January 25, 2012

Our Balochistan blindspot

By:Nazir Naji Wednesday, 18 Jan 2012 10:08 pm

We have eyes but fail to see

It doesn’t seem that in the power games between the parliament, judiciary, commanders and the media, the people busy making this move and that manoeuvre have noticed what is coming to pass in Balochistan. Kabul, Washington, the Emirates, Tehran and Delhi are paying close attention to what is happening in Balochistan but Islamabad has its head buried deep in the sand. The Pakistani government and political leadership has tried to understand the problems of the Baloch but it has amounted to naught.

The government did present the Aghaz-e-Haqooq package initially but its status is akin to a message that was rubbished by the recipient even without opening the envelope. From the opposition’s side, Nawaz Sharif toured the area and reached out with sincerity. But he could only gain access to veteran Ataullah Mengal who himself admits that ‘the youth don’t listen to (him) anymore.’

Sardar Mengal has the experience of dealing with Pakistan. If any leader could become a bridge between Islamabad and Balochistan, it would be him. Twenty-five years ago, Nawab Akbar Bugti, Sardar Khair Bux Marri, Mir Ghaus Bux Bizenjo and Sardar Mengal were all there and desirous of solving matters with Islamabad. I remember what all of them used to say. Mir Ghaus Bux said that we’ve lived 50 years with Pakistan and Islamabad has come to know a lot about us and we’ve come to know a lot about Islamabad. He also said that it should not be difficult to talk matter out and it must be understood by those who call us ‘Indian agents’ that our politics has organically developed here in Pakistan and we know nothing of Delhi. He said that being approving from a distance was a different thing than sitting together and fleshing things out. Why would the Baloch, he added, abandon the known (Pakistani rulers) for the unknown (Indian ones) as they had no idea what Delhi would want and do if they did indeed gain independence and tried to contact it. He said that there is no substantive difference between Delhi and Islamabad in how they mete out treatment to ethnic minorities. So why would the Baloch prefer Delhi over Islamabad. He said that Islamabad should trust us when we say that we want to work with them. He warned that they should not set up obstacles in their (these leaders’) path as what progress could be achieved during their lives would not be possible after.

Nawab Akbar Bugti used to say openly in gatherings in Lahore that ‘(they) had no other gripe with Islamabad. They could just keep the pounds as long as they give the Baloch their deserved pennies and put an end to all the oppression. Sardar Khair Bux Marri also talked of justice and regional parity but he was the first amongst the four aforementioned leaders who made up his mind that attaching hopes with Islamabad was an exercise in futility. The most enthusiastic about establishing contacts with Islamabad was Mir Bizenjo and this earned him the epithet of ‘the father of negotiations’ sarcastically from Sardar Marri.

Sardar Mengal was the one who was the keenest on living with Pakistan. It was his magnanimity that he did not hate Pakistan despite the martyrdom of his young son Asad Mengal and allowed his son Akhtar Mengal to become CM at a time when the Baloch leadership was not ready to be part of the government given the federation’s conditions. If the process of reaching out had started during Akhtar Mengal’s tenure, we would have been reaping its fruit by now. It is unfortunate that we arrested Mengal ignominiously and put him through hell and he was the one in whose tenure Pakistan was able to clandestinely conduct nuclear tests.

Now the situation is such that there is no Baloch leader left who has both the experience of dealing with Islamabad and also has the respect of the young and active nationalists. Mir Bizenjo is no more. Nawab Bugti was martyred. Sardar Marri has disassociated himself from politics and Sardar Mengal himself admits that the young nationalist aren’t ready to listen to him.

It won’t be wrong to say that those Islamabad picks to sit in the Balochistan assembly have no association with the people’s sentiments. Neither do their interests lie in Balochistan. Whatever money and resources they get from Islamabad, they divvy among themselves. Even the resources that the military tries to get to the Baloch public through them do not reach its intended recipients. The reality is that the supposedly ‘elected’ representation of Balochistan, comprising of those that Islamabad ‘trusts’; is the one that is to blame for keeping this distance.

So should we abandon Balochistan as a ‘lost cause’ and wipe our hands clean of it? Can any region and its people be forced into stagnation? If those that oversee the workings of the state are not working for change, will the process of change be interred as well? This cannot and does not happen. The unrest and unrelenting bloodshed is cause for concern in the entire region. A few days ago, a representative of the US state department revealed online that they were getting constant queries from Balochistan and its adjoining areas about what the US was doing to deal with the atrocities being committed in Balochistan. The representative officially stated that the US is deeply worried about the situation and are talking to Pakistan authorities about it.

In present day Balochistan, unlike Balochistan of yesteryear, there is no leader who can or wants to talk to Islamabad. The youth that has taken up arms is moving farther away from Islamabad with each passing day. The attacks on the security forces in Balochistan show that they now have greater expertise and better training. Now they target people after proper political planning. Energy sources are being picked out one by one. Even Al-Jazeera covered the activities of these insurgents the other day which showed that the areas where the security forces are not in control are becoming hotbeds of resistance. Nobody has the guts to bring out the flag of Pakistan in rallies there as flags of Balochistan fly high. The commander of an insurgent group said clearly on TV that they would increase the scope of their armed activities to Lahore and Islamabad.

Those grappling for power in Islamabad are not looking to Balochistan. Will they do so when the deafening sound of blast reaches their own ears? Will Islamabad open its eyes and reach out when there will be no one left to talk with in Balochistan?

The writer is one of Pakistan’s most widely read columnists.

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