Grateful for small mercies

Updated 24 Dec 2016


THANKS to the mindless policies of the country’s security establishment, Balochistan has become Pakistan’s Achilles’ heel. Rather than find a sensible way out, more blunders are being committed.

Take, for example, the latest deployment of two ‘state assets’. Jamaatud Dawa’s chief Hafiz Saeed arrived in Quetta last week on board a commercial flight to what eyewitnesses described as full protocol. Despite notes of caution by many observers, the state continues to ‘insert’ JuD assets in Balochistan as a means of countering nationalist/ separatist sentiment.

Balochistan’s ethos, apart from the JUI-F controlled areas, is secular and wherever overtly religious groups have been given a role disaster has ensued. That is why these observers were warning the state against using proxies such as Shafique Mengal and his armed band of followers as it sought to counter Baloch militants, but all those pleas fell on deaf ears.

When it was eventually decided to disengage Mengal from the activities where he had been given a free hand for a number of years to act against those perceived as separatists, he didn’t settle for the existence of an ordinary citizen and went rogue. Today, he is seen as one of the leading lights of the Lashkar-i-Jhangvi al-Alami, which has claimed responsibility for several bloody atrocities in Balochistan in recent months.

Rather than find comfort in falsehoods, one should focus on delivering development and the rule of law to the Baloch.

Side by side with the ‘insertion’ of religious groups who are seen as patriotic, at least as we speak because they have not so far attacked Pakistani security forces, the establishment is also keen to nurture a credible Baloch leadership so that the hold of the exiled Baloch leaders is loosened.

To further this cause they chose Shahzain Bugti, perhaps as a counterweight to his cousin and the slain Nawab Akbar Bugti’s named successor as the tumandar of the Bugti tribe, Brahmdagh Bugti. Conversations with Baloch political observers and activists lead one to believe that, despite all official efforts and largesse, Shahzain’s credibility has failed to gain any traction.

One can understand the dilemma of the architects of the Balochistan policy. After Brahmdagh Bugti was frustrated because his peace talks’ offer was not taken up by the Pakistani establishment in any meaningful manner, he has rather unwisely decided to sit in India’s lap. So a counter had to be found.

But a joint news conference by Hafiz Saeed and Shahzain Bugti in Quetta is hardly a counterweight to the separatists and nationalists, because even as the two gentlemen may be loyal and worthy allies of the establishment they have near zero cred in the province.

Rather than find comfort in falsehoods, I would focus on delivering development and the rule of law to the Baloch — by giving them a sense of participation in their own affairs, by enhanced employment opportunities and very definitely by ceasing forthwith any kill-and-dump policy that is still in evidence.

Given that Pakistan now feels that its future and fate is tied to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and Balochistan is central to its plans, it needs to explore more policy options. The security establishment may have grounds for believing that India has decided to disrupt its plans in Balochistan in anger and despair over the indigenous uprising in India-held Kashmir that Delhi has failed to crush.

Equally, it is incumbent on the security establishment, and even more on the government, to keep the initiative in its own hands and not rule out any measure that defuses the situation. If talks with separatist leaders is a step that can still be explored it should be. Under no circumstances should legitimate Baloch concerns be contemptuously dismissed as political point-scoring or, worse still, as foreign-instigated propaganda.

I am still unclear about the context of Lt-Gen Aamir Riaz’s remarks when the Quetta-based commander of Pakistan’s Southern Command reportedly offered India to become part of CPEC. I am also unclear whether, as the military commander of the region, it is his place to make such an offer.

Perhaps as former DGMO (Director General of Military Operations) he was in the habit of picking up the ‘hotline’ phone and talking to his counterpart, the Indian DGMO, when the situation between the two countries got tense and thought it was appropriate to do so at this stage as well.

But the good general should know there is a raft of unaddressed issues from the Most Favoured Nation status between the two countries to the matter of a transit route for Afghanistan’s trade with India that need a resolution. On its own, the offered CPEC partnership to Delhi means nothing and will not be taken seriously at all.

So much for the negative, one must focus on the positive too. Abdul Wahid Baloch, the wonderful human rights worker-publisher from Karachi, who was ‘disappeared’ and remained in someone’s captivity for over four months, finally returned home earlier this month.

Among all the people and the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan who campaigned for his release, his daughter Hani Baloch must stand out for her consistent and brave endeavours. Hani’s sister Mahin was never far behind. As a father of two daughters myself, I hope and pray all daughters fight so relentlessly for what they believe in with a never-say-die attitude. I have one word for them: Bravo!

One hopes that the family’s travails ended in early December when Wahid Baloch, affectionately known as Comrade, returned home. Our reality is such that I won’t question the legality or constitutionality of his disappearance for four months or call for those responsible to be held to account.

No. Instead, I will thank his captors that Comrade Wahid Baloch was reunited with his family in one piece, unlike so many others who have disappeared without a clue or those whose bullet-riddled, tortured bodies have been dumped by the roadside.

The writer is a former editor of Dawn.

Published in Dawn December 24th, 2016