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Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Baluchistan Quagmire -Analysis: بلوچستان دلدل تجزیہ

Sardar Akhtar Mengal believes his six point formula will bring about resolution of major issues in the province. However, equating his charter with Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s Six Points was deliberately done for shock effect. Mujib’s Six Points all but demanded independence from Pakistan, and eventually did result in the country’s violent dismemberment. Even though Mengal’s six points contain nothing against the Constitution of Pakistan, yet they do hint at separation by force.

Has democracy ever been permitted in Balochistan? The sardars and chiefs rule over the population with an iron hand. The Sardari system has been perpetuated in collaboration with successive military and civilian governments through deliberate policies of neglect and discrimination, conveniently facilitating the exploitation of the people. Trapped in poverty and underdevelopment Balochistan is the least developed and most backward province in Pakistan, the people’s woes multiplied with the additional economic, social and human costs of military operations bringing more destruction and intensifying feelings of alienation.

Nawab Akbar Bugti was revered but also greatly feared by his people. As governor of Balochistan, he instigated Bhutto to launch the military action in 1973, primarily against his arch rivals the Marris and Mengals. This is an inconvenient truth. After Akbar Bugti’s death in 2006 a propaganda was started against the Army that he was deliberately killed. People forget that five army officers died in the cave with Bugti. Gen Kayani recently confirmed that when the officers went inside to negotiate on Bugti’s request, he triggered an explosive device killing himself and the army officers. If indeed the army really wanted him dead, a single missile into the cave would have sufficed. How he could have died along with other Bugtis in a Marri area (Tantri) without any Marri protection, whereas tribal custom warranted a Marri escort in their area? Did the Marris, still embittered by Akbar Bugti’s instigating the 1973 military operation against them, expose his hiding place to the army? Musharraf is culpable for acting on very bad advice from within the army to subordinate the Frontier Corps paramilitary functions to the army specifically to corner Bugti, has anyone in the higher command been held accountable for this blunder?

The real problem are the waderas and feudals whose main agenda is to keep the Baloch population illiterate and docile so they remain ignorant of their rights and thus be unable to protest. Whenever schools are built, why are they encroached upon or destroyed? Why are roads connecting the rural population with the urban not allowed to be built? How much of the money from the sale of resources like natural gas given to the feudals is ever shared with poor Baloch? These hereditary lords thrive on resources taken from the Federation. Is there any single primary or secondary school, vocational training centre, college, basic health centre, or hospital built in Balochistan by them? Their subjects remained uneducated. To prevent them from coming into contact with modernity they are not even allowed outside their tribal belts. Why do feudals need their own private jails if not to punish their own people?

Mengal conveniently avoids talking about all this as well as the endemic poverty because the Sardars, himself included, enriched themselves at the expense of the Baloch people. The convenient amnesia extends to Mekran, Kharan and Nushki, which are totally controlled by the Sardars, being least developed. Without the stakeholders becoming involved, Balochistan cannot become self-sustaining and truly independent despite its natural resources. Have we ever analysed why Sardars frustrate “local bodies” election in the province to avoid empowering the people?

There is nothing much of substance in Mengal’s six-points. No military operation is going on presently, so how does one stop it? Operating under orders of the provincial government, the paramilitary Frontier Corps does the odd action against militants and terrorists. Mengal’s charter demands abolition of the death squads who, he claims, operate under the supervision of intelligence agencies. It is blatant and sheer hypocrisy for him not to speak of the very real death squads that are killing “settlers” (ethnic non-Baloch) in the province – i.e., Punjabis, Sindhis, Pakhtuns, Hazarajats and Urdu-speaking people. Thousands have died in “ethnic cleansing” targeting long-time settlers, especially from Punjab. A large number are fleeing the province to avoid being hunted down and killed by Baloch militant groups. Shame on those leaders who smilingly stood next to Mengal and did not have the courage to mention them either!

Very able political leaders jumped on the bandwagon to express solidarity with Akhtar Mengal, endorsing his six points. Sympathy for the Baloch cause? Or are they only scoring political points for the next elections? Sheikh Mujib kept insisting that his “Six-Point Formula” was not aimed at dismemberment of the country – and look what happened. Gen Musharraf recently stated that our Bengali brethren, representing 52 percent of the population, had a cause, the 4 percent Baloch (Pashto-speaking inhabitants included) far less so. In his recent article “Sardar’s Preserve,” A B Shahid writes: “Sardar Akhtar Mengal is rewriting history by saying that right from 1947, Balochis (to him, only Mengals, Marris and Bugtis) didn’t want to join Pakistan. Consent to accede was obtained from “artificially” created Sardars (by the Muslim League under Jinnah), but the Khan of Qalat finds no mention in his disclosures.” Incidentally, more than 40 percent of the population of Balochistan is Pashto-speaking. Anyone remember them?

The issues and grievances bedevilling the populace need to be resolved as the province is now at boiling point. Lack of political will has been complicated by ham-handedness by the security establishment, adding to the inferno and hindering conflict resolution. An adverse perception is only playing into the hands of nationalists and militant groups spreading death, destruction and fear in the hearts of the populace. If the situation remains volatile the extremists will continue to prosper.

The Baloch would make the mistake of the century if they followed the lead of the Sardars in any possible conflict with the federation. What the masses of Baluchistan (all ethnic groups included) need is stability to concentrate on productive efforts to lift them above the poverty line. The only way to really help the people is by first empowering them locally. That cannot be done without ridding the province of the Sardari system.

By Ikram Sehgal: The writer is a defence and political analyst. Email: isehgal@pathfinder9.com with ikram.sehgal@wpplsms.com

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