February 23, 2012

CARTE BLANCHE: Balochistan: waiting for closure —Mehmal Sarfraz

The government’s offer, on the face of it, is good. The problem is the government cannot save the Baloch leaders from the military. Let’s not forget what happened to the Baloch leader Nawab Nauroz Khan. An oath taken on the Quran was violated by our military in his case

“Maye sah inth Balochistan, maye jaan inth Balochistan,

Maye zind-e-hamok dard-o-darmaan inth Balochistan.

Percha man naban bandeeg, percha man naban koleeg,

k zahr-en-teer ani dhem paan inth Balochistan” — G R Mulla.

(Balochistan is my heart, my soul,

A cure for all conceivable pains of life.

Why should I not sacrifice,

Or hesitate to suffer indignities of confinement,

When my motherland is facing poisonous bullets.)

Balochistan: a land so beautiful and a people so brave. A land full of hope, a people inspired. But today the soil of Balochistan is soaked with the blood of its children, its mountains reverberate with the harrowing wails of its women, its air haunted by the distraught cries of the older men, its plains full of orphans. The culprit is none other than the Pakistani military. One shudders at the thought of the bloody massacre being carried out in Balochistan by the same military that is supposed to protect its citizens.No wonder the Baloch are asking for freedom. No wonder the Baloch leadership is discussing the Balochistan Liberation Charter. No wonder the veteran Baloch leaders have said they cannot control the outcome of this insurgency. No wonder the media has woken up from its slumber. No wonder a US Congressional hearing on Balochistan took place. No wonder a resolution has been introduced in the House of Representatives supporting Balochistan’s right to self-determination. No wonder the government has finally decided to convene an All-Parties Conference (APC) on Balochistan.

But there is still plenty left to wonder. Why are the military, ISI and the Frontier Corps (FC) still adamant on ruthlessly killing the Baloch? This is the fifth time an insurgency has broken out in the sparsely populated yet immensely important province — first when Balochistan was forcefully made to accede to Pakistan in 1948; the second an uprising in 1958-59 when martial law was imposed; later in 1962-63; then the historic 1973-77 Baloch struggle and the latest ongoing round of insurgency, whose embryonic beginnings were in 2002, and which escalated after Nawab Akbar Bugti’s death in 2006. Unfortunately, we in Pakistan are not taught any of this in our textbooks. Instead, we are fed lies. And once again, we — the citizens of Pakistan — are being lied to. Last year, the Pakistan Army chief General Kayani categorically denied that a military operation was taking place in Balochistan. He also denied that the army or its intelligence agencies were involved in the killings of the Baloch. If that is so, at whose behest is the FC — a paramilitary force — pursuing the ‘kill and dump’ policy in the province? Surely the army chief can rein in the FC if he so wishes.

The Baloch have been killed and maimed over the years without anyone so much as raising a voice in Pakistan. On February 20 this year, former ISI chief Lieutenant-General Hamid Gul acknowledged during a television talk show that Sardar Ataullah Mengal’s son, Asad, was martyred in an interrogation centre during Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s era. In actual fact Asad and his friend Ahmed Shah Kurd were ambushed in their car near Muhammad Ali Housing Society in Karachi. Gunshots were heard, their blood was splattered all over the car, but their bodies were never found. Some believe they were killed at the spot and their bodies taken away while others believe they were killed later in a detention centre by the military. Maybe we will never know what really happened to young Asad and his friend that day. Their families have suffered decades of torment just thinking about them. They have never had closure. They are not the only ones. The families of thousands of missing Baloch are still searching for their loved ones.

The resolution tabled in the US House of Representatives by Dana Rohrabacher says the Baloch people “have the right to self-determination and to their own sovereign country, and they should be afforded the opportunity to choose their own status”. A lot of Pakistanis went into an outrage mode at this. Instead of focusing on the plight of the Baloch and why they want freedom from Pakistan, our media and politicians made a big fuss over the issue of sovereignty and Balochistan being an ‘internal matter’. It was equally distressing to see the military’s bullying tactics through an ISPR press release dated February 16, 2012, against Ali Dayan Hasan, Pakistan Director at Human Rights Watch (HRW). The press release was critical of HRW’s statement released on January 30 on the Saleem Shahzad Judicial Commission Report but the ISPR’s ‘late reaction’ can only be attributed to Mr Hasan’s testimony to the US Congressional hearing on Balochistan. A smear campaign against Mr Hasan and HRW has been unleashed in the local media. How will threatening Mr Hasan or anybody else for that matter resolve the Balochistan issue?

Interior Minister Rehman Malik has offered to withdraw cases against Brahamdagh Bugti, Hyrbyair Marri and other Baloch leaders if they return to Pakistan. Mr Malik said he would personally welcome them back. But who is going to ensure the safety of Brahamdagh Bugti and Hyrbyair Marri once they are back? The government’s offer, on the face of it, is good. The problem is the government cannot save the Baloch leaders from the military. Let’s not forget what happened to the Baloch leader Nawab Nauroz Khan. An oath taken on the Quran was violated by our military in his case.

The Baloch have been taken for a ride for the past six decades. They will not fall for such tricks again. If the government is really serious, it should ensure the release of all missing persons immediately, as has been suggested by Mian Nawaz Sharif. The military operation in Balochistan must also come to an end. This is the least that we owe to the Baloch. Mere promises will not resolve anything.

The writer is Op-Ed Editor Daily Times. She can be reached at mehmal.s@gmail.com


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