Hailing from Baluchistan, Ataullah Mengal is well-known political figure who has been campaigning separatist and nationalist movement in Pakistan for a long time. He was born in Wahd, a small town in the Khuzdar District. After getting his early education from his native town he went to Aitchison College, Lahore from where he did his Senior Cambridge.
He started his political career, when he was made the chief of his tribe in 1953. In 1960 elections, he was elected as the Member of National Assembly but due to his opposition towards the policies of Ayub Khan he was sent to jail. When the Martial Law was lifted he again started participating in the politics and got the ticket of National Awami Party (NAP) and mobilized it in Balochistan. Mengal was deadly against the dictatorial rule of Ayub Khan and his ‘One Unit’ for he thought that this scheme would create many problems for the people of Balochistan who could not compete with the well-educated people of other provinces for jobs, etc. Later on when the ‘One Unit’ was rescinded, he cancelled the domiciles of all the non-local personnel, terminated their jobs and sent them out of Balochistan. In 1970-71 elections the Baloch and the Brahvi Sardars belonging to the NAP won 8 out of 20 seats. As they couldn’t win majority in the province, NAP made a coalition government with JUI in Balochistan and NWFP.
Sardar Mengal became the Chief Minister of Balochistan on May 1, 1972 but his government was dissolved after just eight months on February 13, 1973. Chief Minister Ataullah Mengal and Governor Ghaus Bux Bizenjo were accused of preparing for an armed revolt and jailed. This charge was made after the seizure of arms in the Iraqi embassy. Bhutto said the arms were meant for Baluchistan. But he could never prove this charge after he told NAP chief Khan Abdul Wali Khan that he dismissed the Baluchistan government because the Shah of Iran did not want a leftist government on his country’s eastern border. After Ataullah Khan Mengal himself sought sanctuary in the UK. He returned from exile after 18 years. When he came back, he established his political party ‘Balochistan National Party’ (BNP) which is still working. However, because of the graduation bar Sardar Akhtar Mengal was excluded from the 2002 elections.
As the people of Baluchistan revolted against this dismissal, Bhutto sent the army to quell them. In this crackdown thousands of Baluch were killed and many thousands fled their homes to take shelter in neighbouring Afghanistan. Armed Baluch went up the hilltops and gave a tough fight to the Pakistan army which subjected them to aerial attacks. This confrontation went on till December, 1977, when Gen Zia-ul-Haq ordered the withdrawal of the army. At the same time Bhutto, now deposed, told the Supreme Court that the army did not let him withdraw it.
But it was not the last time that an elected government was dismissed in Baluchistan. In December, 1988, the Baluch Assembly was dismissed by Governor Mohammad Musa a few hours after it was sworn-in by him. In 1997 newly elected Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif allowed the Baluchistan National Party to form the provincial government under Sardar Akhtar Mengal, but a year after he brought about a split in the party and installed his own Muslim League into power there.
Mr Sharif felt offended when Sardar Mengal protested that he should have been taken into confidence before using the soil of Baluchistan for nuclear explosions in May, 1998. When the preparations for the nuclear explosions were being made the young Baluch were up in arms. As a symbol of protest they hijacked a plane also. That once again showed how far away the people of Baluchistan were emotionally from the people of Punjab
At present the burning issues in Balochistan politics are the provincial autonomy and the establishment of new cantonments by the government. Provincial autonomy is not something new in the politics of Pakistan; provinces have always complained that central government has curbed their powers. Mengal is of the view that if provincial autonomy is given to the provinces then the provincial government can solve their local problems rapidly and easily. He claimed furthermore that the local government will be held responsible for any delays and it will be duly accountable before the people of that province.
Establishment of army cantonment is another issue. Recently the central government has decided to make army cantonments in Waziristan and Balochistan. Mengal said that he is not against the establishment of military cantonments; in fact there is an army cantonment in his locality of Khuzdar. But he is of the view that before establishing any cantonment the local people should be taken into confidence because they do not know the utility and need of such defensive measures. Moreover, he said that the backward people couldn’t be developed by establishment of cantonment.
With the passage of time Mengal has changed his thinking and now he is ready to cooperate with the government. As he said recently that “we are not against development but those policies that are planned in Islamabad without taking us into confidence”.