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Balochistan’s agony

February 15, 2012


THE latest developments regarding Balochistan have prompted many bleary-eyed observers to give Islamabad wake-up calls but the establishment has shown no sign of its ability to comprehend the gravity of the situation. Instead, it has chosen to continue with its blame-game.

The US congressional hearing on Balochistan this month was an event that should not have been left to brainless denial-writers. Much of what was said during the hearing, regarding the abuse of the rights of the people in this part of Pakistan, should have been known to the Pakistani authorities.

What new evidence these proceedings revealed was, firstly, the level of the Baloch participants’ despair. One of them was quoted as saying that an independent Balochistan would put Gwadar at the disposal of the United States, block the plan for a Pakistan-Iran gas pipeline and also fight Al Qaeda. Instead of condemning the supplicant’s eagerness to become the slave of a distant power, Islamabad’s ruling elite should concentrate on what it has done to reduce the proud Baloch to their present straits.

Secondly, the international discourse has undergone a significant change. The world has been talking about Balochistan for many years — about the denial of autonomy to its people, the exclusion of civilians from decision-making processes, the exploitation of its resources by outsiders, the involuntary disappearances and the appearance of mutilated bodies of the ‘missing persons’, the target killing of the Hazara Shias et al.

The reaction of foreign audiences used to be limited to requests to the government of Pakistan to honour its responsibilities. Nearly all those who listened to the Baloch activists in exile, and they were not limited to Americans, took care to stop short of referring to a change in Balochistan’s political status. Now there is no hesitation in mentioning the right to self-determination. The significance of the entry of this expression in the international discourse should not be lost on anyone.

A word stronger and broader in its sweep than ‘irony’ is needed to describe the situation Pakistan’s rulers have created for themselves. For years they have been cautioned against taking the course they had followed to push East Bengal (East Pakistan) out of the state. But they have refused to heed the counsel of sanity with a single-minded resolve not witnessed in any area of their endeavours.

The repetition of the first stage of the East Bengal people’s alienation, namely, the loss of trust in the federation’s capacity to act fairly by them, was completed in Balochistan quite some time ago. Balochistan crossed the second stage in the process, that is, resort to armed struggle, even prior to the first stage.

Now it has been pushed into the third phase of its struggle — international support for whatever it may ask for. And the establishment’s response is no different than what it was in 1970-71 — the trouble in Balochistan is entirely the doing of foreign elements hostile to Pakistan who are helping a few malcontents with money and arms! The same 40-year-old script. It failed then and it will not succeed now.

The born-yesterday politicians are making incoherent statements about the need to catch the killers of Akbar Bugti. They do not know that the Baloch are still mourning the killing of the sons of Doda Khan and Mengal and Marri. Not only are they not getting anywhere close to Bugti’s murderers they were not able to prevent the barbaric killing of Brahmdagh Bugti’s sister and her young daughter — a provocation and insult both.

Off and on appeals are made to open negotiations with the Baloch leaders in exile. Most people of reason are likely to declare the time for that has passed. But that was only one of the two tracks open to the establishment to win over the estranged people of Balochistan. The other track led through sincere engagement with the people who are still living in their traditional settlements.

These people ignored the calls of separatists for decades, for there has hardly ever been a period when one group or another was not agitating for an independent or greater Balochistan. The people in general did not favour the separatists because they were not sure of a better alternative, or independence was not considered a feasible proposition, or the costs were believed to be prohibitive.

That these considerations have become irrelevant offers a measure of the indiscriminate manner in which the powers that be have wounded the Baloch in his body and in his soul. Some of the worst acts of tyranny and contemptuous disregard for human dignity in the history of Pakistan have been reserved for the people of Balochistan.

Where else in this country have the people been rendered strangers in their own land? Where else has an ex-chief minister been put in a cage inside a court? Where else have student leaders been tortured to death or to a state of permanent disability? And where else are bullet-riddled bodies believed to be thrown by the roadside by state agencies? Which other people have been threatened by a president with decimation before they know what hit them?The threat to Pakistan is not posed by the expatriates or their foreign patrons; it comes from the alienation of the masses. Three years ago, a young man who said any reference to negotiations or peace was an insult to him belonged to a tiny minority; today those who think otherwise are in a minority and they have lost the courage to speak.

The people of Balochistan feel they have been let down by all state institutions. They have a grievance against the post-2008 regime that their right to representative government was ignored. Much has been said about the ineligibility of people elected on lists full of bogus votes but little about a flawed election in Balochistan that a majority boycotted. They feel betrayed by the so-called national political parties that only seek their own bases in Balochistan. They are angry with the government for failing to see that the Aghaz-i-Huqooq has not begun anything worthwhile.

They have their reservations about the judiciary too. The non-implementation of the recommendations of the judicial commission of 2011 rankles in many a heart. An ordinary Baloch cannot believe the Balochistan High Court Bar president’s petition has received the priority the Supreme Court attaches to the memo affair or to the employment of retired employees. It is doubtful if the common people of Balochistan are in a mood to talk to anyone. The second track too seems to have been blocked.

What anybody interested in Balochistan must not forget is that time makes many human devices irrelevant. What could have placated the angry Baloch in the 1950s will not work in 2012. Today any Balochistan settlement will have to be more on its people’s terms than on the terms of Islamabad’s paramount power. Any further delay in realising this will make the possible terms of settlement more and more adverse to Islamabad.

Instead of talking about talks the federation must take some action to establish its bona fides. Everyone knows what these steps are. But before anything else the incompetent keepers of the state will have to shed their robes of self-righteousness and give up all notions of their invincibility and infallibility.

History does not forgive anyone who is neither blind nor illiterate and yet cannot read the writing on the wall.