Mir Hasil Khan Bizenjo, a veteran Baloch politician, is currently the president of the National Party (NP), a Baloch nationalist party that has stacked its political fortunes on winning Baloch rights through greater provincial autonomy. He is going into the 2018 general election on the back of a two-year stint as a federal minister and two consecutive terms as a senator from Balochistan. With the incumbency factor working against him, this election is going to severely test his brand of Baloch middle-class parliamentary politics. It will also be a referendum on the broader politics of provincial autonomy championed by NP.
As scions of the veteran Baloch nationalist leader Ghaus Bukhsh Bizenjo, Hasil and his elder brother, Mir Bizen, had to labour under the shadow of their illustrious father throughout their political careers. Hasil proved his mettle in the factionalised student politics of Karachi in the 1980s by bringing together disparate left-wing, ethno-nationalist and liberal political groups under the umbrella of the United Students Movement to successfully counter the dominance of right-wing student groups such as the Islami Jamiat Talaba (IJT) on university campuses. He emerged on the national political scene by winning a National Assembly seat from his home district of Khuzdar in the wake of his father’s death in 1989.
Hasil moved quickly to establish close working relations with the leadership of the two mainstream national political parties, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PMLN) and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP). In 2003, he joined forces with fellow Baloch nationalists, Dr Abdul Malik Baloch and Dr Abdul Hayee Baloch, to form NP that champions the politics of the Baloch middle classes, especially those belonging to Makran division, and adopted provincial autonomy as its main goal.
NP’s version of politics faced a stern challenge due to the intensification of an armed ethno-nationalist insurgency in Balochistan in 2006, which sought outright independence for Balochistan. The Baloch insurgent leadership termed the politics of provincial autonomy a distraction and betrayal of the Baloch nationalist cause. NP, however, participated in the 2013 general election despite opposition from Baloch insurgents and widespread scepticism about the fair conduct of the polls in Balochistan.
The party campaigned on a platform of resolving the issue of Baloch missing persons, pressing the federal government to give due share of resources to Balochistan and improving the deteriorating health and educational infrastructure in the province. It scored a major electoral victory by winning eight provincial assembly seats. Hasil was elected for a second term as senator in 2015. After narrowly missing nomination to the privileged position of Senate chairman, he was appointed the federal minister for ports and shipping in 2016. As a federal minister, he promoted projects relating to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) in Balochistan.
Despite holding power at both the federal and provincial levels, NP could only make limited gains on the issue of Baloch economic and political rights. To its credit, the party contributed to the passage of the 18th Amendment that granted considerable provincial autonomy, effected a temporary reduction in the cases of enforced disappearances in Balochistan and brought about some improvement in health and educational infrastructure.
These gains were overshadowed by its failure to put an end to enforced disappearances, effect a political compromise between Baloch separatist guerillas and the federal government, and achieve a major breakthrough in improving health and education outcomes in the province. This makes its chances of winning a significant electoral victory in 2018 rather slim.
Although Hasil is not personally contesting the election in 2018, he is the face of NP in Balochistan and symbolises the limited gains and multiple failures of the party. He is perceived as being more active in the power corridors of Islamabad than in resolving the issues of his constituents in Makran and Khuzdar. This perception of being out of touch with ordinary people and too willing to make political compromises with power brokers in Islamabad is likely to cost his party in the general election.
The author is a social anthropologist who teaches social development policy at Habib University, Karachi.
This was originally published in the July 2018 issue of the Herald. To read more, subscribe to the Herald in print.