May 10, 2005

Balochistan : Guns and Peace Don’t Go Hand in Hand

by Ghulam Asghar Khan

AS was expected a twelve-member parliamentary delegation comprising of treasury and opposition members came back empty-handed from Dera Bugti. The Bugti chief, Nawab Akbar Bugti was very bitter over the killing 62 of his tribesmen by the security forces, including a number of Hindus, mostly women and children. But it was just a joyride for the non-entities who could not possibly make any contribution to end the stalemate between the Nawab and the power that really mattered.

Islamabad’s unnecessary delay in negotiating a political resolution of the confrontation with the Bugti chief resulted in Thursday’s bloodshed in Dera that could have been averted had the right channels been used to approach embittered Nawab Akbar Bugti. Threats like “if you don’t cooperate we will use force” are not going to work with the Baloch leaders.

The three military operations carried out in the past back-fired and are the real cause of the prevalent unrest in the province. Why not face the hard fact that there could be no peace in Baluchistan without the cooperation of the Baloch Sardars, who in fact, are respected by their tribesmen. This is a hard fact, which the rulers in past have ignored and the same blunder is being repeated by the hawks in Islamabad. Holding an olive branch in one hand and a gun in the other cannot restore peace in Baluchistan.

The Pakistan President, General Musharraf’s untimely warning to stop fighting or “they will not know what hit them” was certainly counter-productive. Such threats failed to cow down the Balochs in the past, and if repeated it might as well lead to more bloodshed. During his Tuesday’s meeting with the parliamentary committee, Nawab Akbar Bugti retorted that his tribesmen had the will and determination to defend themselves and fight for their “just rights”.

From the very beginning the parliamentary committee on Baluchistan was wrongly constituted by putting wrong men at the top who were ignorant of the socio-cultural traditions of the Baloch tribes.

Nawab Bugti branded the committee as a toothless entity, which neither had the mandate to discuss issues independently nor the power to take any decision on addressing the concerns voiced by the Baloch leaders and people.

Mr Zafarullah Jamali, the former prime minister, with his Baloch background would have been a better choice to head the committee and wouldn’t have been treated scornfully by Nawab Bugti. Why was he not considered to handle such a sensitive matter, only the Prime Minister, Mr Shujaat Hussain could answer? Realisation came when the committee under Mr Hussain and the two sub-committees under him failed to yield any fruitful results.

After the jumble, a late offer was made to Mr Jamali to join the committee, which was contemptuously rejected by him. In a curt rejoinder, he told the Mr Hussain that he would not accept any charity by Mr Jamali of the non-representative Baluchistan committee.

He rightly blasted the government over its handling of the Baluchistan issue and not including him in the committee that was to sort out the jinx in the province to which he belonged.

Mr Hussain did not have the answer to why the former prime minister was not made a member and what were behind the scene forces that made him inflict such an insult on a Baloch who could have played a very positive role to bring peace in the province.

Mr Jamali’s anger was not misplaced. “A matter of national emergency was haphazardly handled by the government,” retorted Mr Jamali. He also voiced his serious concern over the laxity and delay on the part of the government in diffusing the simmering Baluchistan situation.

He emphatically stated that the people of Baluchistan were all patriotic and sincere to national unity provided they were allowed to play more meaningful role in the national mainstream. Mr Jamali correctly pointed out that the committee was a hodgepodge and would fail to produce any positive results. So it was an exercise in futility. It was the self-evidence truth for which Mr Jamali didn’t need any eloquence.

Mr Hussain who failed to iron out the in-party turmoil in Sindh was not the man to take upon himself a very complicated issue of Baluchistan especially when none of his team members had the grit to face the Baloch leaders. The alienated populace is certainly rallying round the nationalists and take the Baloch Sardars spearheading “PONM” as their redeemers.

At the same time, the developmental projects launched in Gwadar without their participation are sufficient to substantiate the anti-Islamabad and anti-Punjabi stance of the PONM. Since the Baloch leaders were not taken into confidence, the Balochis certainly believe that Gwadar was in the clutches of land-grab mafia from the Punjab. That is why military action in the province at this juncture would completely lack public support. It might even given rise to an unfortunate situation that the military rulers faced in East Pakistan in 1971.

The BLA (Baluchistan Liberation Army) which was in hibernation for a long period of time, was revived by a single most critical macro-factor initiated by the military regime of General Musharraf.

By sidelining the mainstream Pakistan Peoples Party and Pakistan Muslim League-B and their natural allies like the BNP, ANP and others in favour of the MMA the General alienated the old non-bigot tribal leadership as well as the moderate urban middle classes who saw no place for themselves in the military MMA dispensation.

At the same time by undermining the cause of provincial autonomy at the altar of local and federal governments, the military government has threatened the very roots of constitutional consensus of 1973 reached between Bhutto and nationalists. In the delicate scenario of 1970s, they agreed to sign the 1973 consensus. Constitution on the explicit condition to except their demands for provincial autonomy. Bhutto conceded and NAP-JUI coalition governments were formed in Baluchistan and NWFP.

Later Bhutto refused to play with the provincial governments led by Mengal in Quetta and Mufti Mahmud in Peshawar. That was the beginning of disaster when Bhutto sacked both the governments and arrested Mengal and Mufti, both provincial governors.

The federal government obtained an order from the apex court banning the NAP and charged everyone with high treason to be tried by the Hyderabad tribunal. As a consequence, a nationalist insurgency erupted that sucked the army into the province, pitching the Baloch tribes against the national army.

The parliamentary committee has become dysfunctional before even submitting any prescription for the malady. No surprise package as was envisaged by the PML chief would bring peace to the turbulent province unless the provincial autonomy guaranteed in the 1973 is restored in toto. This is the only prescription that would keep the federation intact.


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