THE more insightful snippets on Balochistan tend to be unattributable.
“If the Baloch got independence, on the first day we’d pick up a bottle of whisky and drink ourselves silly. Then on the second day we’d nurse our hangovers. And on the third day, we’d put the bottle aside, pick up our guns and start killing one another.”
“There are only two great martial races in this part of the world: the Pakhtuns and the Rajputs. These Baloch think they are great fighters; in my village, a thousand better fighters are born every year. We know how to deal with them.”
“After a return from a stint in exile, he turned to one of his tribesmen and said, ‘So looks like you’ve been enjoying yourself since I’ve been away.’ The man had married twice in his leader’s absence. Ashamed, the man went home and shot both his wives.
That’s the mindset. Can anyone really talk about what ‘the Baloch population’ wants?”
So much has been written and said about Balochistan in recent weeks. Genocide. The break up of Pakistan. A pig-headed establishment. Baloch separatists pursuing self-interest in the name of the Baloch people.
Few, though, have shed light on what the folks who are guiding the state’s policy on Balochistan are thinking. So here goes, a Q&A with the unattributable, who either are doing or know those who are doing.
Is the spate of publicity causing a rethink of the Balochistan policy?
“Over the weekend, they released six or eight people. One of the released was of particular value to them. Maybe this is a nod to the pressure from the media and the political chatter. But probably nothing will change. It could just be a way of showing that they aren’t driving this, that [insurgent] violence will continue and then in a few weeks they can go back to their same tactics.”
So nothing will change?
“Nothing will change. People keep saying that the policy [kill and dump] isn’t working but that opinion isn’t shared by everyone. There haven’t been any settler killings in 11 months in and around Quetta. Even in the so-called non-tribal belt, the insurgents have been pushed out of the cities and into the hills.”
Dozens of FC personnel have been killed in the last couple of months and insurgent attacks are up. Kill-and-dump isn’t working, is it?
“They’ve gone through about 300 names. They think there are 1,300 more. It may take another couple of years, but they’ll probably get them all.”
“It’s not because the strategy isn’t working but because it isn’t being implemented. The areas in which the violence is up are under the control of the FC. But when they [the insurgents] run into the hills, the FC doesn’t pursue them. The FC thinks that if they go into the hills, search for the hideouts, it will be called a military operation and they want to avoid that label.”
The killing of Pakhtuns by the Baloch insurgents is a new trend that is emerging. What’s behind that?
“They kill the poor labourers working on road and development projects because they say they don’t want any development in their areas, that they will develop the areas themselves after they’ve gained independence.”
“The FC in Balochistan is predominantly drawn from the Pakhtuns, so they’ve started to kill them as a way of lashing out against the FC. It’s a dangerous move, though. The ethnic map of Balochistan has changed dramatically in the last 30 years. The Pakhtuns already talk of joining Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.”
The Baloch moderates’ boycott of the last election created a leadership vacuum in the province, analysts suggest. At the next general election, will the moderates be able to come to power?
“If the sarkar allows it, there should be a sizeable presence in the Balochistan Assembly.”
Why would the sarkar, aka the establishment, want to keep moderates out of power when the establishment itself bemoans the absence of a credible Baloch political leadership?“They prefer people who are amenable to their demands. They bring them from the most obscure imaginable backgrounds and install them in power because then they can control them.”
What does the security establishment think of the publicity that the insurgents are getting?
“Nowhere in the world does anyone advocating for the forcible secession of a part of a country get the kind of airtime these sardars are getting. It’s ridiculous and the media really ought to think about what they’re doing. A case for sedition could be made out.”
“Actually, it’s helped expose these guys [the insurgents]. They’re openly talking about wanting to break away from Pakistan and unintentionally the media has exposed them for what they are: people who are against Pakistan. Maybe some of the sympathy for them will drain away when people hear what they really stand for.”
Is there anything that can be done to try and convince, non-violently, the Baloch separatists to end their insurgency?
“There is one thing: apologise for the killing of Akbar Bugti and say that it wasn’t the action of the Pakistan Army at large but of an individual. But they won’t do that.”
Hasn’t the state itself created many of the problems it is fighting today?
“The sardars have been lured in and out of power for decades. Everyone knows those games.”
“Allah Nazar [the most well-known of the ‘non-tribal’ insurgents] probably turned during his last spell in prison. The things they probably did to him … it hardened him.”
One last time, is there an end to the violence in sight?
“The killings will stop when one side or the other is weakened. Either the state or the insurgents will have to be weakened.”
No points for guessing which side the state thinks will be weakened first.
If all of this sounds rather grim, that’s Balochistan, the land where the intellectually barren fight in the name of ideas on the backs of a wretched people.
Tailpiece: The ‘Musharraf knew Osama was in Pakistan’ claim continues to circulate. Few realise its origins. Bruce Riedel’s sensational claim in the Daily Beast/Newsweek everyone now knows of. But Riedel wasn’t making the claim based on his own investigations. Instead, he linked to an article by a Pakistani journalist, Arif Jamal, in the Jamestown Militant Leadership Monitor.
The MLM piece in turn linked to the original source of the claim that Musharraf hid Osama: a Dec 8, 2011 column in Jang by one Altaf Hasan Qureshi, in which Qureshi quotes former DG ISI Ziauddin Butt saying so at a seminar. The claim was then repeated by Butt in a TV interview to DawnNews’s Azaz Syed on Dec 11.
Yep, the claim that Musharraf hid Osama has been out there in the Pakistani media, in print and on TV, since early December but it took Bruce Riedel to pick up a regurgitation of the claim in an obscure American publication for it to become national news in Pakistan. Only in the Pakistani media … caveat emptor!
The writer is a member of staff.