No justice no peace

Published November 24, 2023
The writer teaches at Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad.
The writer teaches at Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad.

BY the time this appears in print, a four-day ‘truce’ may have come into effect in Gaza. If so, it would have taken some 15,000 Palestinians to be killed in cold blood by the Israeli occupation forces for the besieged millions in Gaza to be granted a few days of respite.

Even this would not have happened but for the millions of people on the streets around the world protesting against Israel’s genocidal war, whilst exposing the shameless complicity of their own governments— and I include Pakistan on the list. There is domestic pressure on the Netanyahu ‘war cabinet’ as well, which has been forced into some negotiations to get some of its ‘hostages’ released. Yet this ‘truce’ is fleeting. It is more like an eerie silence before the reign of Israeli terror resumes. A ‘peace’ with no prospects of justice or liberty.

It must be repeated that only by ending the colonial occupation can there be a lasting peace for Palestinians, and, indeed, for Israelis. For the best part of two decades, rabid, right-wing Israeli governing regimes have reinforced the policy of herding millions of Palestinians into a 390-square kilometre concentration camp and militarising it to no end. They all promised a paranoid Jewish public that this is the way to ‘peace’. This myth was shattered by the Hamas incursions.

The adage that there is no lasting peace without justice resonates with the majority of Pakistanis when it comes to Palestine. Even as certain elements inside the country and the diaspora pitch the need to normalise ties with Israel — following the example of the Gulf kingdoms — most Pakistanis feel a great deal of indignation at the persistent injustice against the Palestinians.

Baloch youth are forced to resort to slave labour to survive.

No peace without justice, however, cannot be a selective philosophical principle. It must be deemed applicable to all oppressed peoples, particularly those close to home. In my previous column, I wrote about the large cross-section of Pakistani society that has imbibed a hateful politics to mirror the state’s demonisation of Afghans as outsiders — even Pakistani Pakhtuns. The Baloch question is at least as troubling, a festering wound that mainstream Pakistan relegates to the proverbial back-burner.

Anyone who follows the unending trials and tribulations — and ever-increasing disaffection — of Baloch youth in this country will know that enforced disappearances are again on the rise. It is worth being reminded that Baloch ‘missing persons’ include many who are well-educated and come to metropolitan Pakistan to integrate further into the mainstream. If this upwardly mobile segment of Baloch youth cannot expect justice, then who can?

The superior courts have been petitioned time and again to take up this matter. But ever since Iftikhar Chaudhry was chief justice, there have been a lot of sound bites and very little real accountability. Alongside enforced disappearances, there are also reports of ‘encounter’ killings. And there is, unsurprisingly, no let-up in the otherwise low-intensity insurgency that has been ongoing in Balochistan for almost two decades.

Notwithstanding regular PR exercises, the establishment’s methods in Balochistan are a long-standing cautionary tale about the impossibility of lasting peace without justice. No one in power should expect to make uncontested claims about the ‘development’ of Gwadar, Sui, Reko Diq and Saindak even as indigenous fishing communities are dispossessed, local ecologies destroyed and profiteers facilitated over indigenous peasants and pastoralists. It is not good enough to continue singing the praises of debt-funded road and bridge-building exercises, or claiming to eliminate cross-border smuggling when Baloch youth are forced to resort to dehumanising forms of slave labour to survive. And does anyone even remember flood-ravaged eastern Balochistan?

You cannot win over a politically conscious and young population by continuing to reproduce colonial formulae in matters of politics, economics and social control. Offering carrots to some Baloch youth can never compensate for the use of the stick for most. Mainstream bourgeois parties, as the PML-N’s recent wooing of BAP has demonstrated, have neither the will nor the capacity to even modestly reform the establishment-centric model. If the election does take place on Feb 8, Balo­chistan’s ‘elected assemblies’ are likely to be the most compromised of all, as usual.

There is, then, little suggestion that the status quo of oppression and disaffection will change anytime soon. As in the Palestinian case, it is up to brave and thoughtful progressives in mainstream Pakistan to continue to name the injustices faced by the Baloch and other oppressed nations so as to at least offer disaffected youth the possibility of a shared emancipatory horizon. That is the only hope for a lasting peace.

The writer teaches at Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad.

Published in Dawn, November 24th, 2023

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