March 25th, 2021
By Ahmed Saeed and Hamid Riaz
On Wednesday, March 24, Akhtar Mengal, the chairman of his faction of the Balochistan National Party (BNP-M), called the Prime Minister ‘too powerless’ to effectively address let alone resolve the issue of the Baloch missing persons.
While talking to journalist and Editor in Chief of Voicepk.net, Munizae Jahangir on her televsion show ‘Spotlight’, Mengal declared, “I do not think that any Prime Minister in the country’s history including Imran Khan has been given the authority to address issues close to the establishment particularly the missing person’s issue,” he said.
While talking about the Prime Minister’s recent meeting with the families of the Baloch missing persons, Akhtar Mengal commented that it had been a week since the PM met them. He said that ‘nothing good’ would come out of the meeting and that according to him this was just a tactic to ‘gain time’ tactic on the part of the government. “The government has complete information about all the missing persons. They know where they are but they are too toothless to do anything about it,” says Mengal. “If the prime minister had any interest in trying to resolve the issue he would have engaged with me, instead of referring me to the Chief of Army Staff,” he said.
Mengal also declared that the PTI government had promised the BNP-M that they would criminalize enforced disappearances, but when the BNP-M brought a bill to the parliament to this effect the PTI refused to support it.
Akhtar Mengal’s statement came at a time when Prime Minister Imran Khan had met the families of the missing persons a few days ago and assured them of a solution to the issue.
The centrality of the missing person issue to the politics of Akhtar Mengal
Following the 2018 general elections, Sardar Akhtar Mengal’s political party (BNP-M) entered into a coalition with the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf government. But in his own words, it was not an alliance aimed at gaining political benefits but one based on political principles, something evident from the fact that his party did not take any seats in the provincial or national government. Akhtar Mengal presented a 6-point Charter of Demands to PTI at the time. The missing persons issue was on the top of the list. It was only after the PTI government signed and agreed to act upon this Charter of Demands that the BNP-M finally decided to join the PTI’s coalition government.
But the alliance did not last long.
On July 17, 2020, Akhtar Mengal made a fiery speech in the national assembly (NA) lambasting the PTI government for its non-seriousness over resolving the issues plaguing the Baluchistan province and announced that he will be parting ways with the PTI-led governing coalition. The government formed a 3 member committee headed by Pervaiz Khattak to try and convince the BNP-M but in vain.
“Death squads have been re-activated in the province and the prime minister has no time to visit the camps where the missing person are being held,” he declared. He said that the families of the Baloch missing persons had to stage a sit-in outside the parliament house almost two weeks, before the PM granted their request for a meeting.
Before his speech in NA, Mr. Mengal also submitted to the parliament a list of names of the (only) 18 missing persons who have been released so far and also the names of the 500 missing persons who have disappeared since after the signing of the 6-point agreement between the PTI and the BNP-M.
Sardar Akhtar Mengal is an important member of the multi-party opposition alliance, the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM).
According to government statistics, a hearing remains pending for 2,012 cases of missing persons in the government’s own Commission for Enforced Disappearances.