June 06, 2008

Don’t turn Balochistan into Bangladesh


View from Press Gallery

Saturday, June 07, 2008
By Mohammad Malick

ISLAMABAD: Senator Sanaullah Baloch of BNP (Mengal) saddened other members and the galleries by announcing his resignation within a day of his return to the house after a forced 18-month exile. He had been on the run from authorities on charges of treason, sedition etc registered by the previous Musharraf-led regime. If barely 36 hours back he had touched hearts with his passionate pleading for the Balochistan cause, his parting serenade today was nothing less than a stinging slap on the face of the civil-military establishment whose convoluted and self-serving approaches continues to rip apart the very fabric of our federation.

Of course the heavens shall not fall with the resignation of a senator from Balochistan, but then heavens never fall anyway. It's just that the magic starts fading slowly until one day it's a heaven no more. Countries are no different. They all start as heavenly havens, but some ultimately lose the magic. We haven't reached that stage fortunately, but the fading of the magic has definitely started.

That is why the symbolism of Senator Sanaullah's resignation must not be lost on us. For the hawks sitting in Rawalpindi, it may appear a welcome disappearance from the scene of another rebel rousing Baloch. Probably even viewed in the same vein as the hundreds of other Baloch lads who have been missing from the scene for months now. But to any caring Pakistani, Sanaullah's resignation should be the alarming removal of another prudent Baloch leader from the political mainstream, a forced abdication of the democratic parliamentary process wherein lies the real panacea for all our national ills.

Maybe Senator Sanaullah or his party did even take help from some foreign powers including India during their tough times, we really don't know. But if the establishment can certify the patriotic credentials of Altaf Hussain, who allegedly publicly described the creation of Pakistan as the "biggest blunder in the history of mankind" in a ceremony in India (of all the places), then why a different yardstick for Sanaullah and his lot who at least insist that they want to stay a part of Pakistan, who at least proclaim that breaking Pakistan would be the greatest blunder and not its making.

As Senator Sanaullah also emphasized in his farewell speech, federations can only survive and thrive if all the federating units and its people are treated fairly, equitably, and most important with dignity. Pakistan is only as strong as its provinces, and a province is only as strong as its populace. Remove one brick and the whole structure starts crumbling. But try explaining this to that particular mindset that only believes in first creating a conflict and then to resolve it through more conflicts. The result ñ an escalating orgy of violence.

That this negative approach was not the figment of Sana's imagination was also vouched for by Senator Mushahid Hussain, who had been a key member of the famous Shujaat Committee on Balochistan. Senator Mushahid told the house that the committee's conciliation-driven resolution approach was initially favoured by the then General-President Musharraf but then "somehow" the hawkish view prevailed and the entire exercise was brought to a naught.

Trust Prof. Khursheed, however, to mince no words as he too was a member of the same committee. He angrily told the house that the recommendations and the efforts of the committee were thwarted by none other than the duo of President Musharraf and then PM Shaukat Aziz. Talk about long-term damage to Pakistan and one is never surprised to find the contributions made by the shameless Citi banker.

But the real issue is not about who did this and who didn't do that. The issue is that Balochistan is our largest province, with the smallest population. It is the energy house that powers the nation and yet its people are the most disempowered. To borrow Senator Sanaullah's words, "it would be a fatal mistake to view it as merely the energy backbone of the country, it's also its political backbone". A sense of urgency must prevail in dealing with the Balochistan issue. It's time we stopped talking about Balochistan and started talking to its people. To all and sundry without making distinctions on the basis of our own likes and dislikes. It is time to stop being a hostage to preconceived biases and notions. The only thing that should be missing from Balochistan is the understandable sense of deprivation, and not its young angry men driven into a militant reaction against persistent discrimination. It's time to bring the people down from the warring hills.

What Sanaullah desired as starting points for addressing Balochistan's grievances are nothing compared to what largess has been shown to many other political groups, including the mafias masquerading as political outfits. He wanted a long overdue apology by the rest for the injustices meted out to Balochistan for the last 60 years. Who would argue with that?

He implored for the cancellation of all land allotments made between 2002-2005 to members of the civil-military establishment; paying of a small compensation of say Rs 50,000 to internally displaced families of the military operation; diverting funds spent on establishing and conducting military activities towards the socio-economic development of the province; treating Balochistan on criterion other than merely on its population numbers; preventing the demographic reengineering of the province etc., and similar other demands with none being ridiculous or impossible to contemplate.

Senator Sanaullah's resignation is a poignant reminder that an increasing number of politically secularist elements are being forced into donning the robes of hard-line reactionaries not because they don't want to talk, but ironically because Rawalpindi is not willing to listen. It's time for the political leadership in Islamabad to play its role in setting right the wrongs done by Rawalpindi. After all it's not a matter of politics but of the future of the country. As the other Baloch Senator Kamran Mustafa warned, "the other day there was a delegation from Bangladesh sitting in the visitor's gallery of the house, and if we don't resolve matters, the next could be from Balochistan". We now have the option of charging Senator Murtaza for sedition or to put our federation in order. The choice should not be a difficult one for Islamabad.

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