Balochistan: endless despair — by Mohammad Akhtar Mengal

The appalling poverty, desolation, unemployment, worsening health conditions, malnourishment, tribal in-fighting, mounting corruption, support for drug barons and religious fundamentalism in historically peaceful and secular-oriented Baloch society are the domino effects of systematic policies imposed by the Islamabad super-establishment

Although the British Raj ended in 1947, under Pakistan’s ethnically structured and politically over-centralised state, the concept and practice of second-class citizenry remains a common practice by the dominant group against the underprivileged people.

Initially, the East Pakistani population was the prime victim of this policy of systematic second-class citizenry; they were discriminated against because of their ethnicity, origin, and political aspirations. They were denied legal rights, civil rights, political rights and overall economic opportunities in a country that came into being through the extraordinary contribution of the Bengali political and intellectual elite.

Rebuffing West Pakistan’s neo-colonial policies, the Bengalis took a non-violent path to change their destiny. They voted in favour of the Awami League and sent a clear signal to the power base in Lahore, GHQ and Islamabad that the days of institutionalised slavery are over. The dominant civil-military establishment’s hawkish response to Bengal’s political verdict was ruthless, which resulted in millions of deaths, destruction and separation of East Pakistan.

After the fall of Dhaka, the same hawkish elite apprehended another opportunity to continue its policy of second-class citizenry, and this time the Baloch people became a soft target. Balochistan was wealth-looted, people-killed, land-grabbed for strategic use and its people were systematically kept underdeveloped.

Furthermore, the hawkish elite and ethnically dominant policy-making institutions imposed new methods to further suppress the ‘Baloch second-class citizenry’. Thousands of people were recruited in Frontier Corps (FC) from FATA, Punjab and other provinces, denying the right of employment to the locals. The same FC established hundreds of check posts during the 1980s to date, just to restrict people’s social, economic and development movements.

The appalling poverty, desolation, unemployment, worsening health conditions, malnourishment, tribal in-fighting, mounting corruption, support for drug barons and religious fundamentalism in historically peaceful and secular-oriented Baloch society are the domino effects of systematic policies imposed by the Islamabad super-establishment.

Initially, the central government and its operational arms, i.e. military and paramilitary troops and security agencies, used co-option as a powerful instrument to buy sympathy for Islamabad’s colonial policies. They also practiced the policy of ‘divide and rule’ by instigating inter-ethnic and tribal rivalries to undermine the Baloch people’s logical movement for the right to self-determination.

After successive failure in both strategies to intimidate moderate political activists and co-opt the legitimate Baloch leadership, the Centre is applying new tactics to create mass fear and eliminate forward thinking Baloch nationalists.

This new policy is meant to serve, if continued unabatedly, two main objectives: a) getting rid of the moderate Baloch political class, which is unwilling to submit to the mighty civil-military establishment; b) to pave the way for Taliban-like fundamentalist groups, co-opted corrupt elite and mafias to influence regional security developments and serve the establishment’s broader strategic interests.

The implementation of policy began, and continued, since the military unleashed an unjustified air and ground operation against the people of Dera Bugti and Kohlu in December 2005. The disproportionate and indiscriminate use of power by troops against the civilian population was immense. The operation resulted in loss of life, property, displacement and killing of veteran Baloch leader Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti and Mir Balaach Marri.

In the last two years, this policy of elimination has taken a more serious twist. The government-backed serial killers are openly targeting senior Baloch leaders, and security agencies are ‘disappearing’ and then throwing the mutilated bodies of political activists on the streets.

The cold-blooded murder of Balochistan National Party (BNP) leaders, i.e. Mr Habib Jalib Baloch in July 2010, Haji Liaquat Mengal in July 2010, Attaullah Baloch in August 2010, Mir Noordin Mengal in October 2010, and the recent target killing of National Party senior leader Maula Bakhsh Dashti in July 2010 in Turbat, BNP Karachi president Zahid Baloch in 2008, brutal daylight abductions and killing of three senior Baloch leaders in April 2009, Rasool Bux Mengal in August 2009 and assassination attempt on prominent Baloch intellectual Jan Mohammad Dashti in February 2009 and on Baloch Student Organisation vice-chairman Rasheed Baloch in Khuzdar represent a fraction of the systematic and slow-motion genocide in Balochistan.

Enforced disappearances in Balochistan continue unabated as the situation worsens and the recovery of a number of bullet-riddled bodies in the province is at an all-time high. Twenty-one bullet-riddled bodies of missing persons, including two lawyers, have so far been found from different areas of Balochistan, including Quetta, Mastung and Khuzdar since July 4, 2010. Invariably, all victims were Baloch and were killed in a similar manner.

The same principle, creating and supporting ‘death squads’ like Al-Shams and Al-Badar in East Pakistan during 1971-72, is being used in Balochistan. This time the security establishment is using dummy organisations such as the Baloch Musalla Defai Tanzeem (BMDT), the Sipah-e-Islam and the Ansar-ul-Islam to eliminate forward-looking Baloch nationalists. It is a known fact that these ‘killer squads’ are the brainchild of the FC and the intelligence agencies.

The government and its armed militias, reluctant to curb Taliban activities in Balochistan, are ‘heroically’ employing the policy of ‘collective punishment’ against the innocent Baloch civilians. During a recent military operation in district Awaran’s Mashkay area, security forces burnt shops of those who had been selling cloth resembling nationalists’ flags, and torched tailors’ machines on suspicion of their sewing the flags. Moreover, they set on fire the property and houses belonging to family or clan members of political activists.

This kind of mistreatment and incidents are not uncommon for ‘second-class citizens’. Instead of being protected by the law and the judiciary, the Baloch are actually harassed by the law enforcement and legal institutions.

The Baloch people have lost trust and hope that Pakistan’s inbuilt discriminatory system will provide them any justice and punish or discourage perpetrators of crimes against humanity. However, the international community and international organisations, including human rights mechanisms’ negligence and silence are adding to the Baloch miseries.

Balochistan is not only an administrative province of Pakistan but it is a vast region with more than 12 million Baloch population, spanning across into Iran and Afghanistan.

Inattention of the international community will further aggravate the current instability and a rapidly developing Darfur and Somalia-like situation in Balochistan will have serious implications for long-term peace and stability in the region.

The writer is president of Balochistan National Party and a former chief minister of Balochistan

Source: Daily Times, 5 Nov 2010



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