Mengal’s initiative


Time to heed and heal

The fact that Akhtar Mengal actually travelled to Islamabad to present his case before the Supreme Court (SC) establishes that there are still people who are willing to invest in Pakistan and give a chance to the federation to survive. Much would depend on how the government responds to his depositions and his appraisal of sustaining the state in its present shape.
There is nothing new about his demands. They are all legitimate. There is not a rational soul in the country who would disagree either with the content of his demands or the tenor in which these have been presented. There was an enormous quantum of positivity in his interactions at the apex court, with the media and the political leaders. This all showed that he meant well and was making an earnest effort for things to move forward.
There was also firmness about what he stated. Without painting a doomsday scenario, he reiterated that considerable time had been lost and there was little patience left to invest in bringing the estranged people of the province back to the mainstream. Quite rightly, he said that the people of Balochistan were not looking for aid packages and dole-outs. They demanded their inalienable rights which had been wrongfully taken away from them. They demanded their political rights. They demanded priority right on the natural wealth of their province as enshrined in the constitution.
The six points that he envisages to be recognised for initiating a process of reconciliation include no great surprises. He demanded that the ongoing army operation should be stopped, all missing persons should be traced and recovered, those responsible for the defaced dead bodies found in the province should be held accountable, the killers of Akbar Bugti and other Baloch leaders should be arrested, those rendered homeless as a consequence of the military operation should be rehabilitated and all political parties should be granted total freedom to operate in the province.
Coinciding with his visit to Islamabad, voices were raised for the scores of settlers who have been mercilessly murdered in the province. It is being said that this should also have been mentioned in the list of demands put forward by Mengal. Reprehensible that every such killing is, one should try to understand the dominant sentiment underlying these demands at this point in time. These are the demands of people who believe that they have been wronged for all the sixty-five years that Pakistan has been there as an independent country and who have been the victims of military operations by dictators and ‘democrats’ alike. They believe that they have been deprived of their democratic and constitutional rights. The feeling that has accentuated over decades is that Balochistan has been the victim of a decadent mindset that is unbending and refuses to see the other side of the story. While the stratagem has not worked in the past, the chances of it keeping the country together in the future are beyond reckoning.
There are also questions raised about his legitimacy to intercede on behalf of Balochistan from two extremes. There are those who believe that it is already too late for any such effort to be initiated while others contend that he may not be the best choice to fight Balochistan’s case and express doubts about the circumstances under which he arrived in Pakistan, presented his case in the SC and hastened to his base. Both perceptions may have their relevance, but in an environment when the prospect for a credible and sustainable solution to the Balochistan quagmire appears to be fast diminishing, what harm would it bring if Mengal’s intervention was taken seriously and given the encouragement that it deserves? Instead of seeing the bluntness of the demands, one should try to focus on the seemingly good intentions behind the move that is meant to preserve the federation on the basis of a more equitable and non-discriminatory distribution and disposition. As a matter of fact, this may be the only way left to move forward.
The initiative should also be viewed in the context of the continually deteriorating conditions in the restive province. The killings are on the increase and the writ of the provincial government is nowhere in sight. It is said that the whole cabinet which comprises all the members of the provincial legislature is comfortably ensconced in the Balochistan House in Islamabad because they dare not be in Quetta or their respective constituencies. Imagine a government that is being run from a thousand kilometres away!
The initial government reaction denying the ongoing military operation or the role of the security agencies in the disappearance of civilians is not a good omen. Instead of coming forth with a knee-jerk reaction, the government should have pondered the demands more diligently and engaged Mengal in a conciliatory interaction as a precursor to initiating a more comprehensive dialogue with a broader spectrum of stakeholders. If the opportunity is lost – as it would be if the denial-mode remains paramount – the shadows of doubt hovering over the government’s intentions would only elongate, thus eliminating the prospect of a peaceful solution to the simmering problem. It is the intransigence of the same mindset that has cost Pakistan dearly in the past as it is bound to in the future. For the country to escape its tentacles, there is a need to address the dynamics of this mindset and also remember the damage it has inflicted on the state in the past.
The geo-political situation in the region would also not help the sustenance of an unbending approach towards the Balochistan crisis. Instead, it demands a more meaningful and result-oriented initiative that would bring the crisis to a peaceful end. But there is no moving in that direction if the mindset that is the principal architect of the crisis is not addressed urgently. In the event it is not, we’ll do so to our own peril.

The writer is a political analyst. He can be reached at [email protected]