Akhtar Mengal has taken a bold and practical step at the cost of losing his credibility among the Baloch separatists who want nothing less than independence. Interior Minister Rehman Malik debunked Mengal and made an unbelievable statement that there was no military operation in Balochistan. Mengal’s comrades, who believe he shouldn’t have gone to Islamabad to launch his six points, are accusing him of making a deal with the establishment and preparing for elections.
A close look at Mengal’s six points tells us that they are mostly against the extra-constitutional measures being taken by the top agencies overtly and covertly. He demanded the same fundamental rights for the Baloch as provided in the constitution to every Pakistani. Is that too much to ask? Indeed, not. But the establishment believes that the Baloch nationalist movement is inspired by the CIA and Raw. So, to ask for the operation in Balochistan to be stopped is colluding with foreign intelligence agencies. They do not understand that Balochistan cannot be kept in the federation by brow-beating dissent. State violence in such cases begets violence.
To the military mindset, the state is its geography and it is the custodian of maintaining the status quo. But the state is actually the people who live in it – voluntarily. Coercion cannot keep the people together. The establishment argues that a bunch of separatists do not represent the people of Balochistan, and that 90 percent of Baloch of the 70 major tribes and Pakhtuns of Balochistan support it.
Gen Zia-ul-Haq’s regime adopted the policy of dividing each powerful tribe in Balochistan by creating rifts among the various clans in one tribe. In some cases this divide was already there, and the agencies worked towards deepening these fissures. The Bugtis are divided today; not all are with Brahamdagh Bugti, who is camping in exile in Geneva – one of the most expensive cities in the world. The Kalpars, a clan of the Bugtis, had developed serious differences with Akbar Bugti in his lifetime and they were shunted out from their homes by the autocratic Nawab. Another grandson of Akbar Bugti has been installed as sardar, with the backing of the military. The Marris are also divided. The Bijaranis, a sub-tribe of the Marris, are patronised by the establishment and often seen in Islamabad’s power corridors. When Justice Khuda Bakhsh Marri was killed, his scions alleged that the murder was on the orders of Khair Bakhsh Marri.
The Mengals have a contender to the sardari seat once the grand old man Sardar Attaullah calls it a day. A self-exiled leader, Zafar Baloch, says the establishment “has extended support to a disgruntled Mengal militant group against Sardar Attaullah.” The pro-Pakistan faction is called Defence of Balochistan. It is led by Shafiqur Rehman, son of former minister Nasir Mengal. It was perhaps the fear that, in his absence, the tribe’s sardari may be claimed by Rehman that made Akhtar decide to make a last-ditch effort to demand that “all proxy death squads created by the ISI and MI should be disbanded.” Before Akhtar Mengal’s return to Pakistan from self-exile, Zafar Baloch an activist of the independence movement, told me in a chance meeting in London that Sardar Attaullah had told (former) prime minister Gilani that if the government wanted Akhtar to return, the agencies should stop supporting Shafiq’s militant group and give the assurance that Akhtar would not be assassinated like Benazir Bhutto was.
The establishment claims that 90 percent of Baloch tribes are with it and have no sympathy for the slogan of “Independence.” Why then are we not able to solve this issue in a more civilised manner, without the use of force? The major reason is that such decisions are not entirely in the hands of the civilian government. The security establishment, by training, thinks in geostrategic terms. When the Soviets came to Afghanistan to support its socialist government, Pakistan’s military government bogey was that the Russians’ real aim is access to Balochistan’s warm waters.
Now the haunting spectre is that in the post-Afghanistan scenario, Americans would like to get control of Balochistan’s warm waters. They reason that the Americans are planning to keep control over the energy routes of China. Remember, the great American plan to have a bamboo-curtain around China in the East, and control the Persian/Arabian Gulf? In this game, Balochistan’s water and natural resources are important. And Balochistan is also important as a base against Iran for the US and Saudi Arabia.
But what about its people who feel subjugated and exploited? Once again, errant Pakistan has the desire to play a grand role in this tussle for energy routes but is finding it hard to maintain a balance between its two allies – the US and China. The establishment’s mood is to go with China, instead of “unreliable American allies.” Hence, it fears that anybody who is asking for a different Balochistan is serving the interests of the US-India alliance. Give the Baloch what Akhtar Mengal wants, and give them control over their natural resources, and you will have a peaceful province and a stronger Pakistan.
The writer is a senior journalist andcommunication expert. Email: ayazbabar@ gmail.com