Martial Law is not the solution to the grave problems faced by the country: Mir Ghaus Bakhsh Bizenjo
Ataullah Mengal once said of his political mentor, Mir Ghaus Bakhsh Bizenjo: “He cannot live without politics. He has to have it all the time, or he will perish.” Confinement may have affected Bizenjo’s health but it has hardly lessened his zest for politics. This was the impression I got when I met him in his room at Karachi’s Jinnah Hospital where he was under treatment for an ailing ear.
Mir Ghaus Bakhsh Bizenjo, 66, former governor of Balochistan and currently the president of the Pakistan National Party, is probably one of the most controversial political figures in the country. His dogged adherence to the cause of ‘national rights’ has earned him both grudging admiration and condemnation.
Exceptionally articulate, Ghaus Bakhsh Bizenjo envisages a loose federation based on the 1940 Pakistan Resolution, in which the central government would hold only the portfolio of defence, foreign policy and customs, while all other matters would remain with the provinces. Although he doesn’t mince his words, Bizenjo weighs every sentence before uttering it — a rare quality in our politicians. American journalist Selig S. Harrison in his book, ‘In Afghanistan’s Shadow’ writes of Bizenjo: “He is one of the ablest politicians in Pakistan and could have played a major role in Islamabad but for his Baloch identity and his commitment to the Baloch cause.”
Bizenjo has suffered for his convictions. Imprisoned by successive regimes, he has spent a major part of his long political career behind bars.
While still a student at Aligarh University Mir Ghaus Bakhsh Bizenjo actively participated in the freedom struggle, and as the end of the British colonial rule approached, he and other Baloch nationalist leaders formed the Kalat National Party with the objective of establishing an independent Balochistan. Later after Partition he emerged as one of the main leaders of the National Awami Party, and also held the office of its Secretary General. He came into political prominence during the Ayub regime when he was elected to the National Assembly from Lyari in 1965, defeating the official candidate. He was later disqualified and tried on a charge of high treason and accused of writing anti-One Unit slogans on currency notes. He was awarded 14 years rigorous imprisonment. He was released in 1969, during the last days of the Ayub era, after serving three years of his sentence.
In 1970 Bizenjo was elected to the National Assembly from Balochistan and was appointed the first civilian governor of the province in 1972, a post he held for a very brief period. The NAP government was later dismissed and Bizenjo with other Baloch leaders was implicated in the famous Hyderabad Conspiracy Case.
Mir Ghaus Bakhsh Bizenjo's role in the national struggle and his respected status as the eldest top-ranking Baloch politician have earned him the popular title of "Baba-i-Balochistan.” In the present political scenario Mr Bizenjo holds a very important position. A seasoned politician, he represents a province which has assumed added importance in the context of recent geopolitical developments in the region. In this interview Mr Bizenjo discusses the country's present political situation and the ongoing movement for the restoration of democracy.
Zahid Hussain. How do you view the present political situation in the country?
Mir Ghaus Bakhsh Bizenjo. The situation is before everyone. The perpetuation of Martial Law and the policies of the present government have led the country to a point of no return. The sharpening of contradiction between the federating unit and the federation has left a deep feeling of bitterness among the masses. The situation has aggravated to the extent that not only has it gone out of the control of the present government but it will also be very difficult for any future government to deal with it.
Nevertheless, I feel that the present crisis faced by the country could still be resolved if tackled sensibly and realistically.
In my opinion there are two aspects of the existing crisis - national and international. For the solution of national problems it is imperative that the state structure should be evolved in accordance with the natural and political requirements of the country. By a natural structure, I mean that Pakistan is a multinational state and it must have a federal structure on the basis of the Pakistan Resolution of 1940. The 1940 Resolution was not just a resolution, but a covenant, a charter and agreement on the basis of which the various federating units decided to form the state of Pakistan. The Quaid-e-Azam and his associates had laid the basis and principles of the form of government. Violating this principle will jeopardise the unity and existence of the country.
As far as the power of the federating units are concerned, that has also been settled in the Haroon Commission recommendations, according to which, except for defence, foreign affairs and customs, all other subject were assigned to the federating units. Only such a federal structure can keep the country united and resolve the existing contradiction between the federating units and the federation.
They are not asking for independence but only demanding autonomy and the legitimate rights of the federating units. I believe that the federating units and all sections of the population can be satisfied by giving the provinces maximum autonomy and by providing proper guarantees.
Hussain. Is the MRD in its present form capable of leading a mass movement?
Bizenjo. If we look at our political history we will find that all successful movements were launched by united fronts, and the MRD is no less capable than other alliances in the past. Some of the political parties — the Jamaat-i-Islami, JUP, Muslim League (Pagara) — have not joined the alliance but I think that the e parties should be persuaded to join. Their exclusion from the MRD only strengthens the undemocratic forces.
Hussain. Is it true that some of the MRD leaders are not in favour of mobilizing the masses as it might endanger their traditional leadership?
Bizenjo. Yes, there are some people in the MRD who for their own vested interest do not want the involvement of the masses in the struggle beyond a certain limit. This is an inherent characteristic of the bourgeoisie and middle-class leadership. Particularly in the conditions through which the country is presently passing, these leaders would never like the movement to be turned into a mass revolt which might damage their leadership. The scope of the present movement, however, is limited to the restoration of democracy in the country and in any case does not cross that limit.
Hussain. Would you agree that Abid Zuberi’s letter from jail reflects the worst fears of the political parties about the movement getting out of their control?
Bizenjo. I believe that if the political parties organise and lead the people according to their aspirations then the question of the movement getting out of their control can never arise. Those leaders who feel threatened by the mass movement don't represent the actual needs and wishes of the people.
The system of government under a federal structure should be such that the majority — workers, peasants and middle class — have a direct share in state power. This can only be possible in a national democratic form of government. In my view the present internal crisis can only be resolved by strictly adhering to the 1940 Resolution and by establishing a national democratic form of government in the country.
Now we come to the second point. The present geo-political situation demands that we should strictly adhere to a neutral and non-aligned foreign policy. But the present government has taken on the responsibility of protecting imperialist interests in this region which is not only detrimental to the country's interest, but has also aroused the hostility and enmity of our neighbours. For instance, we had no quarrel or dispute with Afghanistan. But by providing refuge to the three million Afghanis — who, according to the American Secretary of State, Mr Shultz, are not only refugees but also freedom fighters — and allowing them to use Pakistan as a base has created a situation which will sooner or later become unbearable for Russia. There is every possibility that Russia might take some retaliatory measures, which would be destructive for our country.
There is also a danger that our present foreign policy might compel us in future to become a part of the American strategy in the Gulf, creating serious problems for the independence and survival of our country. Then these 30 lakh Afghan refugees are not in any way under the control of our government, but are more under the influence of the United States and other reactionary regimes. There is every likelihood that if Pakistan, in its own interests, ever tries to settle the Afghan issue or normalize relations with the South Asian countries against the wishes of Washington and reactionary regimes of the region, well-trained and armed refugees might be used against Pakistan itself. The influx of refugees is already a severe burden on the national economy and in that event it would become unbearable.
Hussain. Do you see any possibility of a return to civilian rule in the near future?
Bizenjo. Martial Law is not the solution to the grave problems faced by the country, nor can it accomplish the task. Therefore, there is no other way but to lift martial law and restore civilian rule in the country. It is in the broader national interest that they should not cling to power. Further perpetuation of martial law will jeopardise the very existence of the country.
Hussain. What do you think of President Ziaul Haq's August 12 announcement about the transfer of power?
Bizenjo. Ziaul Haq has announced that he wants to establish a new so-called Islamic form of government and is seeking the MRD's support and cooperation to implement that. His proposal has nothing to do with democracy. Accepting his formula will only mean legalising military rule.
Hussain. Do you think that elections will be held as announced?
Bizenjo. No Sir, I don't think even a mock election will be held.
Hussain. What is the way out of this stalemate?
Bizenjo. The only solution is the holding of elections and handing over of power to the representatives of the people, which we can't expect from the present regime. All other ways will only lead to destruction.
Hussain. The current MRD movement has failed to mobilise the masses and could not prevail on the government to accept its demand. In your opinion what were the reasons for this?
Bizenjo. In my opinion the MRD's present movement has proved to be more effective and successful than previously, there always used to be some sort of cushion; politicians were allowed to a certain extent to hold public meetings and also to take out processions. But this time we were directly confronted with the armed forces, and because of the restrictions imposed by the government we had no means left to reach the masses and mobilise them. But despite that the people of Pakistan, particularly the people of Sind, rose valiantly.
The other important aspect of this movement was that the people have demonstrated that the use of brute force can't deter them from fighting for their democratic rights. The MRD movement has also helped in arousing political consciousness among the rural population. The movement has not finished; it has only been temporarily crushed. It can erupt again at any time.
Hussain. Why was the MRD movement confined mainly to Sind? Why did it fail to get support from other provinces?
Bizenjo. There is no doubt that the movement was much more widespread and intense in Sind, but you can't say that the other provinces did not participate in it. But the sense of frustration was much greater in Sind than in any other place.
Hussain. Don't you think that the upsurge in Sind was more spontaneous than organised?
Bizenjo. It was to a certain extent a spontaneous movement since it went much beyond the preparation of the political parties. Sindhi nationalism also played a very important role in mobilising the masses.
Hussain. Is MRD going to launch a second round?
Bizenjo. The question of a second and third round does not arise. I have already said that the present movement is not finished, it has only been suppressed temporarily. None of our objectives has been achieved. The movement will continue till power is transferred to the people.
Hussain. What will this confrontation lead to?
Bizenjo. The confrontation is for democratic rights and restoration of the people's sovereignty. When all the avenues for a peaceful struggle are blocked, it is obvious that the masses have no choice left but to resort to confrontation. In the existing critical national and international situation, this confrontation will have very grave consequences, affecting even the unity and the integrity of the country.
Hussain. Would you support the move to convert the MRD into an electoral alliance?
Bizenjo. There is no harm in forming an election alliance, but I think at this moment this move is premature, since the government has no intention of holding the elections. The election formula presented by the President is hardly acceptable to any party and any person of integrity. The formation of an electoral alliance at this stage might also affect the present movement as it will divert the attention of the masses from the basic issues.
Hussain. How do you view Mumtaz Bhutto’s proposed formula for confederation?
Bizenjo. I and my party firmly believe that Pakistan came into being on the basis of the 1940 resolution and it can only exist by giving the rights to the federating units mentioned in the Resolution. Mumtaz Bhutto and others who talk about confederation in fact interpret it the same way.
Hussain. Balochistan occupies a very important position in Pakistan's politics due to its strategic situation. In what way do you think the recent geopolitical developments in the region will affect the province politically?
Bizenjo. Balochistan cannot remain unaffected by the serious international developments taking place around it. Not only does Balochistan have very long borders with both the countries — Iran and Afghanistan — where revolutions have taken place but in both these countries there are thousands of square miles inhabited by a Balochi population. Balochistan is also situated at the brink of the Gulf. Due to these geographic and strategic factors Balochistan has assumed a very important position for the big powers vying with each other for supremacy in this region. This situation directly affects all the smaller nations in the region and Balochistan is in no position to escape from it.
Hussain. How do you think the Afghan issue can be solved?
Bizenjo. In my opinion Pakistan should recognise the revolutionary regime in Afghanistan and hold direct talks with them for the return of the Afghan refugees. This is the only way the Afghan problem can be solved. Unless all foreign interference in Afghanistan's internal matters is not stopped we cannot compel the Russians to leave Afghanistan. No power in the world can compel Russia to vacate its troops from Afghanistan. Russia intervened in Afghanistan not merely to defend the revolution in that country, it was also a matter of Russia's own defence. I feel Russian intervention in Afghanistan was a defensive measure rather than an offensive one as portrayed by America.
This article was published in the Herald's April 1984 issue. To read more subscribe to the Herald in print.