April 20, 2013

Ballot or the bullet?


From the Newspaper | Tariq Khosa | 15th April, 2013 9
 

THE Baloch 'sub-nation' finds itself caught between two crucial options at present: intensify the insurgency and disrupt the coming elections through the bullet or cast votes and have their voice heard through the ballot.

According to Dr Allah Nazar who commands the separatist Baloch Liberation Front (BLF), the elections would be "nothing but a tool deployed by the central government in Islamabad to suppress the voices and demands of the Baloch people".

Akhtar Mengal, the leader of the Balochistan National Party-Mengal (BNP-M), resisting pressure from radical nationalists, has chosen the path of a democratic struggle. He, along with other prominent Baloch politicians like Mir Hasil Bizenjo, Dr Abdul Malik, and Talal Bugti, has decided to contest the coming elections. Democracy is their preferred option in place of insurgency.

But for Nazar, "If Akhtar Mengal takes part in this sham of an election, he will have compromised with the very same security establishment that has been responsible for the deaths of hundreds if not thousands of Baloch". Akhtar Mengal, sensitive to Baloch resentment, tried to address their concerns in an open letter to the Supreme Court before his arrival last month to participate in the elections with strong reservations.

Mengal counted "60 mutilated bodies, 70 targeted killings and 100 missing persons" since his court appearance in September 2012. "The heirs of missing persons are suffering an agony which only they can relate to, and are losing hope in the justice system," read the letter. He had called his four-day tour in September a "last stand" and added that "elections will become selections" if they are held in "the war-zone that has become Balochistan".

It is keeping this inner struggle of the Baloch in mind that the state and society should try and understand the mindset and trials that are pulling the nationalists in two opposite directions — a lawful struggle through constitutional means or a separatist and violence-driven campaign against the federation.

Allah Nazar is the prominent face of the Baloch insurgency. Apart from the BLF, three other key Baloch militant organisations that advocate the secession of Balochistan include the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA), the Baloch Republican Army (BRA) and the Baloch Liberation United Front. Analysts believe that Nazar has successfully spread the insurgency beyond the traditional strongholds of the rebels to the non-tribal western parts of the province, where insurgent attacks on security forces have arisen.

Believed to be the most influential figure among the radical Baloch youth, Nazar represents a tragic case study of an educated young man abandoning a professional career for an armed uprising from the mountains of western Balochistan. He belongs to a middle-class family from Mashkay, a town in Awaran district.

Born in 1968, he chose to become a doctor by initially getting admitted in Ata Shad University of Turbat in 1986. As a result of his hard work and determination, he not only secured a medical seat in Bolan Medical College Quetta but was also awarded a gold medal in gynaecology in 1999.

Like most Baloch activists, he was actively associated with the Baloch Students Organisation (BSO), the student wing of the Balochistan National Movement (BNM) which is now called the National Party. After parting ways with the BNM in 2002, Nazar founded the Azad faction of the BSO, which is pro-independence and supportive of the armed resistance.

In March 2005, he was picked up by unknown gunmen from a flat in Karachi and remained missing for around a year. He resurfaced in August 2006, and was jailed in Quetta for several months. After his release on bail, he went into hiding again and this time he took refuge in the mountains near Turbat to lead the insurgency against the state.

Security officials estimate that overall there are about 1,000 militants of which the core are around 250. The BLF has 300-400 fighters. However, in his interview with a Quetta-based journalist, Nazar claimed that there are more than 6,000 fighters in their ranks and the number is growing.

The Nazar-led armed insurgency may not be very large but it has given rise to a new phenomenon: the educated, non-tribal insurgent from a middle-class background. This new insurgent profile is quite unlike the customary insurgent base that usually has consisted of uneducated tribal fighters and, indeed, he is the first non-tribal head of a militant group in Balochistan.

The main challenge in the forthcoming elections would be a joint strategy of all major militant organisations to sabotage the democratic process in an extremely fragile caretaker governance framework. The intentions are clear as on March 12, the Hyarbyar Marri-led BLA targeted and killed Mohammad Ziaullah Qasmi, the district election commissioner in Quetta. "We will not let Pakistan hold elections in Balochistan," said the BLA's spokesperson. The Brahmdagh Bugti-led BRA is likely to soon close ranks with the other separatist factions.

Against this grim scenario and internal struggle between radical nationalists promoting insurgency and the Baloch political parties treading the democratic path, the recent gestures of the Election Commission of Pakistan that has promised to address the concerns of the parties in providing a level playing field, and the visit of the army chief to Quetta and his urging all political parties in the province to participate in the coming elections, are certainly positive and will strengthen the cause of democracy.

This is a defining and critical moment in our history and all the stakeholders of state security must back up and support the Baloch who are grudgingly but knowingly becoming part of a democratic process to seek redress of the grievances that had forced their activists to choose militancy over democracy. It is time to heal their wounds and reach out to them with affection. The Baloch can break but won't bend. Let this strength in their character be the force harnessed carefully for a strong and prosperous Pakistan.

The writer is former IG Police Balochistan.

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