IS there light at the end of the tunnel in Balochistan? Hasil Bizenjo’s statement about the go-ahead for talks with Baloch separatists seems to suggest there is.

The National Party leader whose party heads the Balochistan coalition has confirmed that this week’s all-party conference approved talks with estranged Baloch groups. More significantly, he said, those endorsing the step included the military and the ‘premier intelligence agency’.

On a visit to the Military College in Sui on Defence Day, just ahead of the APC, army chief Gen Ashfaq Kayani repeated his claim that no military operation was taking place in the province.

It would be tantamount to sacrilege to even think the army chief was being economical with the truth so, giving him (and ourselves) the benefit of the doubt, one can say perhaps he was technically correct.

All officers and men seconded to the paramilitary Frontier Corps commanded by the dreaded or decorated (depending how you look at things) Maj-Gen Obaidullah Khattak, though army men, are at the disposal of the interior ministry. So they are more Nisar Ali Khan’s men than Kayani’s.

As for the hundreds, who knows thousands, of personnel belonging to the ISI, Military Intelligence, and the many Field Security Units active in Balochistan, they are all undercover, invisible, and, therefore, cannot be counted.

As a first step, according to a report in The News which quoted Hasil Bizenjo, he divided the ‘angry’ Baloch elements into two main categories: those whose leaders are based in Pakistan and those whose leadership is currently headquartered abroad. He said talks will first start with those here.

I have great regard for Hasil and believe he is an upright, progressive leader ever since I first met him when we were both at the Karachi University in the early 1980s. I have a vivid recollection of how he was shot and injured by goons of the Gen Ziaul Haq-backed Islami Jamiat-i-Talaba’s Thunder Squad.

He knows from personal experience what it is like being shot at, of being in an unsafe, hostile environment where you are at the receiving end of the wrath and transgressions of not only an otherwise legally sanctioned, ‘disciplined’ state force but also of goons acting on its behalf.

As a first step, if I were Hasil Bizenjo or the good Dr Malik Baloch, the chief minister, I would make any peace talks offer to the militants conditional to a crackdown by the state on the goons who are currently running amok in Balochistan in the name of ‘Pakistan’ but are no more than a slur on it.

If the fear, created in equal measure by the military, the pro-establishment goons and by the militants in Balochistan means an environment so perilous that working journalists based there are unable to report freely on the conflict, it doesn’t mean there is no knowledge of these death squads.

Their existence and presence is not a mere allegation. If there is any doubt in your mind, go and find a ‘pro-establishment’ Baloch, these aren’t in short supply by the way, and ask them. Even they will acknowledge the existence of these proxies and express disdain at their activities.

Unless, the state puts these people on a tight, very tight, leash, all attempts aimed at a peaceful resolution of the Balochistan crisis will remain a mere dream. Also, the state must be different from these murderous separatist groups and not play into their hands.

By killing innocent, impoverished workers from outside the province here, these groups may discredit the Baloch movement but when the state responds in kind by killing Baloch activists in ‘encounters’ or in kill and dump incidents to even the score, the hatred it engenders is a boon to the militants.

While Baloch rights groups and the separatists claim the number of dumped bodies of disappeared activists is higher, even the official Home Department statistics are horrifying. A report on Dawn’s website quotes the department as saying that 592 ‘mutilated’ bodies have been recovered over the past three years.

The report stated: “Most of the dead bodies were found in Quetta, Khuzdar, Kalat and the volatile Makran belt. ‘Most of the dead bodies are of Baloch political workers,’ the document said, adding that few of the victims belong to other ethnic groups as well.”

It is prudent to take with a pinch of salt whatever appears as ‘fact’ on the internet and particularly on social media as lots of interest groups, even pranksters, push lots of spurious content in support of their cause. It is imperative that any such material is verified before being accepted as fact.

So, here is my attempt to establish the veracity of a photo on Twitter and a related news item that appeared on the Baloch Tawar news site. The photo shows a man in his 20s, holding an AK-47 standing next to a man hanging upside down in what is claimed to be a torture chamber in Khuzdar.

The armed man is identified as a (proxy) ‘target killer Zakria M. Hasni’ and his victim, whose face can’t be seen, is said to be one Mohammad Baloch. This could have been a fake picture as also Zakria Hasni’s Facebook page with photos of guns, Pakistani flags and some wild claims.

More troubling, however, was the news item in Tawar that reported Mohammad Baloch’s family as saying they were asked by Hasni for a huge amount to get Mohammad freed from the custody of FC and intelligence officials. They were also told if they didn’t pay up, they would never see him again.

Can those at the helm in Balochistan look into this and tell us if this goon and his gang exist or he is merely a figment of someone’s imagination? It would be but a small step on the long road to peace in Balochistan.

The writer is a former editor of Dawn.

abbas.nasir@hotmail.com

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