AFTER nearly five years of silence on Balochistan, 2012 proved to be the year that Pakistan’s largest province finally got its turn. The first big break came with two controversial hearings – one initiated by the Republican Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, and the other by a visit of the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances to Pakistan in September.
The second big break came with the slow-moving Pakistani mainstream. The Supreme Court declared the sitting provincial government in Balochistan defunct. It even went as far as holding the military and security forces responsible for their actions (at least verbally, if not in practice). The verdict came less than a month after a visit by the self-exiled leader of his own faction of the Balochistan National Party, Akhtar Mengal. It was a visit that paved the way for pro-Federation groups to negotiate with Nawaz Sharif.
It is about time. The uprising has been going on for five years, security agencies have allegedly killed and dumped hundreds, if not thousands, of Balochs, and there seems to be an organised attack on Hazara Shias, doctors, Punjabis, intellectuals and many others.
At the tail end of 2012, however, it is clear that notoriety is only half the battle … or less.
Ask Abdul Qadeer Baloch, the spokesperson for the Voice for Baloch Missing Persons whose son Jalil Rekhi was found tortured, killed and dumped last summer. He will tell you that abductions and extrajudicial killings of Balochs continue unabated.
Revisit the Six Points that Mengal presented, and not one of them have been fulfilled. Even the Supreme Court agrees. At the end of November, it was reported that the “SC sees no visible change in [the] Balochistan situation”.
Malik Siraj Akbar, a journalist, and the editor of the banned Baloch Hal, says that the government has “missed opportunities after opportunities to fix Balochistan”. For all the (verbal) movement by Pakistan’s mainstream political forces, very little seems to have changed.
The provincial government still remains in power, effectively ruling the province. There is a possibility that the Supreme Court will step in to get the government dismissed, but with elections right around the corner and a likely power change in Quetta, it is unlikely that it will make any difference.
Despite the Supreme Court’s attempts to reign in the security forces through a name-them-and-shame-them policy, they have yet to be brought to justice. Finally, free, fair and transparent elections are crucial to ensure that those in office are a representative reflection of those in power.
However, when the parties that potentially represent half (if not more) of the population’s opinions are not taking part, it is impossible that elections can come anywhere close to reflecting the will of the people.
Those of a more revolutionary bent say that elections and democracy are an underhanded way of maintaining the status quo. According to the anti-reformists, they never really question the fundamental power structures that reproduce inequality and oppression. If momentarily applied to Balochistan, this theory can provide a potential answer to the continuation of the status quo in Balochistan.
Many suspect that Mengal’s visit was an attempt to score a chance at running the Balochistan government before the upcoming elections. Some even say that he had guaranteed the safety of his return to Pakistan through secret talks with the Army. Negotiations between BNP-M acting president Jahanzaib Jamaldini and Sharif, as late as December 11 in Lahore, seem to indicate that BNP-M is interested in contesting the next elections. If BNP-M is contesting come April or May next year, then it would be directly against Mengal’s promises in public – and inadvertently to his own people. In an interview with Dawn, he insisted that he would stay outside of elections if the situation had remained the same.
However, both his visit and the general furore over elections have everyone repeating that ensuring a free and fair process in Balochistan is the way forward. It is as if holding free and fair elections is going to stop security forces from killing the Balochs, or to keep the Islamists from carrying out sectarian attacks. It is not.
Assuming that a freely elected provincial government is going to be able to solve these problems merely because everything was free and fair on election day is setting the new representatives up to fail.
So, while Balochistan’s issues continue to be explained through a ‘chaos’ framework – where you need a ‘free and fair’ elected government to find order in the mess – there needs to be a far more honest investigation into the systematic nature of the violence in the province.
Simply put, there is a need to start speaking about other, more complex interpretations that require more sophisticated solutions – and many that have less to do with voting and elections, and more to do more with, for example, a new and more dignified relationship between Balochistan and the Federation.
The writer is a freelance journalist.