The writer is resident editor of The News in Peshawar.
The Balochistan issue had never received so much attention at home and abroad, but it remains to be seen if this newfound attention will do some good to the long-suffering Baloch people.
At home, Balochistan has been discussed threadbare in parliament and the media, at conferences and lately also in the courts. Pakistan’s assertive judiciary will take a close look at Balochistan when Supreme Court chief justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry travels to Quetta this week to hear petitions about the worrying law-and-order situation in the province. This will provide him an opportunity to know firsthand the issues of human rights violations in Balochistan, the enforced disappearances of Baloch nationalists and the killings of non-Baloch civilians, mainly settlers. This is one place where there is an immediate and real need for judicial activism to set things right for the sake of both Balochistan and Pakistan.
In the US and Europe, politicians, academics, human rights activists and sections of the media are slowly taking notice of the situation in Balochistan. The arrival of some leading Baloch separatists seeking asylum in Western countries – including the late Akbar Bugti’s grandson Bramdagh Bugti, Khair Bakhsh Marri’s son Hyrbyair Marri and the Khan of Kalat, Mir Suleman Dawood – and their efforts to internationalise the Balochistan issue is having an impact. And it is bringing the Pakistani government under greater pressure with regard to the human rights situation in the province.
In context of Mir Suleman Dawood, though, one was surprised by the statement recently made by Maj Gen Obaidullah Khattak, the inspector general of the Frontier Corps in Balochistan, in which he quoted the Khan of Kalat’s son Prince Mohammad Ahmedzai as saying that his father wanted to return from the United Kingdom where he has been granted political asylum. This seems unbelievable, because the Khan of Kalat had taken an even tougher stand than the other Baloch nationalists by calling for an independent Balochistan state that would bring together not only Pakistani Baloch but also Baloch living in Afghanistan, Iran and elsewhere.
One man who has helped focus attention on Balochistan in the West is Dana Rohrabacher, the 12th-term Republican Congressman from California who isn’t doing it for the love of the Baloch people or Balochistan but for the sake of the US. Having described Pakistan as “a hardcore, two-faced enemy of the United States,” largely due to what for the Americans is its unhelpful policy in Afghanistan where the US military strategy is failing, it is obvious why he is promoting the cause of Balochistan’s independence. His main interest in submitting the controversial, non-binding resolution on Balochistan in the US House of Representatives in February was to punish and harm Pakistan.
His move has contributed to the existing distrust between Pakistan and the US. Rohrabacher, who according to media reports pronounced Baloch as “Bal-ook” during a recent news conference in Washington, is clearly lacking in knowledge about the Baloch and Balochistan. But it is also a fact that he helped remind many indifferent Pakistanis about the grave situation in their own backyard.
In fact, Baloch who are angry with Pakistan are beginning to like Rohrabacher as they consider his initiative beneficial for their cause. However, they will have to realise that mere resolutions, particularly ones that have no chance to be adopted even by the US Congress and are being piloted for ulterior motives by outsiders, won’t serve their cause. A better way to highlight the issue would be forge unity in their ranks and gain the sympathies of the people of Pakistan so that they could collectively force the powers that be in Islamabad and Rawalpindi to tackle the Balochistan crisis in keeping with the aspirations of the Baloch people.
One remembers meeting Rohrabacher, once a speech-writer for President Ronald Reagan, during his frequent visits to Pakistan in the 1980s at the time of the Afghan “jihad” in which Washington was a partner of Islamabad in their joint bid to defeat the Soviet forces in Afghanistan. It wasn’t uncommon to hear him singing praises of Pakistan, as well as the Afghan Mujahideen, for helping the US to prevail against the communists in Afghanistan. In his view, Pakistan had risked its own security to promote freedom in Afghanistan and vanquish the Soviet Red Army and communism.
That is history as Pakistan is presently being reviled not only by Rohrabacher but numerous other Americans as an enemy that needs to be brought to its knees. Mistakes and excesses by successive Pakistani rulers, both civil and military, have turned the Balochistan situation into a crisis and afforded Pakistan’s enemies an opportunity to use the Baloch issue to force it to do their bidding in context of their international strategic agendas.
The Supreme Court’s intervention in Balochistan is to be welcomed, but it will mostly have a moral impact. Just like the apex court’s initiative regarding the Karachi violence that couldn’t bring any real change due to political realities on the ground, its move in the context of Balochistan may also fail to deliver on account of issues of Realpolitik.
Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry surely knows a lot about Balochistan because he has a domicile from the province and has deep attachment to it. It was in Quetta that he received his early education, practiced law and presided over the Balochistan High Court as its chief justice. However, his good intentions need to be supplemented by all parties to the conflict to make an impact.
One such party to the conflict is the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), which not surprisingly requested an opportunity to make a presentation to the Supreme Court on the Balochistan situation. The ISI has been blamed for many things in Balochistan and it would be right for the Chief Justice and his fellow judges to hear its side of the story. In fact, all the blame for the disappearances of Baloch nationalists and the recovery of their tortured bodies is placed at the door of the intelligence agencies, particularly the ISI.
Cold statistics from different sources tell the sad story of abductions, torture and revenge killings. The Voice of Missing Baloch, which under Nasrullah Baloch’s leadership has campaigned steadfastly for the recovery of Baloch who have disappeared allegedly into the hands of intelligence agencies, is claiming that 6,000 of them have gone missing since 2003. The government in 2011 conceded that 1,000 Baloch were missing, but it recently brought the figure down to 48, without providing any convincing reason for such a big gap in numbers.
Human Rights Watch estimated that since January 2011 around 300 people were abducted or killed in Balochistan and their bodies abandoned. It said Pakistan’s security forces operating in Balochistan may be responsible for these incidents. The security forces, mainly the 50,000 paramilitary Frontier Corps soldiers deployed there, deny the accusations.
However, there is another aspect to the killings. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan has reported that since 2006 around 800 settlers, mostly Punjabis and including teachers and labourers, were murdered. It is not difficult to figure out who would have done this. Baloch separatists sometimes don’t hesitate to admit it and on occasions their spokesmen have justified the killings as revenge for the abductions and deaths of Baloch nationalists at the hands of the intelligence agencies.
The separatists have also murdered fellow Baloch after accusing them of treason for serving or spying for the Pakistani government and the military. Occasionally, Pakhtuns from Balochistan and the rest of Pakistan have been killed. Such tactics have caused fear and forced many long-time settlers to leave Balochistan. This has also deprived the Baloch nationalists of sympathy and support for their cause in Pakistan. Winning recognition for the Baloch cause abroad is important but losing sympathy at home is of equal importance.