SINCE several political parties have stepped up their campaign for the general election the Balochistan crisis has started figuring in their rhetoric. It is, however, doubtful if the central cause of the Balochistan people’s alienation from the state is being addressed.
The latest flurry of statements, and that is all that has been done to comfort the Baloch, began when Sardar Ataullah Mengal called a spade a spade in his conversation with Mian Nawaz Sharif and also while speaking to the media afterwards. He said the Baloch youth did not want a Pakistan in which they received mutilated corpses of their brethren. It was for them to decide their future because “they are being systematically eliminated and forced to seek refuge in the mountains”. According to him the Balochistan people had been pushed to the point of no return.
Much of what Mengal told Nawaz Sharif has been said by nearly all of Balochistan’s political leaders and quite a few human rights organisations. However, two points in his public observations were relatively new. First, he blamed for the crisis what he called the Punjab army, to make it clear to Nawaz Sharif as to whose responsibility it was to take the lead in pulling Balochistan back from the precipice.
Secondly, he conceded that the Baloch leadership had been passed on to the youth. “If one last attempt is sincerely made,” he said, “there is a possibility that the Baloch youth might agree to discuss their grievances with Islamabad.” The matter lies in the hands of the youth, and it is no longer in the hands of the traditional leadership. Quite clear.
In fact, on this occasion the old sardar was less bitter than he has often been as a result of the bashing that his people, his family and he himself have received from the state establishment for almost half a century.
According to media reports, Mian Nawaz Sharif described Sardar Ataullah’s concerns as legitimate and admitted that atrocities were being committed in Balochistan. Further, he promised that his party would also talk to the Baloch youth. Now he has contacted Talal Bugti and reiterated his demand for punishing his father’s killers. At the same time, Imran Khan has said something about Balochistan’s rights. All this is welcome but it does not go very far.
What one would like to know above anything else is whether the new friends of Balochistan are prepared to go beyond the traditional thinking that the Baloch could be persuaded to forget the injury and the humiliation they have suffered for decades under the mantra of development. Musharraf thought Balochistan could be made to forego its political rights and surrender its economic rights if large development projects were carried out in their province.
That he forgot the failure of Ayub Khan’s similar tactics in East Bengal was not surprising but the incapacity of political leaders to understand the principal cause of Balochistan’s unhappiness is certainly amazing. Events have proved that Aghaz-i-Haqooq-i-Balochistan was a non-starter. The way this package has been handled has only made the people of that province more and more unhappy. Whoever wants to treat Balochistan’s wounds must not forget that once a people become conscious of their rights they will not trade their liberty for a few crumbs from the establishment’s table.
Till recently it was possible to win back Balochistan’s angry young men by offering them satisfaction on the issue of involuntary disappearances, promising them withdrawal of federal security forces, revival of representative government through fresh polls, and firmer guarantees of economic and social justice. Now even such packages do not receive a favourable response. The reasons demand serious attention.
The Baloch have been driven to despair because the issue of enforced disappearances has been further aggravated. The report of the judicial commission of 2009 has not even been released and its recommendations have, for all practical purposes, been ignored. Further, instead of the involuntarily disappeared persons returning home alive their bullet-riddled bodies are found lying by the roadside.
Official spokespersons continue to deny responsibility and do not mind violating the rules of common sense while shifting blame to the Baloch themselves. One should like to affirm, perhaps in words stronger than those used by Sardar Ataullah, that unless the practice of throwing corpses of activists here and there is ended and the chapter of involuntary disappearances is brought to an end even the slightest progress towards normalisation and guaranteeing Pakistan’s integrity will be impossible.
No political leader who has recently woken up to atrocities in Balochistan has moved from an expression of generalised sympathy for the people to their specific concerns.
The fact of the matter is that Balochistan is the most thoroughly controlled garrison province in the country. Its affairs cannot be set right so long as its fate is decided exclusively by security personnel. The people of Balochistan cannot be palmed off with clichés about the whole country being no better off because, for one thing, such statements fall in the category of half-truths and, for another, the Baloch do not consider themselves obliged to suffer injustice and oppression only because their compatriots do not have the will to resist it.
Unfortunately, the possibility of meaningful interaction with the people of Balochistan seems to have been missed for the time being.
In the present phase of agitational politics, when all the main political actors are busy improving their own fortunes, with one eye on the unsuspecting masses and the other one on the establishment, it may not be possible for the contenders for power to tackle or even identify those primarily responsible for Balochistan’s ordeal. But if all so-called mainstream parties are seen to be concentrating on their own electoral prospects, the people of Balochistan will get more and more alienated from them and the state.
At the same time, it will not be realistic to expect that any single party, however, strong after the general election it might become, will alone be able to resolve the Balochistan crisis. The best way out is that all parties should get together as early as possible and unitedly agree on the restoration of democratic rule in Balochistan. That will not solve anything but it may open the way for a dialogue with the people of Balochistan. They have been kept waiting much too long.