WASHINGTON: A political solution in Balochistan is still possible, although the Pakistani government continues to seek a military solution, experts say.
Speakers at a seminar at Washington’s George Mason University also underlined the need for all sides to respect human rights as Amnesty International’s T. Kumar pointed out that government forces and militants were both committing gross violations.
Former senator Sanaullah Baloch urged the United States to get involved, noting that the Baloch people were repressed by both Pakistani and Iranian governments.
Some speakers claimed that when President Asif Ali Zardari came to power, Baloch militants suspended their activities, hoping that the civilian government would push for a negotiated settlement.
“But invisible hands prevented the Zardari government from seeking a political solution,” said Ahmar Mustikhan, a Washington-based Baloch intellectual. “They are still focusing on a military solution.”
Senator Baloch said he was not denying the fact that Baloch militants had targeted Punjabi settlers in Balochistan but what the government forces were doing was far worse.
“The Baloch face two types of violence from the Pakistani state,” said Mr Kumar, Amnesty International’s Director for International Advocacy. “Some political dissidents are whisked away, tortured and then their dead bodies are dumped, others are target killed.”
The Pakistani intelligence agencies, he said, were ‘absolutely comfortable’ in carrying out such violations with complete impunity.
Mr Kumar also claimed that the Pakistani government had used against the Baloch, the weapons they received from the United States and others for fighting the Taliban.
US listening devices were used to track down and kill former Balochistan governor and chief minister Nawab Mohammad Akbar Bugti, he said, The US government should urge Pakistan to stop “kill and dump operations”, he said while noting that “even women and children have been subjected to enforced disappearance.
Mr Kumar also highlighted rights violations by Baloch militants. “It’s most unfortunate that Punjabi settlers are being killed just because they are Punjabis,” he said.
“You cannot do this and demand justice for yourself.”
Amnesty International, he said, would speak up every time someone was killed, “a Bloch or a Punjabi, by government forces or by the militants”.
Senator Bloch, however, urged the international community also to focus on greater political dimensions of this conflict and use its influence to persuade Pakistan to “immediately halt all military actions”.
“We need an aggressive political engagement of the US and other international powers to stabilise this region,” he said.
Former Speaker of the Balochistan Assembly Waheed Baloch said Pakistan’s 1973 Constitution was unable to protect Baloch rights and emphasised the need for a new social contract which gave equal rights to all nationalities living within Pakistan.
Under the present Constitution, he said, Punjab would continue to dominate the National Assembly and the civil and military bureaucracies.
Mr Baloch, who is also a former chairman of the Baloch Students Organisation, said: “The Baloch question is about self-rule. We want to become the masters of our own destiny.”
Mr Baloch said he did not agree with Sardar Akhtar Mengal’s recent six-points because he expressed faith in the Pakistani Supreme Court whereas no branch of the Pakistani establishment could do justice to the Baloch people.
“Only a new constitutional arrangement, which gives equal rights to all nationalities, will work,” he said.
Mr Baloch said the Pakistani establishment was exaggerating target killings of Punjabi settlers “as a dirty tactic to divert attention away from the actual and widespread abuses it carries out in Balochistan.”
Malik Siraj Akbar, the editor of The Baloch Hal, said Pakistan’s mainstream media was not reporting the conflict and that’s why the rest of Pakistan knew so little about Balochistan.
Mr Akbar said that Pakistani security forces and militants had both targeted and killed journalists as well.
Prof Jessica Heineman-Pieper, an Assistant Professor at George Mason University’s School of Public Policy who hosted the event, urged human rights activists to focus on Balochistan.