ONE wonders when the agony of Balochistan — and the rest of Pakistan — will end. This country of ours seems to have attracted the evil eye.
The recent resolution in the US Congress on the question of freedom for Balochistan is construed by Pakistanis as an unfriendly act. On Feb 16, the subcommittee on oversight and investigations — part of the powerful US committee on foreign affairs — convened a meeting for an exclusive discussion on the gravity of the situation in Balochistan.
Afterwards, the Republican chairman of the committee Dana Rohrabacher focused on the target killings and human rights abuses in Balochistan alone and termed it a matter requiring urgent attention. Had this subcommittee confined itself to a discussion of the situation in Balochistan, it would perhaps not have caused such a strong reaction in Pakistan.
However, it was the subsequent resolution in support of the “right of self-determination of the Baloch people, for being victims of human rights violations and oppression despite being the largest province”, that fed into the suspicions of a large number of Pakistanis that have been harboured by many ever since the conflict that led to the creation of Bangladesh in 1971.
The Urdu press has gone overboard in its characterisation of the situation as a calamity. The US embassy in Islamabad has tried to douse the flames by remarking that Balochistan is Pakistan’s internal matter. Rhetoric aside, one would like to see what stance the committee on foreign relations takes on the Rohrabacher resolution.
The assertion made by the congressman is not surprising to many Pakistanis as they have become familiar with the pain Balochistan has been suffering for many years.
As a matter of fact, it was the spirit of the deceased Nawab Akbar Bugti that ended Gen Musharraf’s regime. Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry was pressurised by him to not inquire into the cases of missing persons in Balochistan and the rest of the country, as this would presumably uncover the killings of many persons in the murderous intelligence war that has been under way in this country since 2001. The latter is not just ongoing in Balochistan (though the incidence is highest here) but also in Fata, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and other parts of the country.
According to a recent statement by the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances (CIED), established by the interior ministry on the directions of the Supreme Court, 25 out of 203 missing persons were traced in 2011. Around 92 new cases were registered.There are 55 cases of missing persons from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 47 from Balochistan, 15 from Punjab, 13 from Sindh, three from Azad Jammu & Kashmir, two from Islamabad and three from Fata. The commission plans to take up 17 cases of missing persons in Karachi.
The break-up of missing persons shows that such violation of human rights is not confined to the unfortunate Baloch only but also includes other ethnicities and provinces of Pakistan.
How did Mr Rohrabacher miss this in his resolution? I do not believe in conspiracy theories but this raises the question of whether the motive is really honest. Or was the resolution an attempt to open up additional avenues of pressure on Pakistan?
Is it because Balochistan has abundant natural resources and minerals that are in great demand by wealthy corporations who use US foreign policy as a tool for the capture of these resources? Is this something that one should be seriously worried about?
Clearly, Pakistan today is in the grips of different sorts of hazards and a variety of agendas. In Fata, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and parts of Punjab, the aftermath of the war triggered by 9/11 is still being played out.
It is linked with the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, the Afghan Taliban and the proliferation of associated warlords who are now controlling territory in Fata and parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Recently, the Frontier Corps and the military launched an opportunistic attack on Mangal Bagh’s Lashkar-i-Islam in support of the Zakakhel tribe, one of the largest of the Afridi tribes.
It had mobilised after LI activists kidnapped Maulana Muhammad Hashim, a respected Zakakhel cleric, on March 21 and later killed him.At the same time, there is a battle of attrition under way between the Pakistan military and TTP bands entrenched in central Kurram and the Mamozai region of Orakzai around the Jogi mountains. The place is important as it forms the axis for militants to move their fighters between Tirah, Darra (Kohat) and Orakzai to North Waziristan Agency and the Pak-Afghan border.
They can also reach out to the Sultan Khel area in the lower Orakzai region and thus come close to the flank of Bara in Khyber and threaten Peshawar. If Pakistani forces obtain dominance and are able to retain it, the capacity of the militants in this volatile region will be severely degraded.
However, the problem in meeting the challenge is the weak investigative capacity of the state. Repeated failure to bring militants to justice has led to the introduction of draconian legislation such as the infamous ‘in aid of civil power’ regulation that permits the indefinite detention by the military of a proscribed person.
More transparency in such detentions may improve the situation relating to militancy-related detainees. However, this will not improve the situation in Balochistan where a serious counter-insurgency war is going on. That can only be dealt with politically, and the sooner this is done, the better.
Matters before the Supreme Court indicate the need to keep a strict watch over the activities of intelligence agencies and the applicability of the new regulation in aid of civil power that is part of the problem in Fata and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
The writer is the chairman of the Regional Institute of Policy Research in Peshawar.