Baloch protest against ‘Talibanisation’

The Balochistan National Party (BNP) Information Secretary and former senator Mr Sanaullah Baloch told Daily Times on Sunday that “supporters” of the Taliban had “captured land worth Rs2 billion in the eastern and western parts of Quetta” to “undermine the Baloch nationalist movement”. He accused the government of failure to establish its writ in the city where “Taliban and their supporters were consolidating their grip”. He complained of the emergence of “no-go” areas where these elements had dug themselves in. He came close to explaining the state of divided politics in the province when he said that “the Taliban supporters” enjoyed the support of the government and its intelligence agencies who wish “to pit the religious elements against the Baloch nationalists”. He wondered why the state had not carried out military operations against these elements while it was still attacking Dera Bugti and Sui areas. Dealing with the problem of Afghan refugees, he called them “a burden on the economy of Balochistan and the biggest cause of lawlessness and terrorism in the country’s largest province”.

Mr Baloch has indirectly put his finger on the way a new political map is militating against the old deeds of omission and commission of the Pakistani state. The PPP in power in the centre is a liberal-secular party, supported by another secular party, the MQM, in Sindh. The party in power in the NWFP is ANP, which is traditionally secular-nationalist like the Baloch. It is flouting the pro-Taliban mood in the establishment and asking the army to be more effective against Taliban encroachments. In Balochistan, however, the ethnic-political picture is more complex.

As in the NWFP and the Tribal Areas, the Afghan jihad and its refugees have destabilised the ethnic balance in Balochistan. When Mr Baloch refers to “supporters” of the Taliban he is pointing to the dominant Pashtun party, the JUIF, which also queered the pitch in the NWFP for the ANP when it succeeded it in power in Peshawar. What five years of power in the NWFP by the “supporters” of the Taliban did to the ground realities there is now happening to Balochistan, a fact pointed out by scholars who have studied closely the dubious Musharraf policy of giving safe haven to the absconding Afghan Taliban leaders in Quetta.

The JUIF is a religious party but it is quite clearly an ethnic party capturing the Pashtun vote to the detriment of the secular Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PKMAP), the same way it had edged out the secular ANP in the NWFP. The JUIF contrasts sharply with Jama’at-e-Islami which remains a religious party appealing to the Pashtun and non-Pashtun alike. The other factor going against the secular Baloch parties is the JUIF’s deft political footwork in Islamabad, sitting inside the federal coalition with the PPP while strongly supporting the Taliban and opposing the military operations Mr Baloch wants against the Taliban in Balochistan.

Unfortunately, however, the separatism of Baloch nationalism plays into the hands of the Pashtun-dominated JUIF which shies away from any rhetoric of insurgency and separation embraced by sections of the Baloch. Quite meaningfully, the Islamisation or “Talibanisation” it favours for Balochistan and the rest of Pakistan is equally radical in its endgame and cannot be opposed openly and vigorously because it gibes with the religious constitution of Pakistan that welcomes the sharia as the faith of the state. The Taliban terrorism is against the government agencies and the Shia. In contrast, Baloch terrorism, while targeting state functionaries, also kills certain non-Baloch and Punjabi elements and destroys the economic lifeline of Pakistan, the province’s natural gas installations and pipelines.

The ethnic balance has been dangerously upset in Balochistan by the jihad waged by the state for over 20 years. This jihad has transformed Pashtun society all over Pakistan and sidelined the nationalists, but it has damaged the cause of the Baloch more effectively. It is true that state functionaries have become indoctrinated by jihadi culture over time just as they have learnt to “prejudge” the Baloch after long years of treating them as “rebels”. Ironically, in the long run, it is the jihadi culture which will destroy the “modern state” and not Baloch nationalism.

In the days to come, Balochistan will acquire strategic importance as the transit terrain for Iranian gas. One hopes that before the pipeline from Iran is finalised the province will get the kind of autonomy it wants. There is no doubt that gas from Iran will be a crucial asset which the state of Pakistan will go to any length to protect. The Pashtun will not oppose it; but the Baloch might. That means that once again the state will have to choose between the Baloch and the Pashtun and, regrettably, might even rely on the unwise and dangerous policy of pitting the “Taliban” against the Baloch. The JUIF is sure to be more supple politically than the proud and inflexible Baloch. Clearly, there is a lesson to be learnt by the Baloch nationalists. (Daily Times)