Balochis­tan: The Next Domino?

Time is run­ning out for the gov­ern­ment to wake up and grap­ple with the sit­u­a­tion in Balochis­tan in right earnest.

Southasia - - Contents - By S.G. Ji­la­nee

The old say­ing “Once bit­ten is twice shy,” does not seem to ap­ply to Pak­istan’s lead­er­ship -- civil and mil­i­tary alike. Oth­ers try a new strat­egy when the first fails. But Pak­istan’s lead­ers cling to a recipe they have patented and stick to it with al­most re­li­gious zeal.

That recipe is to brand all who de­mand their po­lit­i­cal rights as traitors, in­sti­gated by a third force –and the third force is al­ways In­dia -- and then “kill, maim, or dis­ap­pear” the per­son in ques­tion. Though it failed in East Pak­istan with tragic con­se­quences, it is be­ing fol­lowed with full vigor in Balochis­tan.

The story of Balochis­tan, too, is a saga of de­pri­va­tion of the peo­ple and ex­ploita­tion of their re­sources, with­out rec­om­pense. Since 1948, the prov­ince has wit­nessed five up­ris­ings. The first, in April 1948, was led by Prince Ab­dul Karim Khan of Kalat; the sec­ond (1958–59), by Nawab Nowroz Khan; the third (1963–69) by Sher Muhammad Bi­jrani Marri. Nawab Khair Baksh Marri led the fourth (1973-77). Yet, in­stead of ad­dress­ing their griev­ances, suc­ces­sive gov­ern­ments al­ways re­sponded to the Baluchis agitation with the use of brute force.

Re­li­gious and po­lit­i­cal lead­ers and even the main­stream me­dia treated the Balochis­tan prob­lem with dis­dain. Be­cause there was no­body to cham­pion their cause, the frus­trated Baloch peo­ple turned into in­sur­gents, seek­ing in­de­pen­dence and formed groups such as the Balochis­tan Stu­dents Or­ga­ni­za­tion (BSO), Balochis­tan Lib­er­a­tion Front (BLF) and Balochis­tan Na­tional Army (BLA) et al.

The on­go­ing up­ris­ing, which started in 2004, is the fifth. It is also more vi­o­lent and en­dur­ing. Its lead­ers Nawab Ak­bar Khan Bugti and Mir Bal­ach Marri have been killed. But in­stead of putting an end to the in­sur­gency, their mur­der gave it fur­ther boost. “The bru­tal and sense­less mur­der of Nawab Bugti and the de­lib­er­ate in­sult to his corpse by Pres­i­dent Pervez Mushar­raf acted as a cat­a­lyst in Balochis­tan,” writes Ak­bar S. Ah­mad. “It gave the Baloch in­de­pen­dence move­ment a much needed sec­ond wind - the Baloch now had a le­git­i­mate mar­tyr for their cause.”

Se­cu­rity agen­cies are fol­low­ing a “kill and dump” pol­icy. As in East Pak­istan, Ben­galis were hu­mil­i­ated by be­ing asked to strip in or­der to prove they were Mus­lim. Like­wise in Balochis­tan, se­cu­rity per­son­nel, who are in­vari­ably non-baloch, in­sult the Baloch at check­points “by cut­ting off the shal­war.” Fur­ther­more, Baloch in­tel­lec­tual and pro­fes­sional elite are be­ing sys­tem­at­i­cally elim­i­nated. Bod­ies of those who have mys­te­ri­ously dis­ap­peared are rou­tinely found mu­ti­lated and des­e­crated. One chill­ing mes­sage en­graved with a knife on the chest of a corpse said, “Eid gift for Baloch.”

Most re­cently, the wife and daugh­ter of Mir Bakhtiar Domki were killed. Be­cause Domki’s wife was the sis­ter of Ak­bar Bugti’s grand­son, Brah­mdagh who is cur­rently a fugi­tive, the in­ci­dent is in­ter­preted as a sig­nal that se­cu­rity agen­cies have ex­tended their op­er­a­tion to Baloch women as well.

But the in­sur­gency, in­stead of shrink­ing, is spread­ing even to sta­ble, non-tribal parts of the prov­ince that were so long be­yond the tra­di­tional strong­hold of the rebels, such as Khuz­dar and Tur­bat. More­over, the in­duc­tion of ed­u­cated, mid­dle-class and non-tribal seg­ments of Baloch so­ci­ety, such as Al­lah­nazar Baloch (leader of Balochis­tan Lib­er­a­tion Front), has pro­vided fresh boost to the in­sur­gency. Omi­nously, the sit­u­a­tion has since turned into an eth­nic con­flict, with the in­sur­gents tar­get­ing Pun­jabi and Urdu-speak­ing civil­ians en­gaged in var­i­ous trades.

Ex­cept for the oc­ca­sional state­ments by MQM Chief, Altaf Hus­sain, no other po­lit­i­cal or re­li­gious leader worth the name ever raised his voice in sup­port of Baloch rights. Even Mian Nawaz Sharif, who did noth­ing for

them dur­ing his two stints as prime min­is­ter has, now, in a re­cent visit to Quetta, promised to take up their cause, “if’ he came to power again.

Only the chief jus­tice of the Supreme Court of Pak­istan, by tak­ing suo moto no­tice of the dis­ap­pear­ances and call­ing the se­cu­rity agen­cies to ac­count, has given some re­lief to the be­lea­guered Baloch peo­ple. But it is the gov­ern­ment and not the Supreme Court that holds the key to the Baloch prob­lem.

Last year the gov­ern­ment de­clared a pack­age of re­forms for Balochis­tan with much fan­fare. But the ti­tle of the pack­age: Ag­haz-e-huqooqe-balochis­tan, (be­gin­ning of the rights of Balochis­tan) it­self is an ad­mis­sion that only now, af­ter sixty-four years of ne­glect, the gov­ern­ment has “be­gun” to rec­og­nize the rights of the Baloch peo­ple. How­ever, no con­crete step has yet been taken to im­ple­ment the pack­age.

Mean­while, Re­pub­li­can Con­gress­man, Dana Rohrabacher, a strong ad­vo­cate of an in­de­pen­dent Balochis­tan, re­cently or­ga­nized and chaired a hear­ing by the House Sub­com­mit­tee on Over­sight and In­ves­ti­ga­tions, on hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions in Balochis­tan.

Wit­nesses, in­clud­ing Amnesty In­ter­na­tional’s Ad­vo­cacy Di­rec­tor, T. Kumar and Ali Dayan Hasan, Di­rec­tor for Hu­man Rights Watch in Pak­istan, gave de­tails of hu­man rights abuses. Ac­cord­ing to the sta­tis­tics sub­mit­ted, “ap­prox­i­mately 6,000 peo­ple were dis­placed and scores were killed in 2005 around Dera Bugti dis­trict alone,” while es­ti­mates of the “to­tal num­ber of peo­ple dis­placed from all dis­tricts range from tens to hun­dreds of thou­sands.” In his tes­ti­mony, Ali Dayan Hasan blamed the se­cu­rity forces and its in­tel­li­gence agen­cies for the dis­ap­pear­ance of Baloch na­tion­al­ists.

In Pak­istan, the event was con­demned as an at­tack on the coun­try’s frag­ile sovereignty and in­ter­fer­ence in Pak­istan’s in­ter­nal af­fairs. But the for­eign of­fice was sat­is­fied with the re­port that the US State Depart­ment had dis­tanced it­self from the event.

Though the hear­ing may not in­flu­ence the US gov­ern­ment’s pol­icy to­wards Pak­istan per se, there is no ques­tion that it has cat­a­pulted Balochis­tan into the in­ter­na­tional lime­light. It has also high­lighted the level of US in­ter­est in Balochis­tan and its sup­port for the na­tion­al­ist move­ment. Be­sides, Rohrabacher de­clared that the hear­ing was no stunt and that the par­tic­i­pants wanted to start a na­tional di­a­logue on what US pol­icy should be in that part of the world.

Rohrabacher, it may be noted, is one of the most anti-pak­istan US law­mak­ers. He has al­ready tabled a bill seek­ing US cit­i­zen­ship for Dr. Shakil Afridi to re­ward him for his as­sis­tance in trac­ing Osama bin Laden. If, there­fore, he acts on his word the is­sue would re­ceive fur­ther mo­men­tum in the com­ing weeks and months.

It is also note­wor­thy that though the White House does not share Rohrabacher’s views, spokes­woman Vic­to­ria Nu­land expressed “deep con­cern” over the on­go­ing vi­o­lence in Balochis­tan, “es­pe­cially tar­geted killings, dis­ap­pear­ances and hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions” in a press brief­ing as re­cently as Jan­uary.

What form Rohrabacher’s cam­paign might even­tu­ally take can­not be pre­dicted at the mo­ment. But it may be re­called that dur­ing mil­i­tary ac­tion in East Pak­istan, even though the White House did not sup­port an in­de­pen­dent Bangladesh, the US Long­shore­men’s As­so­ci­a­tion re­fused to load cargo on Pak­istani ves­sels.

Pak­istan’s lead­ers should there­fore, treat the event as a warn­ing of the ap­proach­ing tsunami. Dis­miss­ing it with con­tempt or protest­ing against it would be naïve. Balochis­tan should be re-stud­ied to re­al­ize that its vast nat­u­ral re­sources, hun­dreds of miles of sea­coast, deep sea port and com­mon bor­der with Iran, make it a key geopo­lit­i­cal area. An in­de­pen­dent Balochis­tan al­lied with the bond of grat­i­tude, would be too in­valu­able a prize for Amer­ica to aban­don.

Sin­cere ef­forts to re­claim the es­tranged Baloch peo­ple there­fore need to be put into full gear be­fore it is too late, be­cause, as Ak­bar S. Ah­mad re­cently ob­served, “while Balochis­tan can sur­vive with­out Pak­istan, it is Pak­istan that sim­ply can­not sur­vive with­out Balochis­tan.”

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