Balochistan’s unattended IDP crisis — by Malik Siraj Akbar


There are obvious reasons for the country’s security establishment to create obstacles for aid workers. The grave violations of human rights during the military operation in Balochistan are likely to be exposed to the international community once they are granted access to Balochistan’s conflict zones

The government of Pervez Musharraf not only created an IDP (internally displaced persons) crisis in Balochistan, it also very dexterously kept the whole country in oblivion about it. Limited and restricted information was leaked about the fate of around 100,000 Baloch IDPs who were driven out of their homes during the military operation carried out in Marri and Bugti tribal areas. The dictator-sponsored humanitarian catastrophe was deplorable but officially denying accesses to national and international humanitarian groups to grapple with the IDP crisis in Balochistan was criminal.

The first batch of IDPs from Dera Bugti reached the neighbouring districts of Naseerabad and Jaffarabad soon after the attack by paramilitary forces on the fort of Nawab Mohammad Akbar Khan Bugti on March 17, 2005. An incident billed by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) as “extra judicial killing of non-combatants”, the March 17 assault killed 43 people, including 19 men and three women from the minority Hindu community. More people abandoned their homes as the military operation escalated in the Marri and Bugti tribal areas until it reached its culmination with the killing of Nawab Bugti on August 26, 2006.

The government refuted media statements about the launching of a military operation in the oil-and-gas-rich region. It also brushed aside the impression that a humanitarian disaster was in the offing after the displacement of hundreds of families. Lies about the grave situation of Baloch IDPs were debunked only after an internal assessment report prepared by the UN International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) was leaked in July-August 2006 to the media. According to this report, the displaced persons, mostly women (26,000) and children (33,000) were living in makeshift camps without adequate shelter in Jaffarabad, Naseerabad, Quetta, Sibi and Bolan districts. The UNICEF report said that 28 percent of five-year-old children were acutely malnourished, and more than 6.0 percent were in a state of “severe acute malnourishment”, with their survival dependent on receiving immediate medical attention. Over 80 percent of deaths among those surveyed were among children under five.

The UNICEF report came as an indictment to the Musharraf regime and gave currency to Baloch nationalists’ repeated stance that the military operation had caused a dire IDP crisis in the province that needed to be urgently tackled. On the other hand, the military junta was so incensed that not only did it ask the UNICEF chief to leave the country but also put pressure on UN officials to back out from the report they had prepared about Baloch IDPs.

For instance, investigative journalist Ziad Zafar, while writing in Newsline in June 2007, quoted a senior official of the UN Human Rights Council saying that they had already made a “big mistake” by talking to the press earlier. “We will never know how many lives were lost because of it. We cannot make that mistake again.” The official went further and told the journalist: “Forget that you are a journalist. If, as a human being, you care at all about those who are suffering, you will not publish this report [about the IDPs]. I implore you: please do not aggravate the situation. It is already very precarious.”

As the UNICEF report disclosed the plight of the IDPs of Balochistan, the government in Islamabad as well as in Quetta insisted that no such thing existed in the province. Instead, the government termed the UNICEF report as exaggerated. Most of the displaced citizens, claimed the government, had returned to their homes as peace had supposedly returned to the area after the killing of Nawab Bugti and the dismantling of the fugitive camps.

After intense pressure from various NGOs, the government agreed to allow access to the UN agencies to operate in the area to help the displaced people. Nonetheless, this was an unconditional permission. The UN agencies were asked to help the people under official surveillance and without letting the media know about such relief operations.

The UN, finally on December 21, 2006, managed to initiate its million dollar aid package for the Baloch IDPs, which included setting up 57 feeding centres. But this aid project was soon disbanded after a UN official told the media that the IDPs should have been approached with help much earlier. This was seen as a violation of the so-called terms and conditions brokered between the government and the UN that no details of the operations would be provided to the media. Thus the UN was asked to pull out of Balochistan as a ‘punishment’ for telling the media that more assistance for the IDPs was required. Similar treatment was meted out to the Edhi Foundation of Pakistan which, after the completion of the first phase of its operations, made the same blunder and informed the press that it was about to begin the second phase of relief operations for the Baloch IDPs. The government also ordered the Edhi Foundation never to return to the ‘sensitive region’ without providing any convincing reasons.

There are obvious reasons for the country’s security establishment to create obstacles for aid workers. The grave violations of human rights during the military operation in Balochistan are likely to be exposed to the international community once they are granted access to Balochistan’s conflict zones.

Three years down the line, nothing has changed for the Baloch IDPs. The military and the elected governments have both made every possible effort to prevent aid workers to assist the Baloch IDPs. While extraordinary assistance was provided to the victims of the earthquake in Kashmir and the recent IDP crisis in Pakhtunkhwa province, the federal government has still not officially acknowledged the Baloch IDP crisis. Currently, there is not a single officially recognised IDP camp in the province while the displaced people are spread in Balochistan’s Naseerabad, Jaffarabad, Sibi and Bolan districts. In Sindh, they have gone to Jacobabad, Sukkur, Dadu and Karachi, while many others are languishing in Dera Ghazi Khan and Rajanpur districts of Punjab.

For the first time, the government announced Rs 1 billion for the rehabilitation of Bugti IDPs in the Aghaz-e-Haqooq-e-Balochistan Package. It was too little too late. Before the government could begin work on the rehabilitation of the IDPs, a new deadly conflict broke out between the supporters of two grandsons of late Nawab Akbar Bugti — Mir Aali and Shahzain Bugti — as was anticipated by political gurus. Instigated a week ago, the armed clash between the Bugti cousins being fought for the control of 2,000 acre land has killed around 20 people so far. With the previously displaced people still unsettled, the fresh conflict is forcing hundreds of neutral people, mainly from the Khosa tribe, to leave their homes and take shelter in safer places.

The IDP situation in Balochistan was initiated by antagonistic polices of the previous government, while this time the issue is being perpetuated by those who want to divide and rule in the resource rich Balochistan province. At the end of the day, it is the poor masses who suffer. Instead of manipulating the unfolding conflict between the Bugti cousins, the government should immediately play a mediatory role in order to make sure that official plans to rehabilitate the Bugti IDPs are not derailed.

The writer is a staff member and can be reached at maliksiraj@dailytimes.com.pk

Source: Daily Times


7 responses to “Balochistan’s unattended IDP crisis — by Malik Siraj Akbar”

  1. Anti-Baloch clique? — I —Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur

    The Khan affirmed his intention to build Balochistan as a prosperous sovereign country in which the Baloch could retain their identity and live in accordance with their traditions and establish relations through treaties of friendship with neighbouring states

    The secret, if it ever was, is eventually out that there is in fact an anti-Baloch clique with its own agenda and powerful enough to threaten even the highest office of the land. No, this not the surmise of a pro-Baloch columnist but comes direct from the horse’s mouth, well at least a horse lover’s mouth: yes, the president himself.

    At the ground breaking ceremony of the Winder Dam project he said that espousal of the rights of Balochistan by him had angered “certain elements” and they were now out to remove him; some journalists termed these elements as the ‘anti Baloch clique’. He said, “The Aghaz-e-Huqooq-i-Balochistan package is the right of the people of Balochistan and we have to implement it. But they do not want this to happen. Therefore, they want to remove me.” So now we know that this powerful clique does not even tolerate an ineffective and largely useless Balochistan package.

    The president, as constrained and curbed as his authority and movement may be, still has the entire resources of the state at his disposal to learn and be informed about matters that common citizens or for that matter out-of-power politicians do not even get a whiff of. With his wherewithal he certainly knows that this anti-Baloch clique has the clout to threaten his tenure if he is overtly pro-Baloch or even seems to be patronising them.

    This clique definitely has to be anti-democratic and paranoid as who else would remove an elected head of state simply for perceived misdeeds; because certainly the president has done nothing to curb the injustices against the Baloch or redress their grievances in the nearly two years that his party has been in power. Empty apologies do nothing to heal grievous wounds.

    This clique certainly has not come into being all of a sudden or only after Zardari became the president. It must have existed long before and must be having a few achievements to its credit. It must also have the power to even threaten someone who has the entire — maybe minus that certain clique — state machinery at his disposal. Presumably this ‘clique’ is as powerful as the rest of the state apparatus. Little wonder that people keep disappearing without a trace and some turning up dead as the Baloch leaders did in Turbat.

    Let us dispassionately examine the evidence if there really exists an anti-Baloch clique or it is just a figment of the imagination of a beleaguered president. To do this we will have to go way back to 1947.

    In June 1947, the British government announced plans for the partition of India. The fate of British Afghanistan and the Baloch Tribal Areas, which included the Marri-Bugti, Khetran and Baloch Tribal Areas of Dera Ghazi Khan, was to be decided by a referendum. It was decided to hold a jirga on June 30th but was deviously held on the 29th without informing all the members. With this referendum as its basis, British Balochistan, including the leased and tribal areas that were constitutionally part of the Khanate were quite illegally acceded to Pakistan on August 15, 1947.

    It is interesting to note that after partition the chiefs of Derajat were given the choice to relinquish their privileges by joining Balochistan or retain them by joining Punjab. This British Administered Baloch area of DG Khan was misappropriated by Punjab in 1950. The Tumandars signed the agreement under threat of forsaking their large land holdings if they did not opt for Punjab. A monument to that injustice stands at Fort Munro, 6,470 feet above sea level.

    On August 4, 1947, a tripartite agreement was signed between Pakistan, the British and Balochistan, called The Standstill Agreement, in which the sovereign status of Balochistan was accepted. The Khan declared Balochistan independent on August 11, 1947, three days before the independence of Pakistan. The Khan affirmed his intention to build Balochistan as a prosperous sovereign country in which the Baloch could retain their identity, live in accordance with their traditions and establish relations through treaties of friendship with the neighbouring states of Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan as well as with India and the outside world.

    Soon after independence, elections were held to the Diwan, Balochistan’s bi-cameral legislature, and a period of tranquillity and peace was ensured in the country. The Assembly held sessions in September and December 1947 and most favoured alliance and not accession with Pakistan. On December 14, 1947, Ghaus Baksh Bizenjo made a landmark speech and it is still considered as a valid argument for the independence of Balochistan.

    He said, “We have a distinct civilisation and a separate culture like that of Iran and Afghanistan. We are Muslims but it is not necessary that by virtue of being Muslims we should lose our freedom and merge with others. If the mere fact that we are Muslims requires us to join Pakistan, then Afghanistan and Iran, both Muslim countries, should also amalgamate with Pakistan.

    “We were never a part of India before the British rule. Pakistan’s unpleasant and loathsome desire that our national homeland, Balochistan should merge with it is impossible to consider. We are ready to have friendship with that country on the basis of sovereign equality but by no means ready to merge with Pakistan. We can survive without Pakistan. But the question is, what would Pakistan be without us?

    “I do not propose to create hurdles for the newly created Pakistan in the matters of defence and external communication. But we want an honourable relationship, not a humiliating one. If Pakistan wants to treat us as a sovereign people, we are ready to extend the hand of friendship and cooperation. If Pakistan does not agree to do so, flying in the face of democratic principles, such an attitude will be totally unacceptable to us, and if we are forced to accept this fate then every Baloch son will sacrifice his life in defence of his national freedom.”

    His speech moved the Baloch and strengthened their desire for independence and their will to maintain their new-found independence. But in the meantime Pakistan began to pressurise the newly independent Kalat state to join Pakistan and an uneasy calm appeared in relations between Kalat and Pakistan. Talks between Pakistan and Kalat dragged on. Pakistan continued to harass the Khan and Baloch state machinery on various pretexts and was engaged in conspiracies and underhand tactics to compel the Khan to join Pakistan.

    When Pakistan was convinced that the Khan would not accede, separate instruments of accession by the states of Lasbela and Kharan, which were feudatories of the Khan, and of Makran, which was never more than a district of the state of Kalat, were announced on March 18. Accession of Makran, Kharan and Lasbela robbed Kalat of more than half its territory and its access to the sea.

    The following day the Khan of Kalat issued a statement refusing to believe that Pakistan as a champion of Muslim rights in the world would infringe upon the rights of small Muslim neighbours, pointing out that Makran as a district of Kalat had no separate status and that the foreign policy of Lasbela and Kharan was placed under Kalat by the Standstill Agreement.

    On March 26, 1948, the Pakistan Army was ordered to move into the Baloch coastal region of Pasni, Jiwani and Turbat. This was the first act of aggression prior to the march on Kalat by a Pakistani military detachment on April 1, 1948. The Khan capitulated on March 27 after the army moved into the coastal region and it was announced in Karachi that the Khan of Kalat has agreed to merge his state with Pakistan. Under the Constitution of Kalat, the Khan was not authorised to take such a basic decision. The Balochistan Assembly had already rejected any suggestion of forfeiting the independence of Balochistan on any pretext. The sovereign Baloch state after British withdrawal from India lasted only 227 days.

    The evidence certainly leads one to conclude that this clique has had the influence and power to thwart the Baloch people’s rightful struggle to be independent as they were for 227 days after partition and use their resources without even partly sharing with them.

    Anti-Baloch clique? — II —Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur

    The rulers should understand that lip service does not soothe the wounds caused by decades of injuries and injustices. Difficult decisions are needed to solve the problems and win the hearts of the justifiably alienated Baloch

    The Kalat state’s forced merger with Pakistan ended 300 years of independent and semi-independent Baloch state. The sovereignty and will of the people of Balochistan was temporarily subverted. It was an epoch making event in the history of the Baloch people. Colonialism, be it of Iran, Afghanistan, Britain or Pakistan, has played the most important role in moulding the national consciousness that had been present in formative shape all through their history but had remained latent. This consciousness acquired at a bitter price is now becoming the determining factor in their struggle to be the masters of their destiny.

    Not willing to allow the Baloch a chance to recuperate and reorganise the second equally unjust and illegal assault on Kalat was carried out on October 6, 1958, once again on false pretences and premises. Nawab Nauroz Khan Zarakzai, a septuagenarian, took up arms and led the Baloch resistance. As in 1948, a wave of repression and reign of terror was let loose all over Balochistan. Political leaders and activists were incarcerated in the notorious ‘Kulli camps’ in the Quetta cantonment. The suppression of rights by force created abiding antagonism and animosity.

    On May 19, 1959, Nawab Nauroz Khan along with his fighters surrendered near Anari Mountain after the authorities promised acceptance of their demands on the Quran. Instead they were shifted to the Quetta cantonment and tried by a special military court and sentenced on July 7, 1960. The death sentences were carried out simultaneously on the July 15, 1960, at Sukkur and Hyderabad Central Jails.

    For the Baloch, Nawab Nauroz Khan and the seven martyrs symbolise the determination to not to bow to unjust and brutal assaults on their freedom and to resist regardless of the price that has to be paid for this honourable path. Emulating them is the dream of every politically conscious Baloch.

    The 60s decade saw sporadic Baloch resistance led by Mir Sher Mohammad Marri, Ali Mohammad Mengal and others. The dissolution of One-Unit and 1970 elections gave a glimmer of hope that the Baloch would get a chance of restricted self-rule. But the subsequent illegal and unjust dismissal of Ataullah Mengal’s government in February 1973 and the incarceration of Baloch leaders by ZA Bhutto-led PPP government shattered those hopes.

    This injustice naturally led to a resistance by the Baloch and large-scale military operations against them were launched on May 21, 1973, with Mawand in Marri area being occupied. The 1973-77 conflict resulted in enormous sufferings of the Baloch population in the province; forcing thousands of Marris and other Baloch to seek shelter in Afghanistan. It was during this period that the steel of the Baloch mettle was really tempered and for the first time they felt confident that they could take on the might of the state and survive to fight another day. This struggle blazed a path for the future generations and without it probably the flame of the Baloch struggle may have been extinguished forever.

    During the musical chairs democracy period the main players were too busy undermining each other and the Baloch were left alone. Then Musharraf unleashed a war of terror against the Baloch, which resulted in the death of Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, Nawabzada Balach Khan Marri and hundreds of other innocent people. The plague of missing persons visited once again with a vengeance. Recently mass unmarked graves of victims of Indian atrocities were discovered in Kashmir. One wonders if ever such graves, for they certainly exist, will be found here. His era was the era of pseudo mega-projects, brutal mega-operations and super mega sufferings for the Baloch people. The present irreconcilable antagonisms are the result of the protracted and indiscriminate use of force against the Baloch.

    The PPP government has been long on promises and short on positive action. The much-trumpeted Balochistan package was rightly termed as a ‘band-aid on a bullet wound’ by Alia Amirali Sahiba, a student activist of QAU. The three-day joint session of parliament was expected to discuss the formulated proposals with expectations of opening a new chapter in the post-independence history of Balochistan. But the keenness or lack of it shown by the parliamentarians in this supposedly important and historic package belies the claims that this government or the state is or will ever be sincere in solving the problems faced by the Baloch people.

    A report released by Pildat said that out of total 438 MPs — 338 in the National Assembly and 100 in Senate — only 38 (nine percent) members spoke during this joint session. This pathetic indifference itself speaks volume about the interest that the government and parliament take in solving the problems. Unsurprisingly the 20 months of PPP rule have been as barren for the Baloch as were the nine years of Musharraf.

    The president cannot have the right to claim of serving the Baloch if the Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah does not even know who ordered the Rangers’ action against the Baloch of Lyari. And yet they tire not of posing as the champions of Baloch problems. So much so that the president claims that he is under threat from the anti-Baloch clique, which would be committing an unpardonable blunder if it punished him for an act he is not even remotely guilty of.

    The rulers should understand that lip service does not soothe the wounds caused by decades of injuries and injustices. Difficult decisions are needed to solve the problems and win the hearts of the justifiably alienated Baloch. Obviously, no political party or individual has the will to take these decisions because they can only do so at the greatest risk to their own existence and none here would be willing to go to that extreme for the children of lesser gods.

    The establishment’s anti-Baloch policy is too entrenched, too consolidated and too committed to allow far-reaching measures to be endorsed and implemented; measures that may bring some relief for the people. Because those who have been calling the shots here — call them the anti-Baloch clique or the establishment — will not consent to even the most basic justified demands of the return of missing people, stopping construction of cantonments, military airports and naval ports, withdrawal of the army, a halt to military operations, rights over resources and the reining in of the FC because their financial, commercial and imaginary strategic interests will be surely hurt by any such roll back in Balochistan.

    You do not have to be a rocket scientist to understand that the establishment, guided by its self-preservation instinct, had to be anti-Baloch, anti-Sindhi anti-Pashtun and anti-Bengali since partition because without erasing the historical national consciousness and identities they could not hope to impose their ideology of Pakistaniat. However, they overlooked the fact that millenniums old consciousness and identities cannot be easily obliterated and replaced; little wonder that they have miserably failed to either forge or impose a new identity. Certainly the Baloch resistance has played a pivotal role in thwarting their designs.

    Concluded)

    Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur has an association with the Baloch rights movement going back to the early 1970s. He can be contacted at mmatalpur@gmail.com

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