As always, too little too late
Rehman Malik has announced the withdrawal of cases against the Baloch militant leaders driven to the mountains or forced into exile by what they call the brutality of the security forces. Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani wants to convene an All Parties Conference on Balochistan.
Had these cases been withdrawn four years back and a genuine reconciliation process initiated, this could have led to talks and arrested the situation from reaching a point of no return.
There was enough goodwill in Balochistan for the PPP-led government when it took over in 2008. There were also hopes that parliament would act forcefully and the courts would exert their authority to end the atrocities initiated by the Musharraf regime.
The PPP government simply failed to pursue the peace process meaningfully. Instead, it willingly agreed to follow the policy being pursued under Musharraf. This meant continuing the military-cum-FC operations in Balochistan that displaced thousands of people, allowing forced disappearances and the torture, killing and dumping of the disfigured corpses on roadside.
In June 2008, Senator Sanauallah Baloch who had returned from exile after the restoration of democracy resigned from the House after a speech that moved the entire Senate. Soon after Baloch leaders rejected the move by the government for an All Parties Conference. They instead demanded direct talks on issues highlighted by leaders like Akhtar Mengal that included end to operations in the province, tracing persons forcibly taken away and the ownership of Balochistabn’s resources by the Balochis.
Month after month, there were peaceful protests all over Balochistan to press for their demands. There were calls by nationalist parties for shutter down closures, hunger strikes, and hoisting of black flags. Baloch representatives in parliament underlined the dangers if no measures were taken to improve the situation. Year after year, the government continued to look the other way.
Raisani complained of being powerless and accused FC of running a parallel government that was harming the process of reconciliation. Gilani, however, failed to take any notice as the federal government had decided to follow the policy formulated under Musharraf. It was willing, as before, to bribe the tribal leaders in the provincial assembly and offer crumbs to the population. It was not willing to concede what Baloch considered their rights.
The Baloch are a proud people, more so than many other ethnic groups in Pakistan. The Balcohistan Package conceived without consulting the actual stakeholders and enforced as a favour was considered an insult added to injury and duly rejected by the Baloch.
Killing of high profile figures has continued in Balochistan over the last four years without interruption. In April 2009, three well known leaders of the nationalist movement were picked up from the office of their lawyer, handcuffed, blindfolded and hustled into a waiting pickup truck in full public view. Their bodies, riddled with bullets and badly decomposed in the scorching heat, were found in a date palm grove five days later. Their lawyer Mir Kachkol Ali commented, “They (who abducted the three) were persons of the agencies…Their tactics are not only to torture and detain, but to eliminate.”
In July 2010, former BNP Senator Habib Jalib Baloch was gunned down in broad daylight. The wave of roadside killings and executions in illegal custody has claimed the lives of hundreds with none in the echelons of power doing anything to stop it. When Brahmdagh Bugti’s sister and niece were dragged out of their car and brutally murdered in January this year, attempts were made to hush up the matter.
Much water has flown under the bridges over the past four years. Pakistani flags have been burnt in the province and attempts made to stop the singing of the national anthem. As national media failed to report on the operations by security agencies, an appeal was launched by the militants to boycott newspapers published from Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad. Cable operators in Baloch-dominated districts have been asked to shut down the transmission of all Pakistani news channels.
The inaction on the part of the government has isolated the Baloch nationalists still opting for mainstream politics. The least that they want now as CBMs include punishing the killers of Nawab Akbar Bugti, end of custodial torture and executions, tracing out the forcibly disappeared persons and declaration of general amnesty. After that talks can begin with the militants on the issues vital to the province, topmost being the recognition of the Baloch’s right on the resources of the province.
This the government is not likely to do. In return for clinging to power, the PPP government continues to yield its turf to the security establishment which enjoys more power now than it did under Musharraf.
When it was no more than a headache, the government was reluctant to offer an aspirin to the Baloch. Now that it has turned into a complicated malady Rehman Malik and Gilani are offering two aspirins and would like the Baloch to express their gratitude for the favour. Who will talk to such people suffering from total disconnect with ground realities?
The writer is a former academic and a political analyst.