Men­gal’s warn­ing

The Pak Banker - - 4EDITORIAL -

SAR­DAR Akhtar Men­gal’s dec­la­ra­tion that the forth­com­ing elec­tion will not set­tle mat­ters in strife-torn Balochis­tan must be taken se­ri­ously by all those who have any say in the af­fairs of the state.

The elec­tronic me­dia re­cently re­ported that Men­gal had writ­ten an open let­ter to the chief jus­tice of the coun­try but few news­pa­pers car­ried ref­er­ence to it. One hopes that this was due to noth­ing more than a shared er­ror of judg­ment by the news desks and that the peo­ple will not be de­nied ac­cess to the let­ter.

It is pos­si­ble that Men­gal wishes to fol­low up on his ap­pear­ance in the Supreme Court last year and that he wants the apex court to make an­other at­tempt to give his peo­ple jus­tice.

This view is sup­ported by Men­gal’s line of ar­gu­ment that he has ad­vanced in a tele­vi­sion in­ter­view. He has chal­lenged the pri­or­i­ties of the po­lit­i­cal par­ties in Balochis­tan that are con­cen­trat­ing on elec­toral mat­ters and the for­ma­tion of a care­taker regime.

If th­ese par­ties want democ­racy to be con­sol­i­dated in Balochis­tan and the true rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the peo­ple to be elected, he says, then they (the po­lit­i­cal par­ties) should first free them­selves from el­e­ments that are ev­ery day throw­ing out the mu­ti­lated corpses of young Baloch peo­ple.

Be­fore delv­ing into the mat­ter any fur­ther it may be ap­pro­pri­ate to lay down the premise that the hold­ing of peace­ful and fair elec­tions is of crit­i­cal im­por­tance not only to ef­forts to re­store nor­malcy in Balochis­tan but also to the fu­ture of democ­racy in Pak­istan, in fact per­haps to the in­tegrity of the state it­self.

Also, the rea­sons for lis­ten­ing to Akhtar Men­gal are wholly valid. While dis­cussing the prospects of elec­tions in Balochis­tan we are con­cerned only with ter­ri­tory that is dom­i­nated by the Baloch as in the Pakhtun ar­eas there are no prob­lems other than tra­di­tional elec­toral mal­prac­tices.

It is no se­cret that all Baloch are na­tion­al­ists and many of them have been driven to as­sume ex­treme pos­tures by the op­pres­sion per­pet­u­ated by the state. With re­gard to elec­tions to the na­tional and pro­vin­cial leg­is­la­tures the com­mu­nity is di­vided into three main groups.

At one ex­treme are the self-seek­ing op­por­tunists who are pre­pared to serve the es­tab­lish­ment on what­ever

I A Rehman terms it of­fers. At the other ex­treme are ul­tra-na­tion­al­ist el­e­ments, some of them armed, who wish to have noth­ing to do with the elec­tions. Some of them have in fact threat­ened to use vi­o­lence to dis­rupt the elec­toral process.

Be­tween th­ese ex­tremes stand the mod­er­ates. One sub-group has de­cided to fight its bat­tles within the par­lia­men­tary sys­tem and is pre­pared to join the elec­toral con­test what­ever the cir­cum­stances might be. It could change course if the sit­u­a­tion be­comes un­bear­ably vi­o­lent.

The other sub- group, which Akhtar Men­gal spear­heads, will be pre­pared to take part in the elec­tions if cer­tain con­di­tions are met. Th­ese con­di­tions, as far as one can gather, are: firstly, an end to en­forced dis­ap­pear­ances and the dump­ing of dead bod­ies of “miss­ing per­sons”, and, se­condly, guar­an­tees that the pres­ence of mil­i­tary forces in Balochis­tan will not af­fect the elec­toral process in the province.

The best bet in favour of democ­racy and fair elec­tions in Balochis­tan would be to en­able the group in the mid­dle to play its part in the key fed­er­at­ing unit’s po­lit­i­cal re­cov­ery and re­con­struc­tion. The alternative, namely, the elec­tion of leg­is­la­tors be­long­ing to an es­tab­lish­ment-backed coali­tion of some sar­dars and crim­i­nal gangs, will push Balochis­tan and Pak­istan over the precipice.

Thus it is es­sen­tial to strengthen the po­lit­i­cal role of the group in the mid­dle of Balochis­tan’s po­lit­i­cal spec­trum by ac­com­mo­dat­ing Akhtar Men­gal and oth­ers like him.

At one level, the sit­u­a­tion will test the abil­ity of the Elec­tion Com­mis­sion of Pak­istan to read the signs cor­rectly. The Baloch do not share Pun­jab’s view of the mil­i­tary’s be­nign at­ti­tude to­wards elec­tions. In this dif­fer­ence in per­cep­tions of the mil­i­tary’s role lies the root of the Balochis­tan cri­sis. How will the Elec­tion Com­mis­sion over­come the prob­lem?

At the other, and per­haps more im­por­tant, level Akhtar Men­gal has raised the is­sues that the Supreme Court wres­tled with for the bet­ter part of 2012 — dis­ap­pear­ances, the dump­ing of dead bod­ies and break­down of law and or­der. And the court had to throw up its hands in de­spair. The chief jus­tice was con­strained to ob­serve that af­ter six months of ef­forts by the court the re­sult was zero.

The court put the blame for ev­ery­thing on the Raisani min­istry and the of­fi­cials, and it took the fed­eral government to task for fail­ing to in­ter­vene when the con­sti­tu­tional ma­chin­ery had bro­ken down. The court’s war­rant against Raisani was ex­e­cuted, though with the cus­tom­ary de­lay. It is per­haps nec­es­sary to re­view the as­sess­ment that the po­lit­i­cal au­thor­i­ties were in com­mand. Plenty of ev­i­dence was avail­able to show that they were not. The Balochis­tan government was sus­pended but the ground re­al­ity re­mained largely un­changed. This was con­firmed when one of the two most hor­ri­ble pogroms against the Hazaras took place in Quetta un­der gov­er­nor’s rule and the dead bod­ies of the Baloch (who had been picked up in Balochis­tan) started be­ing dumped in Karachi. The im­pli­ca­tions of con­tin­ued anti-Baloch vi­o­lence are pretty ob­vi­ous. Un­for­tu­nately, no easy way out of the Balochis­tan co­nun­drum is vis­i­ble. No sin­gle party or in­sti­tu­tion, with the pos­si­ble ex­cep­tion of the army, can guar­an­tee peace dur­ing elec­tions and in the long run. Some­thing could be done if all par­ties and state in­sti­tu­tions got to­gether and ac­cepted their duty to act in the best in­ter­ests of the Baloch.

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