Growing alienation

Published October 24, 2022

BALOCHISTAN’S agony has once again been laid bare before Pakistan’s elected representatives. Akhtar Mengal, who heads his eponymous faction of the Balochistan National Party, made a blisteringly forthright speech in the National Assembly last Wednesday.

In it, he pulled no punches about the human rights violations in his province, warning the state that its tactics were sowing the seeds of hatred that would be impossible to eradicate. Indeed, according to him, most Baloch youth have “reached a point of no return”. Mr Mengal angrily denounced the fake encounters in the province in which innocent people were killed and presented as terrorists. He referred specifically to the incident in Kharan on Monday, where the Balochistan CTD allegedly killed three missing people they described later as BLA “terrorists”.

According to the CTD, the men opened indiscriminate fire on the law-enforcement team and were killed in an hour-long exchange of gunfire. However, the Voice for Baloch Missing Persons chairman said three of the dead men had been identified as missing people; one of them — the leader of a local chapter of the Baloch Students Organisation — had been picked up on June 9, 2021, from Khuzdar.

There is a realisation among much of the civilian leadership that this is an untenable situation. Defence Minister Khawaja Asif, in response to Mr Mengal’s speech, acknowledged that remaining in denial of these long-festering wounds would be harmful for any nation. The weight of this baggage, he said, “was getting heavier by the day … We need dialogue”. But who will bell the cat?

The state’s neocolonial attitude towards Balochistan — for how else can such utter disregard for its people’s fundamental rights and the extractive nature of the state’s relationship with the province be described? — is profoundly altering Baloch society. Alienation and despair run deep among its populace. Pakistan’s integrity and well-being are linked to all its people being given a fair deal and a just share in resources. Instead, Balochistan has descended into a dystopian hellhole, a laboratory of flawed and shortsighted policies, such as allowing violent extremist groups safe haven in the province as a quid pro quo for them to counter separatist groups.

Read: ‘Lahore gets an Orange Line, Balochistan gets checkposts,’ laments JI leader

There have been half-hearted attempts to address Balochistan’s grievances — among them ‘development packages’ under both the PML-N and the PPP governments — but they have all come to naught because Balochistan was not to be allowed real agency over its workings or its resources, and people continued to go missing. And the much-vaunted ‘game changer’, CPEC, has only exacerbated the sense of marginalisation. Even the approach to the ‘angry Baloch’ leaders went nowhere.

In any case, today’s educated, middle-class insurgents are more likely to despise the powerful Baloch sardars, whom they see as an extension of the state. A truth and reconciliation commission, as suggested at Wednesday’s National Assembly session, may be viable, but sincerity is in short supply when it comes to Balochistan.

Published in Dawn, October 24th, 2022

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