Rest in Peace, Sardar Attaullah Mengal

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The passing away of Sardar Attaullah Mengal on September 2, 2021, deprived Balochistan of the towering presence of an honest, sincere, wise and veteran leader of greater political acumen. A leader of unimpeachable character and indefatigable spirit, Sardar Mengal was not only a Baloch nationalist but a strong voice for the oppressed people of the country.
Though junior to many in age, he was a contemporary of the rare breed of nationalists of yesteryears, including Khan Abdul Wali Khan, Mir Ghous Bux Bizenjo, Mir Ahmed Yar Khan, Khair Bux Mari, Sardar Akbar Bugti, and Abdul Samad Khan Achakzai. He was introduced to politics by his mentor, Mir Ghous Bux Bizenjo. He represented his region in the West Pakistan Assembly from 1962.
Being an ardent Baloch nationalist with a strong faith in provincial autonomy, Sardar Attaullah was too critical of the Ayub regime. He faced concocted cases, arrests and jail, but never compromised on his political ethos. He remained above the politics of plots and permits, which was the hallmark of the Ayub era. Many politicians of known tribes from Balochistan succumbed to the temptation of permits and swelled the ranks of the Convention Muslim League of General Ayub Khan, except for Baloch nationalists like him.
General Yahya Khan abolished One-Unit in March 1969 and held the first-ever general elections on the adult franchise basis in December 1970. Baloch leaders, including Sardar Attaullah Mengal, fought the general elections from the platform of the nationalist and leftist National Awami Party (NAP) headed by Khan Abdul Wali Khan. The NAP fared well in the provinces of KPK and Balochistan. However, the results of the general election triggered a national crisis.
Pakistan People’s Party representing West Pakistan with 82 MNAs declined to recognize the right of the Awami League of Shaikh Mujeeb that emerged as the largest party of the country; winning 160 National Assembly constituencies in East Pakistan to frame the constitution and form the Federal Government. The military junta mishandled the post-election political crisis and resorted to the use of force. The military operation against the Awami League resulted in the disgrace of the nation and disintegration of the country on December 16, 1971.
The military junta handed over power to the PPP leader Z A Bhutto. After an agreement with the ruling PPP, the NAP nominated Governors for KPK and Balochistan and formed provincial governments in the two provinces. Ghous Bux was sworn in as the Governor of Balochistan and Sardar Mengal as Chief Minister of the province in May 1972. Mufti Mahmood was elected as the leader of the House in KPK. Khan Abdul Wali Khan emerged as the opposition leader.
Sardar Mengal’s stint in power was brief and tumultuous. He took far-reaching steps to assert the political, administrative and financial autonomy of his province. The provincial assembly passed laws to establish the Board of Intermediate and Secondary Education, Bolan Medical College, Khuzdar Engineering College and Balochistan Public Service Commission. The province had its first-ever medical and engineering institutes.
Laws were also enacted to reform the provincial tax system; repatriate outsiders; employ through direct recruitment or transfer in Balochistan during the One-Unit to their respective provinces and fill vacancies caused in all provincial service groups, including the revenue and police by direct recruitment, combined competitive examination, or simply by promotion or transfer in personal pay and grade.
The successive political and legislative moves by the provincial administration, particularly its bold act of relieving en mass revenue and police officials from Punjab, irked Prime Minister Bhutto. He felt his authority being eroded in KPK and Balochistan in the presence of two uncompromising Chief Ministers and a vocal opposition leader. His intensifying hostility towards the NAP’s provincial administrations culminated in the dismissal of the provincial government of Sardar Mengal in February 1973. The government of KPK under Mufti Mahmood also resigned in protest.
Violent protests in the province triggered by the dismissal of Sardar Mengal’s administration heralded the second military operation in Balochistan. The first was carried out in 1954. Prime Minister Bhutto started having an unnecessary tussle with the political forces of the country, particularly NAP. It was disbanded and all senior leaders were arrested and lodged in Hyderabad jail to be tried for treason by a Special Tribunal. This damaged Bhutto’s standing as a democratic leader beyond redemption.
NAP leaders, including Sardar Mengal, remained incarcerated in the Hyderabad jail until the imposition of Martial Law on July 5, 1977. General Zia ul Haq disbanded the Special Tribunal; withdrew cases of treason against the NAP leaders and set them free.
After the abortive attempt to mobilise nationalist forces of Pakistan from the Baloch, Sindhi, Pakhtun and Punjabi National Front, Sardar Mengal formed his Balochistan National Party (BNP) in the mid-1990s. The BNP did well in Balochistan in the general elections of February 1997. His son Akhtar Jan Mengal took over as Chief Minister of Balochistan. However, he developed differences over the explosion of nuclear devices in Noshki, Balochistan and lost power in August 1998.
Sardar Mengal was a man of unimpeachable integrity. He stayed in politics for almost six decades but never sought any favour from any ruler may it be President Ayub Khan or Prime Minister Imran Khan. He refused General Zia’s request to lodge a formal complaint against Late Bhutto for the suspected murder of his son, Asadullah Mengal.
He said, “Which Asad are you talking about? I have lost hundreds of Asads in military operation. Bhutto is already in your custody; I don’t want to be recalled as a small and spiteful person to have taken revenge from a fallen man.”
He declined offers to be president or even interim prime minister in recent years. Sardar Mengal–a Baloch nationalist who had unfailing pride, dignity and honour–was not accustomed to such dole-outs.