Back to square one again?

Published December 24, 2023
The writer is a former editor of Dawn
The writer is a former editor of Dawn

THE caretaker government has made a hash of dealing with the Baloch protesters, led by the passionate advocate Mahrang Baloch who is emulating Sammi Baloch. It allowed the police to ride roughshod over the demonstrators who came to the federal capital to agitate against the enforced disappearance and killing of their kith and kin.

The police action ordered by the government or, perhaps more accurately, its powerful backers, underlined the irony for those who, though termed separatists, still seemed to display faith in the federation and came to the capital, the seat of the federal government, to press for their political rights and freedoms.

How else would you interpret the motives of the marchers, dozens of women among them, other than as an expression of faith in the federation, despite their broken hearts at having seen the tormented bodies of their loved ones? Or worse — having no clue about their disappeared family and friends?

I know my words will add up to nought but I still feel duty-bound to say that the guardians of our security need to look at the experience of how countries much more prosperous and powerful than us have dealt with the ‘separatist’ challenge.

It isn’t within the scope of this piece to delve into the details of such accords but those dealing with the security challenges posed by the Baloch ‘separatists’ need only look into peace agreements concluded between the ETA and Spain on the one hand and the UK and IRA on the other.

It takes a visionary leadership to reach out to groups responsible for inflicting pain on the state.

Both groups waged bloody campaigns over decades before sitting down for negotiations and agreeing to abandon violence as a means of achieving their goals. They were convinced through dialogue that armed resistance had only brought blood, gore and misery, and the cause of their political and economic rights had not been furthered.

Needless to say, it takes a visionary leadership to reach out to groups responsible for inflicting pain on the state. Even with both sides having drawn blood over and over again, it isn’t always possible to see that continuing to be caught up in the vortex of violence can deliver nothing in the end to either side.

Tragically, as we speak, the state and the separatists are both pursuing a single-dimensional strategy that has only brought pain and anguish to both. Surely, at some point they will have to sit down to negotiate, because endless violence and pain can’t be a long-term goal.

The caretaker cabinet committee set up to address Baloch grievances will be able to deliver nothing because it could not even protect the protesters from police brutality, including beatings, and water cannons deployed in freezing temperatures.

The members may be well-meaning but that’s about it. It is clear that this cabinet and its ‘middle-class’ boy wonders have no leeway beyond being their master’s voice. In any case, the caretaker cabinet is in place to ensure the conduct of elections and that is their entire mandate.

Look at the role of ‘democratic’ parties, which have long been in electoral politics. They seem to have been indifferent at best towards the plight of the Baloch, in all probability out of fear of upsetting their benefactors who have promised them a ‘reset to 2016’ scenario.

There can be no doubt that when in power, PTI leader Imran Khan shunned any dialogue with other political parties, including those represented in parliament, and called them names ad nauseam and ordered their persecution.

However, now that the shoe is on the other foot, and the PTI is at the receiving end of the state’s wrath, the so-called democrats, pretty much without exception, are looking the other way and pretending all is well.

With incredibly robust backers, many of these ‘democrats’ must be self-assured about their prospects in next February’s election, but having become a party to undermining, even demeaning, the democratic process, will they have the credibility or moral authority to bring in change?

Meaningful change that can address the concerns of the multitudes of the shirtless Pakistanis and the country’s federating units and guarantee them their rights? I, for one, seriously doubt it. They will have to come into government within tight confines and won’t be able to do much.

Because having won a fight where their opponent had one of his hands, if not both, tied behind his back isn’t the most credible of victories. They will know and, I bet, be reminded if they forget, who paved their path to power.

It is important for big political leaders who were wronged and unjustly dislodged from power and incarcerated to understand that their biggest strength in any election and most significantly beyond the election is popular will. That is what delivers longevity in politics.

Therefore, they can’t become a party to undermining whatever segment/ chunk of popular will is being undermined by the denial of a level playing field to their arch-rival. They will argue that things are no different than they were in the run-up to the 2018 elections, the only difference being who benefits from the ‘fix’.

All you and I can say in response is to look at what happened to the system that was handcrafted with such care by the most powerful players in the establishment and judiciary. It fell by the wayside a little over halfway into its supposed tenure.

But realistically speaking, we aren’t made of the stuff that enables us to learn from our own follies, let alone from the disastrous experience of others. The 2024 elections will be no different than the 2018 elections.

Some argue things will be worse this time round as those out of favour will face a much tougher challenge than those in similar circumstances the last time. Are we headed back to square one yet again?

The writer is a former editor of Dawn.

abbas.nasir@gmail.com

Published in Dawn, December 24th, 2023

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