Ever since the separation of East Pakistan, nationalist politics has been looked at in the country with a skeptical eye. The dismissal of the first democratically elected provincial government in Balochistan -of the National Awami Party (NAP) – and the trial of Baloch nationalists in the Hyderabad conspiracy case contributed to a further widening of gap between nationalists and those running affairs in the centre. Coming to power immediately after the East Pakistan debacle, then premier Zulfikar Ali Bhutto would have been understandably fearful of Baloch-cum-Pashtun nationalism. Nationalists were branded as traitors during his tenure. Back then, Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, Sardar Ataullah Mengal, Mir Ghaus Bakhsh Bizenjo and Nawab Khair Bakhash Marri were the main political figures in the Baloch national politics. Ghaus Bakhsh Bizenjo went on to form his own party – Pakistan National Party (PNP). He joined the Movement for Restoration of Democracy against General Ziaul Haq’s military government in a bid to develop consensus on the question of provincial autonomy. But the Pakistan People’s Party did not keep its promises with the nationalist. Under massive political pressure, General Ziaul Haq had to release all other nationalist leaders, except Khair Buksh Marri. But after a hectic round of negotiations, Zia ended up releasing him too. On his return home after imprisonment, Marri shunned political activism. When asked about the reason for his silence on political affairs by a journalist, he is reported to have said that he could never tell a lie and the days for telling the truth were gone. During Zia’s years, Baloch nationalism remained in shambles. Though, Baloch Students Organisation became more active, trying to fill the political gap created by the inactivity of nationalists. But it also became a victim of divisive politics. General Zia used all tactics to hush up Baloch nationalism. He settled thousands of Afghan refugees in Quetta. These settlers were given Pakistani citizenship turning them into the third biggest political force in the province overnight. Widely known for its secularism, Baloch society soon also introduced to the madrassah and the mullah. Baloch nationalist politics entered a new phase after Zia with a prominent role for students’ activism. These years saw the emergence of a new political front Balochistan National Youth Movement (BNYM) – later it renamed Balochistan National Movement. Nationalists from different groups came together in an alliance ahead of the 1988 elections. The Balochistan National Alliance (BNA), headed by Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, contested and won the elections. Akbar Bugti claimed the chief minister’s slot, but soon he started facing challenges with PPP in power at the centre. There were also differences within the ranks of the nationalists. Bugti ended up forming his own party – Jamhoori Watan Party (JWP) – that won a number of seats in the 1990 election. Meanwhile, the BNA’s troubles over distribution of tickets also remained unresolved and ended up dividing the alliance into two factions. In 1990s, Nawab Akbar Bugti, Sardar Akhtar Mengal, and Dr Abdul Hayee Baloch were all leading their separate parties. Dr Hayee Baloch and former associates started raising slogans against sardars and nawabs. Such sloganeering was not needed at a time when nationalist politics was undergoing a crisis. These slogans only managed to polarise nationalist movement and those running affairs in the centre took advantage. By then, student politics had also lost its steam as political leaders were controlling students’ wings whose activities got limited to running electoral campaigns only. Sardar Akhtar Mengal’s BNP-M clinched the polls in 1997, and he became the Chief Minister of Balochistan. Soon, differences emerged between Mengal and the then premier Nawaz Sharif. These led to difficulties for the former in governing affairs of the province. This was the time when Nawaz Sharif’s regime was in deep waters internationally over the matter of nuclear tests. When the Sharif proceeded with the tests on May 28, 1998, in Chagai district of Balochistan, the nationalists supported it in principle but they also complained that the federal government failed to take them into confidence over the use of Baloch land for the tests. Many voices in Balochistan had reckoned that Mengal could have raised his political stature by resigning from the CM’s Office at that time. Owing to differences with the centre, Akhtar Mengal was unable to carry on in office. His government lasted only 18 months. The end of his government coincided with the split of his party into a faction associated with him and a BNP-Awami group. Ghaus Bakhsh Bizenjo’s legacy was carried forward by Mir Hasil Bizenjo group. Together, Dr Hayee and Bizenjo formed a new party – National Party. Nowadays the party is facing criticism for damaging its ideological underpinnings by entering into an alliance with a right-wing conservative political party ahead of the recent by-poll in Quetta-cum-Chagai seat. When the redefined Nationalist Party was entering politics in early 2000s, the province was also seeing the emergence of the fifth biggest armed resistance that continues to date. The general opinion among most of the Baloch intellectuals today is that resort to armed struggle is not feasible. Gone are the days for guerrilla warfare and it is time to seek political means for redress of grievances, according to this stream of thought. In a corrupt political system, promises made to the people are seldom fulfilled. The representatives get to seats of power on selection basis, rather than as an outcome of a free and fair election. Besides, the attitude of the centre has bred disappointment among the Baloch masses. There is also a perception that nationalists raise their voice when out of power, but as soon as some of them come to power, the enthusiasm visible in their slogans veers off and promises made to the people are ignored. Puppeteers have always played a key role in politics of Balochistan. Some so-called leaders have been pushed to power and given free hands to indulge in corrupt practices. This is designed to isolate nationalists from core issues of the people. Resultantly, Baloch public institutions remain rife with corruption and bad governance. At present, BNP-Mengal, National Party and few other small parties have their own respective followings in the province. BNP-Mengal has not yet gotten a chance to run affairs in the province. National Party is still part of the government but public opinion in the province is not very favourable towards it. Though it has remained in power for 15 years, the BNP-Awami still seems to be oblivious to issues of the people. If the nationalist groups are truly sincere to the people, they should look at things beyond party lines. They need to sacrifice their vested interests for the sake of the nation. The problems that lie within their ranks should be rectified. People believe political unity among the nationalists is the need of the hour. It is the only way left to safeguard Baloch interests within the ambit of the Constitution. The writer is a freelance columnist and blogger. He writes on socio-political issues Published in Daily Times, August 8th 2017.