Lies and half-truths on Balochistan – by Ejaz Haider

The situation in Balochistan is throwing up lies and half-truths. While partisans can’t be trusted with truth, what about some so-called libs whose favourite pastime is to find fault with the state without offering viable policy solutions?

Let me put it up front: Balochistan needs to be healed — within Pakistan’s federal framework. Those who want freedom by resorting to violence and through the support of hostile elements have no place in any negotiating process unless they lay down arms. Let us also flag the point that the issue is about Balochistan’s grievances, not just Baloch grievances. Lest anyone forget, Balochistan houses other ethnic groups too.

There is deep irony in the fact that the Baloch sub-nationalists who don’t tire of talking about their rights have shied from fighting the internal battle for more egalitarian social structures which could have freed them from the debilitating influence of the sardari system. It is that system, also exploited by successive governments, which has kept Baloch areas undeveloped.

Look at the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA), led by Hyrbiar Marri, son of Khair Bakhsh Marri. Educated, like most scions of the sardars (while the common Baloch remains pathetically uneducated), he is based in London. It was his group that took responsibility, among other terrorist acts, for killing the innocentPunjabi labourers.

Next is the Balochistan Republican Army (BRA). Not a nice bra this one. It is led by Brahmdagh Bugti, grandson of Akbar Bugti, whose district Dera Bugti, according to the Human Development Index, is the worst in Pakistan, even though the late Akbar Bugti served at various times as the interior minister of Pakistan and chief minister and governor of Balochistan. While BRA fights for the liberation of Balochistan, presumably on the basis of Baloch rights, Dera Bugti lives in the 12th century. The Bugti patriarch was not prepared to grant equal rights even to other Bugtis.

Then we have the Baloch Liberation United Front. This group killed four Punjabi businessmen and kidnapped John Solecki.

The fourth is the Balochistan Liberation Front of Dr Allah Nazar Baloch, the only group which comprises middle-class professionals. It also draws its cadres from the Balochistan Student Organisation (Azad) and mainly operates in the Makran belt and central Balochistan.

The fifth is Lashkar-e Balochistan, which is the militant face of Akhtar Mengal’s Balochistan National Party (M) and operates in the Khuzdar area. The slain Habib Jalib Baloch was the secretary general of BNP (M).

The sixth group, Baloch Musalla Dafa Tanzeem, is led by Ataur Rehman Mengal, son of former state minister Naseer Mengal, and also operates in Khuzdar. In the murky waters of Balochistan, this is likely the establishment’s response to Baloch militancy. Most of these groups draw people along tribal lines; there’s no united leadership and they continue to fight among themselves.

Balochistan in general and the Baloch in particular need to get their rights. But negotiations must be within the federal framework. Equally, the Baloch must realise the irony of fighting for their rights while living in a stultifying tribal system. Many want their children to be educated. There are cases of fighters secretly sending their boys to enroll in the army-funded education programme. They must not be disappointed.

So backward is the ordinary Baloch that the Baloch demand recruitment quota even in private organisations. A Pashtun from Pishin cannot get into the Bolan Medical College despite high marks while a Baloch with very low marks can secure a seat because of the quota system. This needs to change.

Finally, for those who think the Hazara community is living in great peace in Quetta or that the Punjabis are not leaving: visit Quetta and meet both communities. Since 2002, the Hazara community has suffered more than 1,200 casualties in various sectarian attacks and target killings. And try telling the Punjabis their numbers are swelling rather than depleting. You better be a good runner!

Published in The Express Tribune November 6th, 2010.