgamated into Pakistan at gunpoint against the unanimously declared wishes of Kalat’s elected Assembly.
- Unlike other nationalities in Pakistan, the people living in Balochistan have nothing to show for their 58 plus years as citizens of Pakistan.
- There have been several insurgencies in Balochistan – 1948, 1957-8, 1962, 1973-5 and the latest ongoing one. So it is not as if Baloch resentment is a recent phenomenon.
- After several years of quietude the Gwadar issue has set Baloch nationalism on fire once again. Why? Currently there 200,000 people living in the Gwadar area (and comparison was made with Karachi’s 1947 population of 350,000). The influx of new settlers will turn the people of Balochistan into a microscopic and politically powerless minority in their homeland.
- The present political leadership of Balochistan had been inflicted upon the province through the machinations of Islamabad - by blatantly rigged elections favouring corrupt and ineffectual puppets. The only true power in Balochistan was the local Corps Commander and the ISI. It was they who told everyone what to do and what not to do, and everyone from the chief minister Jam Yusuf downwards obeyed their dictates.
- Punjabi leaders – like Sheikh Rashid – have loudly declared that Pakistan’s economic future lies in Balochistan. Already a road is being constructed from Sindh’s Rato Dero to Gwadar, making way for a direct route from Punjab to Gwadar bypassing Karachi altogether. Islamabad’s priority is the economic interests of Punjab, with the other two provinces coming a distant second, and the people of Balochistan nowhere at all.
- He (Mengal) and the other two vilified sardars were all for development and the mega-projects providing the benefit went to the people of the province. Right now it is clear that the future economic sovereignty of Balochistan will end up in the hands of outside settlers, hence the diehard opposition.
That is about where I had to finish listening to the interview as the traditional family Sunday lunch had to take precedence.
I must admit Sardar Mengal comes across more calm and straightforward than our squeaky-voiced and regularly haranguing Chowkidar. The other thing worth mentioning is that for once the normally voluble and verbose Red Baron was not only restrained in speech but appeared to be in complete agreement with his interviewee.