The federal government was dealt a blow on Wednesday as Balochistan National Party-Mengal (BNP-M) leader Akhtar Mengal announced that his party was breaking its alliance with the ruling coalition.
“Today, I announce in Parliament [the BNP-M's] separation from PTI’s [ruling] alliance,” Mengal said while addressing the National Assembly.
However, the lawmaker clarified that his party will continue to be part of the National Assembly and keep talking about Balochistan's issues.
Mengal reminded the House that his party had two agreements with the ruling party, adding that it was the Imran Khan-led party which had come to him for an alliance, not the BNP-M which went to Bani Gala — the personal residence of PM Imran Khan.
“The first agreement was done on August 8, 2018 and signed by Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Jahangir Tareen and Yar Muhammad Rind,” recalled Mengal.
He added that his party had demanded that the missing persons issue be resolved and the National Action Plan be implemented in letter and spirit in the agreement.
“Can someone tell us if there was anything unconstitutional in both these demands? Why were they not implemented?” asked the lawmaker from Balochistan.
He regretted that the ruling party's mindset was "the same one running in the country since 1948".
“We waited for two years for the implementation of the agreement; we are ready to [wait] further, but start something,” appealed the nationalist leader.
He added that if the government wishes to take his province along, then they should implement their agreements with BNP-M.
While highlighting his grievances in the assembly, the lawmaker stated that the foundations for the road from Chaman to Karachi were laid in 1973, and it has killed 4,500 in road accidents. He added that instead of giving them a six-lane road, the government gave them only a two-lane road.
The BNP-M leader also claimed that "no one can find justice in this country" and that "justice is being sold".
While hitting out at the government, he noted that Pakistan Steel Mills were being privatised and thousands were being unemployed.
“The disappointing thing is that no one here is ready to listen to their [the laid off workers'] demands,” said Mengal. He added that if the demands could not be met, then they should at least be noted.
“It has become a tradition here that the last government is held responsible for everything,” said Mengal.
A strained relationship
The announcement by Mengal threatens the fate of Imran Khan as prime minister as he was elected on a thin majority.
The BNP-M has on multiple occasions in the past spoken about its concerns being ignored by the incumbent government.
Last year in December, the BNP-M had threatened to leave the PTI-led coalition government after Mengal held a sit-in protest at the speaker's dais in the parliament.
Mengal had led the protest, joined by other opposition lawmakers, to condemn the arrest of four women from Balochistan's Awaran district.
Earlier in June last year, the government and BNP-M had agreed to move forward under a six-point mechanism on the basis of which Mengal had agreed to rejoin hands with the ruling PTI.
Defence Minister Pervaiz Khattak, who is a senior PTI leader, had stated at the signing of the agreement that the BNP-M’s six points had been thoroughly discussed and agreed upon by the government.
Khattak had reached out the BNP-M leader after he had threatened to abstain from voting on last year’s budget and asserted he would go with whosoever could address the party's grievances.
Khattak at the time had said that the PTI government was not stepping back from the six-point agenda and agreed with Mengal that Balochistan’s problems were political in nature.
Khattak at the time had pointed out that the government would take measures for ending loadshedding in Balochistan. He also stated that the government had formed a committee to address the matter of missing persons in Balochistan.
He explained that the other matter raised by the BNP-M was regarding water, and it had been promised to them that several small dams would be built in the province to help in water conservation. Moreover, the feasibility for two larger dams was also being initiated and work would begin on them as soon as the related process was completed.
The minister said, “Another issue discussed in the meeting was the sense of insecurity that the people of Gwadar feel because of a large number of outsiders that are going to the area as it witnesses development activities. There is a fear that these people may be able to obtain identification cards from the area and the Baloch majority may become a minority”.
"We have held out an assurance that a bill will be tabled in the National Assembly to ensure that such a situation is averted and the rights of the people of Gwadar are protected," the minister had stated at that time.
Khattak had also said that a gold refinery would be set up in Balochistan to benefit the province and its people.
Another point raised by BNP-M was the unfulfilled promise of six percent government jobs being provided to people of the province. He added that they had been assured that the promise would be fulfilled and, with time, Balochistan would get its fair share of government jobs as per its quota.
The last point on the agenda of the meeting was about the honourable repatriation of Afghan refugees from Balochistan, which both sides agreed on.
On his turn, Mengal had said that he was grateful that the government had taken the time to ease the party's concerns. He clarified that it should be known that the differences between the two sides were not developed because of BNP-M, indirectly blaming the other side.
The BNP-M leader at the time had also stated at that time that prime minister had assured him that no reduction would be made in the NFC award with regard to Balochistan and that the 18th Amendment would also not be rolled back.
"These rumours were floating around, but the truth is that to make both these changes, we need a two-thirds majority (in the NA) and we do not have that. Thus, to the people creating these rumours, I would like to tell them that they should stop lying so much," Khattak had said at that time.
Mengal said he had suggested to the prime minister that a committee of political leaders be sent to Balochistan to properly understand the grievances of the people there and once it returns, the committee should present a report to parliament and then whatever decision is taken on the matter will be acceptable to his party.