By Rahimullah Yusufzai
The most significant backlash of the killing of Nawab Mohammad Akbar Shahbaz Khan Bugti at the hands of the Pakistan Army in August has been the revival of the traditional Baloch national jirga. The jirga’s success or failure could in the long run impact the future of the Baloch people and define afresh their relationship with the federal state of Pakistan.
The killing of Nawab Bugti, 79 years old and ailing, has had other after-effects as well. There were protests all over the country and the demonstrations turned violent in Balochistan causing an estimated loss of Rs500 million. Almost every political party condemned the incident and even ruling PML-Q politicians expressed concern over the consequences of the tragic death of the Baloch tribal chief. For the first time a considerable number of Punjabi political activists and members of the intelligentsia criticised the Punjab-dominated military and federal government for eliminating a politician from a small province. Legislators from one Baloch-centred party, BNP (Mengal), resigned their seats from the National Assembly and Balochistan Assembly in a bid to expose the irrelevance and powerlessness of elected forums in presence of the all-powerful and uniformed President General Pervez Musharraf.
However, the holding of the grand jirga of Baloch tribal chiefs at its traditional venue in Kalat on September 21 could turn out to be the most important after-effect of the killing of Nawab Bugti. The last such event was held 130 years ago in 1878. The host was Mir Khudaidad Khan, the then Khan of Kalat who as the Beglar Begi, sardar of the sardars in Balochi language, exercised real power and enjoyed lot of respect. The present Khan of Kalat, Mir Suleman Dawood, has no power and is little known outside Balochistan. But he has made himself relevant to the Baloch tribal politics by hosting the jirga in his native Kalat and managing to bring together more than 70 Baloch sardars not only from Balochistan but also Sindh and Punjab. The NWFP wasn’t represented although some Baloch also reside in its southern Dera Ismail Khan district.
Then there is the Baloch diaspora doing rather well in the Gulf states, particularly in Oman, and also making its presence felt in western countries. The organisers of the grand jirga would obviously be keen to involve the scattered Baloch in its scheme of things by offering them representation in the three forums that were created in the subsequent jirga held on October 2 in Quetta. One is the authoritative supreme council headed by Khan of Kalat and including chief of Sarawan, Nawab Aslam Raisani, chief of Jhalawan, Sardar Sanaullah Zehri, chief of Bairak, Nawab Shahwani, and former Balochistan chief ministers Nawab Zulfiqar Ali Magsi and Sardar Akhtar Mengal.
The second forum is the jirga’s national council in which every Baloch sardar, big and small, would be a member. The third is the grand national council, which would meet once a year in the royal court of Khan of Kalat and give representation to all Baloch sardars and politicians, intellectuals, lawyers, labourers and students. By giving representation to the commoners among the Baloch, the tribal chiefs have cleverly tried to deflect criticism that their jirga is a club of privileged men with vested interest.
Those attending the jirga espoused different political and ideological causes and some of them couldn’t even communicate in Balochi or Brahvi, the original mother tongues of the Baloch people. But the pride of being Baloch prompted them to gather in Kalat to discuss the grave challenges facing the Baloch people and make decisions to protect their interest in the fast-changing world. It is not always possible to keep the spirit of such forums alive and sustain their relevance, more so if the participants have been espousing different political goals and still retain membership of often rival parties.
However, the fear among the Baloch that their status as the majority ethnic group in their Balochistan homeland was under threat could still ensure the longevity of the Baloch national jirga. Disaffection among the Baloch was already on the rise due to their belief that Balochistan’s bountiful natural resources were being exploited by the federal government to their disadvantage. The killing of Nawab Bugti and the humiliating manner in which he was hastily buried under government supervision in absence of his kith and kin accentuated the feelings of disaffection and created an opportunity for the Baloch sardars to revive their almost obsolete traditional jirga.
The most important decision of the jirga was to seek legal advice for approaching the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to protest the violation of the “autonomy pact” under which the accession of the independent state of Kalat with Pakistan was finalised on March 31, 1948. The jirga’s declaration was to move the court as an oppressed nation against the state and rulers of Pakistan for not honouring the pact, which promised autonomy to Kalat in all matters except defence, foreign affairs and communication. Copies of the pact distributed among jirga members showed that it was signed by Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah and the then Khan of Kalat, Mir Ahmad Yar Khan. The Baloch nationalist politicians and intellectuals have for long interpreted this pact as an agreement between two sovereign status on the basis of equality but it is the first time that a grand gathering of Baloch sardars and likeminded groups and individuals have publicly endorsed it and opted to take up the matter at the international level.
It is not the first time that disaffected Pakistanis have threatened to take their grievances to world forums. The MQM leadership made similar threats after military operations targetting the Urdu-speaking Muhajirs in Sindh. In the past, representatives of other smaller nationalities residing in Pakistan too have threatened to do the same. The issue of the Bengalis was internationalised following the military operation in East Pakistan in 1971 and eventually led to Indian military intervention and creation of Bangladesh. Balochistan has suffered five military operations and the last one is still on. It will, therefore, be hardly surprising if the issue of denial of Baloch rights finds mention at the world stage. The matter will no doubt be internationalised if the Baloch national jirga manages to seek the attention of international forums such as the ICJ and the UN in future.
Old pacts such as the one concerning Kalat would have difficulty finding relevance in the present state of geo-politics. Pakistan has sufficient international standing and support of world powers to pre-empt an intrusion by the ICJ and UN in its affairs. But the mention of such matters at the world stage could still be embarrassing. It would show Pakistan, already known as a politically unstable state beset with problems of law and order, in bad light. The ideal way to counter the impression that Pakistan is an oppressive state unable to ensure justice to its ethnic minorities is to politically engage the disaffected sections of the population and stop using force to subdue them. If that were to happen, the Baloch would not think of looking beyond the border of Pakistan to seek their rights.
The writer is an executive editor of The News International based in Peshawar. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Venue of grand Jirga still undecided
ISLAMABAD: The venue of a grand Jirga, or assemblage, of Balochistan tribal chieftains, which President Pervez Musharraf would preside over next month, is yet to be decided.
It would be either Islamabad or Quetta, an official told this correspondent. However, he said, its holding in the federal capital would not send out a good message. He said the president was being counselled to chair the Jirga in Quetta.
Musharraf recently talked about holding a representative gathering of tribal chiefs of Balochistan to listen to them on what official measures are needed to radically improve the situation in their province and end discontentment.
Invitations are unlikely to be issued to chieftains confronting or criticising the government. All guests would be supporters of the government.
However, the official effort is to wean away maximum number of tribal heads, who had attended two Jirgas, hosted by the Khan of Qalat, Mir Dawood, in the wake of killing of Nawab Akbar Bugti in a military operation in Kohlu mountains on August 31.
Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz’s just concluded short visit to Quetta where he announced a hefty development package for Balochistan was a precursor of Musharraf’s subsequent effort.
One of the major objectives of holding the Jirga is to blunt effects of the declaration, made by the gathering organised by Mir Dawood. Most alarming was its announcement to approach the International Court of Justice to review Baloch Sardars’ decision to be part of Pakistan when the country was created. As Bugti’s killing caused a widespread sympathy wave for him, different Baloch nationalist parties sprang into action to cash in on his death. It also whipped up a sense of alienation that was exploited by a set of nationalists.
Military sacrosanct, says Durrani
Says criticism of armed forces not allowed; nationalists to be brought into mainstream
KARACHI: Minister for Information and Broadcasting Muhammad Ali Durrani on Sunday said the government would not allow any criticism on the armed forces of Pakistan, as the institutions responsible for the country’s defence are beyond any criticism.
In a threatening tone, the minister made it clear that the government would not tolerate any criticism on the solidarity of Pakistan and the institutions responsible for defending the country’s geographical boundaries. “According to the Constitution any criticism on the solidarity of Pakistan and its armed forces is not allowed,” he said while speaking at an Iftar-dinner hosted by him here.
Durrani, however, welcomed all criticism of the government and said positive criticism by the media provides an ample opportunity to the government to correct itself. When asked as to how criticism on the Army is avoided especially when it was virtually governing the country, he reluctantly said the government welcomed all positive criticism.
Replying to a question about highlighting corruption in organisations being controlled by the armed forces, he said: “No individual is beyond accountability.” Durrani said the ruling Pakistan Muslim League (PML) would expand its coalition base by taking nationalists and regional parties into its fold so that the smaller groups could also play their due role in mainstream politics in the next general election.
“The government wants to bring the nationalist and regional parties of Sindh, Balochistan and the NWFP into the mainstream, and the PML wants to play its due role by taking them into its fold for the 2007 general election,” Durrani added.
He said the government firmly believes that stronger provinces guarantee stronger Pakistan. He said the sense of deprivation among the smaller federating units could be removed only through dialogue, and the government is committed to develop a national consensus to make them progress and prosper.
Durrani told newsmen that after Ramazan, all nationalists and regional groups would be contacted through a strong process and an effective strategy would be devised to develop a national consensus.
The minister said a parliamentary committee headed by Senator Waseem Sajjad has representation of all regional and nationalist parties. He emphasised the need for full participation to prepare a report of recommendations about concurrent list and provincial autonomy.
He said till the 2007 general election the ruling PML would play a major role in bringing maximum number of nationalists and regional groups in the mainstream politics. “For broadening its political base as well as existing coalition, the PML would take all regional groups into its fold and form a coalition for the next election,” he added.
He assured that the next general election would be free, fair and impartial and the government would invite international observers to monitor the polls. He hoped that the people would vote for continuity of the policies of President Pervez Musharraf and the present government.
Durrani said the present coalition is very much intact and there is no issue between any of the coalition partner. “This coalition will work till the next election and after the polls, the same coalition will continue serving people of this country and we will expand it further,” he added.
He evaded direct reply to a question regarding the recent contacts between President Musharraf’s close aide Tariq Aziz and PPP chairperson Benazir Bhutto. “We have contacts with everyone. Makhdoom Amin Fahim is the only source of our contacts with the PPP and no one else,” he said.
He expressed doubts over the future of the two major opposition alliances — the Alliance for Restoration of Democracy (ARD) and the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) — due to strained relations between the PML-Nawaz and the ARD and the Jamaat-e-Islami with the MMA.
Regarding Indo-Pak relations, the minister said peace between the two nuclear-armed neighbours is the only wish of the masses, and the Indian leadership should realise that their own people want peace.
Responding to a question, Durrani said the government would soon make public the report of the judicial inquiry into the killing of tribal journalist Hayatullah Khan. “We received the report about a month earlier and we took several actions, which it recommended,” he added.
Pak-Americans for SC suo moto on Balochistan
WASHINGTON: Fifteen Pakistani-American organisations have issued a written appeal urging the Chief Justice of Pakistan to conduct a suo moto inquiry into the recent military action in Balochistan, which resulted in the deaths of Akbar Bugti and several of his colleagues, claiming it had caused further alienation between the peoples of Pakistan and between the provinces and the centre.
The letter sent to Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry states: “For those who believe in justice and equality for all, the fundamental issue at hand is the grievances of the people of Balochistan, primarily about military domination, Sardari system, unfair distribution of resources, and lack of inclusion in national decision-making ... The present crisis of confidence between the people of Balochistan and the federal government could further weaken and destabilise Pakistan’s fragile federation.”
The 15 community organisations stress that - in view of the national importance of the issue, its long-term ramifications, and a recent ruling by the Court that the Council of Common Interest “is a cornerstone of the federal structure providing protection of the rights of the federating unit” – the Court should instruct Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz to immediately convene a special meeting of the Council of Common Interest as well as that of the Inter-Provincial Coordination Council to devise a new, just and fair framework for redistribution of powers among the federal and provincial governments and for a more equitable distribution of national resources among the provinces. khalid hasan
Kachkol rejects Aziz’s financial support package for Balochistan
QUETTA: Kachkol Ali Baloch, the opposition leader in the Balochistan Assembly, has rejected a recently announced financial support package by Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, claiming that the prime minister had provided Balochistan no financial relief as similar announcements had already been made in the budget.
Addressing a press conference at the MPAs’ Hostel on Sunday, he said that Aziz had made “old announcements”, and there was nothing new in the package. “The prime minister used words and figures to fool people over Balochistan affairs,” he said.
Kachkol said it was impossible to barter away “our economic, political and national rights for small allocations of funds that were doubtful as well.
“The Baloch will not ignore Nawab Akbar Bugti’s sacrifice for people’s rights,” he said, adding that the tribal chieftain’s death had made the “national struggle” for rights more vigorous.
The opposition leader said that the government had “not given Balochistan’s share of revenue from natural gas, Saindak and the National Finance Commission Award”.
“The outstanding gas dues are more than $112 billion,” he said, adding that in the absence of gas, Pakistan would have had to import oil worth $2 billion. He said the Pakistani government had “saved $112 billion” in this manner over the last 56 years, and this sum should be paid to Balochistan because “it (gas) was used as an import substitute”.
Referring to the purchase of 200 bulldozers for Balochistan, Kachkol said that Japan’s support for the Provincial Agriculture Engineering Department had been available for several years, but the government had not used Japan’s credit facility to expedite development in Balochistan.
He criticised the government for giving the province “only two percent” of the profits from the Siandak copper and gold project, allowing the Chinese to take away “a bulk of the revenue” and giving all taxes to the federal government. He demanded the federal government hand over all taxes and revenue collected from the Siandak project to the Balochistan government.
Kachkol demanded that the 1973 Constitution be reframed because, he said, it had been “extensively mutilated by military dictators”. He suggested that the federal government keep defence, foreign affairs and currency subjects and transfer all others to federating units to make them autonomous in the true sense.
Quoting a prominent writer, he claimed that all powers — political, administrative and financial – should be retained by the federal government, and the army and the rest were followers or subjects only.
He demanded that federating units be given ”adequate taxation authority” to manage affairs of provinces independently, otherwise the central government was “blackmailing provinces”. The central government was now giving “charity” to the province, he added.
Kachkol claimed there was no representation of the Baloch in the central government, and Balochistan was being “criminally ignored in all spheres of life”.
“There is no Baloch representation in the Pakistan Army, Air Force, Navy, Frontier Corps or coast guards, although 81 percent of the Pakistani coast is Baloch,” he said.
He said that the Baloch would “not benefit” from the development of Gwadar Port, and “aliens would enjoy the fruits of development there”.
He alleged that funds allocated to Marri and Bugti tribal territories would be used to “facilitate oil and gas companies” for the exploration of natural resources in the region.
He appealed to the people of Balochistan not to celebrate Eid and observe it as a protest day against Nawab Bugti’s killing. The opposition leader said that Bugti’s killing had created “tremendous awareness among the Baloch”.