Spinning half-truths on Balochistan -by Ayesha Siddiqa

Balochistan is quite fashionable these days, especially amongst the establishment wallahs, some of whom have been visiting the place, writing about it or even getting research grants to figure out ways to make the Baloch patriotic.

There are two state-friendly narratives available. The first is, that all violence in Balochistan is a foreign conspiracy. Therefore, what is required is greater show of force. The second, and one that is extremely unkind to the Baloch, says that people have died in the conflict and that this must end, and reconciliation be made possible by providing a few thousand jobs. Both these approaches denote the state’s stick and carrot approach.

It is believed that carrots will work because tribal leaders who have no support amongst common people primarily drive the insurgency. Interestingly, recent newspaper reports on the issue heavily cite sources that are Rawalpindi’s agents in Balochistan. Mostly, these are non-Baloch who fail to highlight the fact that the presence of the Frontier Corps (FC), which is pre-dominantly manned by the Pashtun, is nibbling at communal harmony in the province. Instead, these agents are engaged in fanning fear amongst ordinary Pakistanis of Baloch people and nationalists who seem to be killing Punjabis. These nationalists, thus, have to be dealt with a heavy hand just as the state treated the pro-autonomy politicians of former East Pakistan. Even then, the ordinary soldier was taught to brutalise the Bengalis under the false assumption that all were Hindus. Why be overly critical of the reactive violence of non-state actors when this is the only lesson that the state gives them? People are not told that there is angry reaction from the other side too, especially when violence is the main lesson given by the state. From the perspective of the state’s responsibility in encouraging reactive violence, there is little difference between Kashmir and Balochistan. In any case, there is no hard evidence to prove that all killings of non-Baloch are the work of Baloch nationalists.

The media has failed to highlight the fact that the latest round of the Baloch insurgency is not really a child of tribal leaders living outside the country, or is led by the clients of these leaders. Instead, the insurgency is now located in areas such as Makran that have not experienced a tribal system in a hundred years.

Moreover, the insurgency is increasingly dominated by the Baloch middle class which has not only reacted to the state’s brutality but humiliation pulled upon ordinary folk by the FC stationed in Balochistan. The origins of the present insurgency date back to 2005 when the agencies arrested and tortured a few doctors and engineers.

An excessively powerful and brutal establishment often forgets that victims of violence also have honour and self-respect. Moreover, an angry victim will return to avenge the death of his loved ones or damage to his/her own pride. Just because the Baloch have lived in unbearable conditions of underdevelopment for the last 64 years does not justify their humiliation and killing at the hands of state forces. The abundance of FC check posts, picking up of people by security and intelligence agencies and their disappearance and killing are wounds which will not disappear with a few jobs.

Not that the state did not have an option to befriend the Baloch middle class, especially when Gwadar was being developed, through distributing land amongst the educated, professional, working class Baloch. However, the state adopted the age-old formula of going through the tribal stakeholders and putting some of the land at the disposal of its handpicked chief minister for further distribution amongst his clients.

Sadly, the state is still engaged in building a counterproductive narrative the same way it did in East Pakistan. Surely, the situation of the 1970s is not comparable with that of Balochistan where the Baloch do not have the same control of the territory as the Bengalis had then. But then we can continue to live in a condition of terrible suspicion of each other.

Though the time is fast running out for peace, any forward movement must begin with removing the FC, finding the missing people and taking responsibility for those that are dead. Spinning half-truths will not take us far in solving the Balochistan problem. The security apparatus must realise how its agents are misguiding it.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 10th, 2011.



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