Balochistan’s sorry fate
THE recent show of barbarism in Balochistan where some women were shot and then buried alive for the sin of trying to choose their own life partners should not shock us.
When an area is deliberately left in the Dark Ages, actions which are reminiscent of those times should not cause us such consternation.
For the last 200 years the area of Balochistan, which for the most part constituted the princely State of Kalat, has been repeatedly left a couple of centuries behind the rest of the subcontinent. For the Indian political service, which oversaw the Indian princely states, it was not to their benefit to interfere in the internal matters of princely states unless there was grave misrule.
Following suit, the Pakistani establishment not only continued the British policy, under-the-table deals concerning the mineral and natural resources of the province meant that local landlords had a free rein to do almost anything if they cooperated with the authorities. No wonder the province hardly showed signs of human development over the past century or so.
To the horror of revisionist historians, it is very clear that those provinces which were under direct British rule experienced a larger degree of social development than the princely states (a few exceptions excluded). When suttee was being gradually banned in British-ruled territories, it took decades for the Government of India to convince the princely states to eradicate the evil. Jaipur took till 1836 to finally declare suttee unlawful, and even then the law was very lightly enforced. It is, therefore, hardly surprising that out of the 50 odd cases of suttee since 1947 in India, an overwhelming number have occurred in the former princely states in Rajasthan.
Similarly, when slavery was banned in India in the 1830s, it again took decades for the princely states to be convinced of its immorality. As late as the 1930s when Sir Edward Wakefield was forced on Kalat as prime minister, slavery was still officially permitted. As recounted in his memoirs, Sir Edward was horrified to see legally owned slaves in Kalat when the practice has ceased in the rest of India nearly a century ago. Over the protests of many, Sir Edward then at least officially banned slavery in 1933.
However, passing legislation, which looks good on paper, is never enough. The government can ban honour killings and repeal the Frontier Crimes Regulation of 1901, but if no real effort is made to effect change on the ground, nothing concrete is going to change. The central problem with Balochistan is the problem of governance. Once a system of government is clearly and visibly established, only then can the problems of social and economic development be aptly tackled. Parallel jurisdictions, conflicting policies and hollow announcements have all been the bane of Balochistan over the last 60 years.
The British ruled Balochistan under the Sandeman system which stipulated that Baloch and Brahui tribes were to be controlled by establishing good relations with their tribal elders. British interference was to be virtually non-existent in their internal affairs, and limited to communication and defence links. For the British the Sandeman system ensured peace and unhindered communication links, but for the locals it meant the maintenance of an antiquated status quo.
With the advent of Pakistan, the authority of the State of Kalat was slowly eroded, first through the accession of its vassal states to Pakistan and then through its nearly forced accession to Pakistan. Later, the four Baloch states were merged into a federation which itself died when West Pakistan was born in 1955.
However, despite all these administrative changes of the past, and the recent changes, hardly anything has changed on the ground. Repeatedly the provincial government has been content with leaving tribal sardars in control of their erstwhile fiefdoms. And when the state is challenged, an army and air force contingent is sent to quell the ‘rebels’. This happened in the 1940s, the 1950s and the 1970s and is still happening. Therefore, the most visible form of Pakistani government the people of Balochistan have seen has been the hated paramilitary forces’ forts, or the attacks of the regular army.
Numerous times special ‘Balochistan packages’ have been formulated by governments which show remarkable potential for progress on paper. Yet most of these grand schemes fail to materialise. Of course the main reason behind this failure is that Balochistan is still governed as it was 100 years ago. Tribal chiefs control everything and the local populace is at their mercy. Even in certain urban areas, where tribal control is somewhat diluted, the presence of the Taliban has generated concerns that effective control, and respect, is not with the government but with militant leaders.
There is unfortunately no quick-fix solution to the problem of Balochistan. A grassroots overhaul of the archaic social and political system of the province needs to be undertaken. Beginning from the very harsh treatment meted out to the Khan of Kalat in the aftermath of accession, to the repeated military actions, there is great mistrust of the Government of Pakistan in Balochistan. So first that trust needs to be (re)established and a new political formula in the province needs to be worked out. It cannot be established by harassing the population or by the target killing of one of their most revered leaders. It can only be established when a concerted effort is made to redress the wrongs of the past and begin from a clean slate.
The social system of the province also requires an overhaul. Belief in the equality of men and women, especially through the medium of education needs to be ingrained in the people. It is absurd to establish universities in the province when there are very few decent high schools for boys and hardly any for girls. Rather than creating a clientele of cronies, a whole class of educated and motivated people has to be encouraged so that it can transform the social milieu of the province.
Despicable incidents like the ‘honour’ killing of women will only become a thing of the past when the hard task of going back and resolving long standing and thorny issues is initiated. I hope the PPP government, which as Senator Raza Rabbani remarked recently, has made Balochistan its top priority, takes note of the past in dealing with the future of Balochistan. It might take decades for Balochistan to change, but the change has to begin now before it is too late.
The writer is a historian at Keble College, University of Oxford.
Miscreants and militants
“THERE are a handful of miscreants, and we will sort them out in no time,” thundered Gen Yahya Khan. The date was March 24 1971, the occasion: the launching of a crackdown against the Awami League and its supporters. A foreign correspondent asked how many of these ‘miscreants’ were there.
Before Yahya Khan could reply, a colleague whispered in the correspondent’s ear, “only four and half crores [45 million]”.
This was no joke. The crackdown soon transformed into a full-fledged military action against Bengalis, killing hundreds of thousands of innocent people. With a few exceptions, no one from the western wing raised a protesting voice. The Bengalis, who had once been at the forefront of the Pakistan Movement and were more in number than the West Pakistanis, were ultimately declared secessionists and pushed out of the federation. It was a unique case of its own kind, a minority declaring a majority secessionists.
Pakistan is an interesting country in many ways. At one time or another in its history, large chunks of its population have been declared either ‘anti-state’, ‘secessionist’, ‘miscreant’, ‘terrorist’, ‘militant’ or ‘extremist’ by its own rulers. It is also interesting that while the population of one province or a political party is so declared, others watch in silence or enjoy their chagrin.
Treason factories started working right in 1947, when a freedom fighter like Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan was declared ‘anti-state’. Soon after, hundreds of Khudai Khidmatgars were brutally killed at Bhabhra. In the mid-1950s, the United Front government of East Pakistan which had defeated the Muslim League by a landslide, was not allowed to function properly and was ultimately dismissed on flimsy charges. Maulvi Fazlul Haq, who had presented the Pakistan Resolution on March 23, 1940 was declared a ‘traitor’.
The people of Balochistan and their leaders have been the most unfortunate. Starting with a forced merger of Kalat with Pakistan, they have repeatedly faced the wrath of the Pakistan establishment. Ayub Khan, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Pervez Musharraf each in turn declared the Baloch nationalist leaders enemies of Pakistan and either imprisoned or killed them. Thousands of Marri, Bugti and Mengal tribesmen had to flee the country to save their lives. Many of them died in exile in miserable conditions.
Next it was the turn of rural Sindh to face the might of the state. The 1977 coup led by Gen Ziaul Haq and the ‘judicial murder’ of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1979 had hurt the sentiments of the Sindhi population and most of them felt alienated from the state. In 1984 they found a chance to express their bitterness through the MRD movement which was suppressed with brute force. Urban Sindh, which did not support the MRD movement, but observed the torture and merciless killing of rural Sindhis from the sidelines, was next in line.
In 1991 the army chief declared the MQM a ‘terrorist’ organisation and launched a crackdown against it. The circle was now complete. Except for Punjab, people from all the other provinces had either been declared traitors or terrorists, or both.
It must be said to the credit of ordinary Pakistanis that in spite of all exploitation, suppression, coercion, intimidation, subversion, torture, imprisonment and rigged elections (Arundhati Roy’s words describing the situation in Jammu and Kashmir), they showed resilience and bounced back every time whether it was separation of East Pakistan, military action in Balochistan or the reign of terror in Karachi.
Pakistan had many basic problems, but till the early 1980s it remained a peaceful country by and large. There was no religious, sectarian or ethnic violence and people were going to their mosques, imambargahs, temples, churches, schools and colleges without any fear. Streets were safe and the display of arms very rare. But things started changing when with Saudi money and American armament Pakistan found itself at the forefront of the war against Soviet Russia. Similarly, in order to stop the increasing influence of the revolution in Shia Iran, militant Wahabi Islam was promoted as a matter of state policy.
Now for the first time we saw the state, which so far had been fighting against ‘miscreants’, and ‘extremists’, producing, patronising protecting promoting and arming its own brand of militants calling them ‘jihadis’ or ‘mujahideen’. Of course they were fighting a holy war in Afghanistan and Kashmir but its natural consequence was the rise of obscurantism and fanaticism in Pakistan.
At that time perceptive observers had warned that once the Afghan war was over, Pakistan would have to bear the backlash. Fears of brutalisation of society were also expressed. But all sane advice went unheeded. Things could still be controlled if Pakistan’s military junta had extricated itself from the Afghan quagmire after the Soviet withdrawal. But unfortunately, this development gave new ideas to Pakistan’s ruling class. Now they started talking about ‘strategic depth’ and a puppet government in Afghanistan to safeguard Pakistan’s interests on a permanent basis.
The Mujahideen/Taliban were seen by the army as the country’s second line of defence on its western frontier. Some hawks also started talking of the ‘revival of the glory of Islam’ by establishing a medieval theocratic state in Afghanistan.
However, 9/11 changed the whole scenario and the Americans asked Pakistan to take a 180-degree turn. On the surface, Gen Musharraf accepted US dictation but the army continued with its Afghan policy while taking only superficial actions against the Taliban for the world’s consumption. Fast forward to 2008. An operation which started in South Waziristan against ‘foreign’ militants some years back, has gradually engulfed almost half of the Frontier province. Now no one knows who is fighting whom and for what purpose. The list of militant groups is daunting. We have the Al Qaeda, Afghan Taliban, Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, Lashkar-i-Islam and leaders like Sufi Mohammad, Baitullah Mehsud and Mangal Bagh to name just a few.
In Kurram Agency two tribes are fighting against each other (the ISPR spokesperson is shy of calling them Shias and Sunnis). In Balochistan a low-level insurgency is going on against state coercion. While all this continues, nobody can distinguish the ISI creations from the genuine militants. Indira Gandhi had one Bhindranwale, but the Pakistan Army has many in its cupboard.
The problem is that for our military high command, their narrow institutional interests come first, and most of the time they equate their interests with national interests. But now we are facing a catch-22 situation. On the one hand, the Pakistani Army has neither the capacity nor the willingness to fight an all-out war against the militants, and on the other, it is not ready to allow the civilian government to take control of the Afghan policy. Will it be too much to expect that it will learn from its past mistakes and develop a national consensus before it is too late?
The judicial martyrs
CONGRATULATIONS, President Asif Ali Zardari, for becoming the 12th president of Pakistan and perhaps the first one through a democratically contested election.
A lot of people are surprised at his swift ascendancy and some are critical, but you can’t fault him on achieving this position, because he has done it through the due process of democracy, which everyone has been clamouring for, since the last nine years.
This is the stage where he needs everyone’s support and Nawaz Sharif has very gracefully offered his besides categorically stating that he wants President Zardari’s government to complete its tenure. All the more creditable, since he is obviously piqued at the broken promises, which have also made him look a little simple and naïve — naivety being a no-no for a politician, which is all about being shrewd and cunning.
But there is an ache in the heart, a vague depression in this moment of joy, at the way the lawyers’ movement has been dealt a fatal blow; the very movement that weakened Gen Musharraf and paved the path for both the PPP and PML-N to make a comeback and confront Musharraf. As matters stood before March 9, 2007, Musharraf governing for another five years, through another sham election, appeared no problem.
Why should one raise this issue when the previous chief justice and the few principled judges, who have not taken oath, will fade away in a few months because we as a nation are allergic to the display of sustainable emotions for principled people? We find them odd and naïve.
The issue needs raising not for the sake of the judges but because if we let this movement slip away, we will lose a great opportunity to set up a sustainable democratic system in the country. If the judiciary, which for the first time in Pakistan’s history, dared to confront a general in absolute power, is not restored, President Zardari will himself miss them when a general, two to three years down the road, decides to find faults (and there will be plenty to find) in the government and appears on TV for his ‘Meray humwatano’, speech. There will be no one to provide leadership to resist the general, like the judiciary provided this time.
If President Zardari cannot resist the temptation of a pliant judiciary, then he better retain enough popularity at the end of three years, to bring two hundred thousand people out on the roads for at least a month to resist the extrajudicial powers that would have gotten enough rest by then. That many people on the roads for that long is something no political party has been able to achieve so far.
In the face of such an obvious advantage, what could be the reason for President Zardari’s determination to block the restoration of the judges, even at the pain of losing the support of his coalition partners? Fear of the NRO being reopened? But that does not make sense since a president in this country is given immunity by the constitution.
Perhaps Zardari is afraid that Nawaz Sharif will steel the thunder, because he made the judges issue a cornerstone of his political campaign. It would have been better to let Nawaz Sharif have his moment of glory now, when elections are not due. He will now be able to doubly encash the respect people will have for him, for not compromising on principles after a few years when the next elections are held.
Perhaps Zardari feels that the previous chief justice would be biased against him and in favour of his opponents. Since most lawyers have supported Iftikhar Chaudhry, not because he is related to them, or they personally like him, but because of a principle, it is unlikely they would spare him if he at any stage became vindictive and biased.
Perhaps Zardari cannot forget the treatment he got from the judiciary in his bad days. But he can be sure of getting the same treatment, if God forbid, there is a next time for him, from the kind of judiciary that is being organised now. The only insurance to get a fair deal when one is on the other side of the desk, is to have judges, who will have the courage to say no to the ruler.
Contrary to the possible perception that the previous judiciary would be harmful to the interest of Zardari, they could actually be a source of strength for him. With a bit of judicial activism, the judiciary (as it was doing) would keep the government functionaries on their toes, which would improve governance — a feather in the cap of the government. If the missing persons issue were raised, it would be good for the image of Pakistan and also bring a certain organisation under the control of President Zardari, one that he unsuccessfully tried to make subservient some time ago. In any case, judges, even the principled ones, would not be unrealistic if a certain action was actually in the country’s interest, and they were taken into confidence.
An effective and strong judiciary can even be useful against extremism. If they are respected, their adverse orders, which the administration is averse to issuing, will have to be obeyed by the extremists or they will lose public support without which no movement can succeed.
One feels for the judges who have chosen to sacrifice their careers and livelihood for the sake of their principles and in the larger interest of the country. This time we need to make a conscious effort to make heroes of them, so that their successors can look forward to getting something in return for their sacrifice.
If the war heroes we eulogise and pray for every Sept 6 saved this country with their blood, every March 9 we should eulogise and print photos of those judicial casualties who preferred to sacrifice their careers for the sake of democracy, rather than compromise on their principles.
All sensible people want President Zardari to succeed for his sake and the sake of Pakistan. We are at a stage where in the words of an erstwhile popular TV host there is no room for any mistakes. A bit of sagacity and bit of magnanimity on the judicial issue, rather than tactics and strategy, will not only remove that vague depression a lot of us are going through, but will also bring back the coalition partners of the ruling party into the fold of the government.
That way they will be partners of the government in the tough task of pulling the country out of the morass it is in, rather than snigger from the sidelines. Let the government sacrifice its short-term interest for its own long-term interest and for that of the country.
Media for accountability
THE vibrancy of Pakistan’s press is proven by the fact that many an expatriate obtains their news from Pakistan’s news sources rather than the post-9/11 throttled and slanted media bytes that one gets in the United States. And to give credit where it’s due, media freedom will remain as Gen Musharraf’s possibly sole positive legacy.
Full media expression was allowed by the general and his coterie but when things got a little embarrassing and the genie zipped right out of the bottle, they unfurled an ‘image management’ project; a damage-control attempt with public statements reprimanding those who asked politically incorrect questions.
However much Bilawal Bhutto may consider democracy as the best revenge, the fact is that his mother did not favour the kind of press freedom that history will pen Gen Musharraf as having accomplished. And media freedom is brutal with public figures — in that might be Pakistan’s salvation.
One sees the amazing talent of the media in its variegated forms. From unvarnished news reports to spirited op-ed columns one can switch to American-style talk shows that invite high-profile participants who reveal some startling information and change your perspective in ways that you did not think possible. That the stakes are very high in all this reporting is evidenced by the fact that these talk-show hosts are paid ungodly sums of money and some tape their shows in secrecy, for security fears.
On the lighter side is incredible political satire. Lookalikes with scripts to make you roll showcase Pakistani talent like no other.
One of the tremendous vacuums in Pakistan is the absence of a functioning judiciary. And till that day of restoration, democracy will remain an amputee. The rule of law, due process and legal recourse must be the birthright of each and every Pakistani without religion, class and wealth or race distinction. Till that day dawns, the media is functioning as a court of sorts.
In this respect, one can mention the poignant case of the 18-year-old who was arrested for the theft of flour, but was later released when the media did a story and found that he had stolen because there had been no food in the house for days and he was jobless.
With this vacuum of an absent effective judiciary is the danger of being tried in the court of public opinion. And yet in the context of Pakistan this is not all bad. For far too long, the powerful in Pakistan have engendered what I call the Entitlement Syndrome: ‘I am powerful/well-connected and so I can do any and everything illegal’. With the two current majority party leaders both dogged by corruption accusations, it is important for all and sundry to be aware that it is not Big Brother but the lens of the media that is watching. And what havoc it can wreak with your life is only limited by the number of permutations and combinations that your mind can imagine.
Martial law and press censorship had permeated the national psyche to such a degree that this newfound liberty, devoid of both, is almost dizzying for the public and — akin to a child with a new toy — takes on some ridiculous extremes. Like Senator Babar Awan hitting Imran Khan way below the belt. The subject of course was Asif Ali Zardari’s corruption. As Babar Awan got more and more cornered, post-commercial break, the viewer was treated to the sight of Babar Awan lashing out at Imran Khan about the latter’s paternity suit filed by Sita White. The whole segment was out of context and desperate but totally there for the viewer to deal with and draw conclusions from.
Pakistan’s media provides fodder to the western media, says Harvard scholar Hassan Abbas. In my opinion some of it is also US discomfiture with democracy in Pakistan and its consequent inability to manipulate its man in Islamabad. (In recent memory the most acquiescent was Gen Musharraf). Despite several PPP overtures to the Americans, there appears to be a concerted western effort to malign and discredit Asif Ali Zardari, accounting for the very insulting articles about him and his mental and fiscal health in several mainstream publications in the US and England.
Many in Pakistan are livid with his broken promises as well as his pillage of Pakistan. I have two points of comfort: one that our accounting with the Almighty will be individual and complete, the second that the media will keep a more than keen eye on his every move. And guess who’s watching.
Mahjabeen Islam is a physician and freelance columnist residing in Toledo Ohio, US.