The democratic spirit departs

August 30, 2020

Mir Hasil Khan Bizenjo succumbed to cancer and political betrayal

Mir Hasil Khan Bizenjo was elected senator in 2009 and 2015.

Senator Mir Hasil Khan Bizenjo, 62, breathed his last in Karachi on August 20, losing his battle with lung cancer. Exactly a year ago, he had lost a political battle that had been rigged against him. Close friends claim that he had been heartbroken ever since.

His death is a serious setback to those working for democracy in Pakistan.

Born on February 3, 1958, Bizenjo, son of the leftist movements’ icon and former Balochistan governor, Mir Ghaus Bakhsh Bizenjo, imbibed the values of his father. He would later earn respect and credibility as a politician on his own. Accounts differ about his birthplace, with some saying that he was born in Karachi and others maintaining that it was in Naal in Khuzdar, a district of Balochistan.

A staunch believer in dialogue, rationality, freedom of beliefs and peace, Bizenjo was admitted to a local public school in Naal. Later, he was transferred to Islamia High School, Quetta. In 1977, he passed the matriculation examination from the same school and joined the Government College, Quetta, for intermediate. He then went to Karachi where he took his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in philosophy from the University of Karachi.

Political activism came naturally to him. So did the ability to sit down to talks with all kinds of people. He had been a witness to his father’s role in the movements for democracy and citizen’s rights in Pakistan. He started a political career as a student activist in 1978-79 from the platform of Baloch Students Organization. In 1982, he was elected as central joint secretary of the Baloch Students Federation. In 1987, he resigned from the office after developing difference with some of the top BSF leaders. He also served as president of a nationalist-leftist students’ group called the United Students Movement in Karachi. When the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy (MRD) was launched during the Zia era, he was a participant alongside his illustrious father.

In 1989, following the passing away of his father, Mir Ghaus Bakhsh Bizenjo, his elder brother, Bizen Bizenjo, assumed leadership of the Pakistan National Party. The 1990 elections proved a turning point for him. That was when his brother, Bizen, won two National Assembly’s seats from the PNP platform. Mir Hasil was elected to the seat vacated by him. After Bizen retired from politics, Hasil became president of the PNP in 1996. In 1997, he was again elected as MNA from Khuzdar.

As a political leader working for the rights of the Baloch people, Bizenjo developed strong personal ties with Dr Abdul Hai Baloch who was then leading a faction of the Balochistan National Party. The two agreed to merge the Pakistan National Party and Balochistan National Party to form the National Party in 2002. Bizenjo served as deputy chief organiser, senior vice president and general secretary of the National Party. During the Musharraf era, he was jailed for criticizing Gen Musharraf in public speeches.

Bizenjo was elected senator in 2009 and 2015. He also served as minister for maritime affairs in the Nawaz Sharif and Shahid Khaqan Abbasi’s cabinets (from 2013 to 2017).

His father, Mir Ghaus Bakhsh Bizenjo, started his politics before independence. Come Partition, he was a leader of Rustaman Gul, a political party, represented in the Kalat assembly. After independence, he renamed it as Kalat National Party. The elder Bizenjo had initially been opposed to Kalat’s merger with Pakistan but later came round to the idea that the Baloch should work for their rights within the state of Pakistan.

Bizenjo’s younger brother, Mir Tahir is a serving senator. Mir Hasil was married in 1988 and is survived by his wife, a son and a daughter. Cultured and soft spoken, he was fond of books, sports and movies. During his days in Karachi he had been close to trade union workers and was influenced by the writings of Marx and Lenin.

His was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2018, but did not give up political activities.

The man, who refused to give in to cancer, was however, done in by the events of August 2019.

In a bid to utilize its numerical strength in the upper house of the parliament, the opposition parties filed a no-confidence motions against Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani. In a counter move, treasury members submitted a no-confidence motion against Deputy Chairman Mandviwalla, who belonged to the PPP.

The resolution submitted by the opposition demanded the removal of the Senate chairman under Rule 12 (Removal of Chairman or Deputy Chairman) of the Rules of Procedure in Conduct of Business in the Senate. Senator Javed Abbasi of the PML-N and Senator Sherry Rehman from the PPP drafted the motion before submitting it. The opposition then named Bizenjo as their joint candidate for Senate chairman.

The motion against Sanjrani looked like a settled matter as the combined opposition had the support of 67 members in a house of 103. The government and its allies only had 36 members and were at a clear disadvantage.

Bizenjo was known for his close relationship with former PM Nawaz Sharif.

Being a friendly person, Bizenjo developed strong ties with Dr Abdul Hai Baloch. They merged the Pakistan National Party and the Balochistan National Party to form the National Party in 2002. Bizenjo served as deputy chief organiser, senior vice president and general secretary of the party.

Bizenjo was justifiably confident. Addressing reporters a day before the crucial vote, he had sounded upbeat, stating that he had “won the seat the day my name was put forward”. He asked Sanjrani to resign voluntarily.

For his part, Sanjrani too had remained confident even though some government ministers appeared anxious in view of the expected setback. Science and Technology Minister Fawad Chaudhry had gone into damage control mood, claiming that the vote of no confidence and its result “will neither affect the government nor the prime minister”. “It will only affect the Senate where Sadiq Sanjrani had maintained a balance. Whether the no-confidence motion succeeds or fails, this balance will be disturbed,” he had tweeted.

On August 1, 2019, the opposition appointed Senator Javed Abbasi as its polling agent. PML-N’s Chaudhry Tanvir was taken ill and did not attend. Jamaat-i-Islami then announced that its two members would abstain from the vote.

Senator Muhammad Ali Khan Saif, who chaired the session, directed those in favour of the no-confidence resolution against Sanjrani to stand up and be counted. Sixty-four senators stood up in response. The opposition needed only 53 votes for the motion to pass. However, the vote was to be taken through secret ballot.

The casting of the votes was orderly. When the votes were counted, however, only 50 votes were found to have been cast in favour of the motion and 45 against it. Five votes were also rejected. The government side was jubilant. Sanjrani later thanked his “friends and companions who considered me a better chairman.” “I don’t know the 14 senators [from opposition] who voted in my favour,” he said.

Bizanjo and the opposition leaders were crestfallen. “Today, is another black day in the parliamentary history of Pakistan. Powers apparently bigger than the parliament have masterminded my defeat,” he said.

Talking to the media later, PML-N Senator Pervaiz Rasheed said that Bizenjo had been betrayed by his colleagues. Speaking on the floor of the Senate on August 20, 2020, Rasheed said: “Fourteen people from my party did not vote for him in the elections. I am ashamed for their conduct and apologise to my deceased friend.”

Towards the end of his career, Bizenjo was known for his close relationship with former prime minister Nawaz Sharif. He had faced severe criticism from other opposition parties and his many friends for supporting Sharif in 1997 when he voted for the Shariah Bill meant to give extraordinary powers to the prime minister. He deflected the criticism with arguments of his own and with his trademark smile.

Following his demise, tributes poured in from across the political divide. On August 21, both houses of parliament eulogized his services for democracy. Addressing the upper house, Senator Sherry Rehman said that he was a symbol of progressive politics and history would always remember him for raising his voice for the oppressed people and his struggle for democracy in the country. “He used to say that he wanted to live the life on his own terms, which he did. He never depended on anything, be it money, religion or his authority. He has left behind a legacy and path for us to follow. Now it is up to us to follow his principles and learn from his life and style of politics based on principles.” She said that if he decided on something, he always followed it till the end. “He was persistent and worked with his heart in it. It was his existential heart that carried such politics forward. I have learnt a lot from him and he always encouraged me to stay firm and never back down. His support towards issues of women was commendable.” Senator Mushahid Hussain Sayed said that the death of Mr Bizenjo was a national tragedy. “He was a courageous person and man who valiantly fought against the disease of cancer till his last breath. Mr Bizenjo left behind the legacy of commitment to democracy. He opened the dialogue with the alienated Baloch leaders residing outside the country,” he said. Mushahid Ullah Khan said people who did not stray from their principles never died but always remained alive in the hearts of people. “It is normally very difficult for someone whose father is such a towering personality to carve out his own legacy,” he said, adding that despite that Hasil Bizenjo had managed to make a name for himself in politics. He said the Bizenjo family had always spoken the truth and never thought about the price they would have to pay. “They did keep paying the price for telling the truth. Did you ever see hatred in his eyes for anyone? He was kind and loving towards everyone,” he said. Mian Raza Rabbani, Sirajul Haq, Azam Swati, Salahuddin Tirmzi, Khawaja Asif and Ramesh Kumar also paid rich tribute to Bizenjo.

His father Ghaus Bakhsh Bizenjo had been a key negotiator during the drafting of the 1973 Constitution. Still he was labelled a traitor. Mir Hasil Bizenjo later played a big role in the adoption of the 18th Amendment. For this he was similarly castigated. The contributions of the father as well as the son will be always remembered and lauded by those who believe in democratic governance and constitutionalism. Rest in peace, Mir Hasil Bizenjo.

The author is a senior journalist and researcher. He tweets at @BukhariMubasher

Mir Hasil Khan Bizenjo: The democratic spirit departs