Losing youth to rebels

March 30, 2014

Losing youth to rebels

"Treat us with respect, consider us human beings, we do not hate Pakistan but we do not like your establishment’s treatment of Baloch," says Anwar Baloch, 21, student of Quetta University.

Clad in traditional shalwar kameez and chappals, he was on his way to his university when I struck a conversation with him on the Balochistan issue. "One who wears Baloch shalwar Kameez is considered a traitor. Change this attitude," he says.

He says Baloch do not expect anything from Pakistan. "We have been persecuted since 1948 in the name of national interest and I do not see it stopping in near future. I can name dozens of my class fellows who disappeared and returned as bodies. You call them missing persons, we call them martyrs," he says, adding that more educated youth are joining the separatists.

He adds, there are seven FC checkposts between Gawadar and Karachi. Baloch are stopped and insulted on every post -- "just Baloch," he says.

At these checkposts, according to him, only Punjabi and Pashtun personnel are deputed. "For people sitting in Punjab and Islamabad, we do not even exist. They are only interested in Balochistan’s gas, oil and gold," he says as he walks away.

One senior Pashtun official in Quetta even went so far as to say that there was a separatist in every Baloch. "They have been pushed to the wall during the last six decades. How do you expect them to react."

A senior Baloch government official, who hails from Makran division, where Dr Allah Nazar’s Balochistan Liberation Front (BLF) operates, tells TNS that it is already too late. "Makran is the most literate division of Balochistan. Majority of the educated youth have joined the BLF. Pakistan anthem is not played even in a single school in the area, no shopkeeper would sell Pakistani flags and everybody who has been working with state institution is considered a traitor".

"There is a mushroom growth of madrassa and religious and sectarian organisations in Mastung, Kallat, Khuzdar and Makran."

He adds public at large also supports the BLF.

"Our Punjabi brothers in Balochistan either remained apolitical or sided with the PML-N or PPP instead of nationalist parties. You would never find them in protests organised by the nationalist parties. It gives a sense that they do not own the political situation and issues of Balochistan. This angers the locals. They consider them as agents of the establishment and FC," he says.

"Our state has been promoting religious organistaions in Baloch areas. SSP, LeJ and JuD are active in Baloch areas with the blessings of certain quarters of the state," he says, continuing that the Baloch are losing out in the ongoing war in Balochistan while Pakhtuns are reaping the benefits.

"Past government, in the name of a package, gave 5000 jobs of teachers. But we want Baloch youth to be inducted in federal departments, corporations and authorities."

Youth is among the most affected section of the Baloch society. According to Aslam Baloch, Chairman of the Baloch Student Organisation (BSO), provincial government of Dr Malik Baloch is the last hope -- "If they do not allow him to work properly, if his government fails to deliver, people in Balochistan will stop trusting parliamentary politics."

Chairman BSO says they are ‘accused’ by the separatists of seeking rights of Baloch through constitutional struggle. "We receive threatening calls from them. They even killed our companions, they attacked our house but we are still with the state. The state, on the other hand, does not trust us."

He adds at least 320 students from different educational institutions have been picked and killed by state institutions. Thousands have left their institutions to join the separatists over the years. Many have returned since Dr Malik took over. "If the government can start talk with the TTP, why not with the Baloch separatists?" asks Aslam Baloch.

But there are opposing views too. A senior military officer in Quetta says that state cannot tolerate separatists. "There are areas where they do not allow Pakistan flag. They do not allow people to play the Pakistan anthem. How should we treat them?" he asks.

On January 22, Balochistan’s Inspector General Frontier Corps (IGFC), Major General Ejaz Shahid, told the Senate Standing Committee on Interior that lack of equipment and scarcity of funds may devastate his force’s fight against the separatists in Balochistan. "We are struggling to establish the writ of the government along Balochistan’s western border. We are quite far away from even playing the national anthem in state-run schools in Panjgur, Turbat [Kech] and adjacent cities in Makran Division."

The IGFC criticised those who were urging the government to talk with the separatists in Balochistan. "You must label estranged Baloch elements ‘miscreants’… their struggle against security forces has become tougher than ever… please encourage us to keep our morale high."

Baloch intellectuals believe that Dr Malik’s government has credibility but not authority. "Balochistan is being governed by the army and FC," Nargis Baloch, writer and first Baloch female editor of Daily Intekhab, published from Quetta, Karachi and Hub. "These are young people who do not hate you but are angry with you. Talk to them. This is an indigenous struggle and can easily be tackled through dialogue. But our decision makers are not ready to tackle it through dialogue. Dr Malik, if given authority, can easily solve this issue."

She says there is a mushroom growth of madrassa and religious and sectarian organisations in Mastung, Kallat, Khuzdar and Makran.

The Baloch woman, she adds, does not want freedom -- "She just wants security of her brother, father and sons. There are several women among the missing persons. Women have played an important role in highlighting the missing persons’ issue."

Dr Ishaque Baloch, Chief Coordinator of Chief Minister of Balochistan, says the provincial government has built three new medical colleges, announced 5000 merit-based fellowships for higher education and construction of 300 new primary schools and as many middle schools in the province and are in the process of upgrading high schools to higher secondary level -- because, "Education and jobs play the most important role in mainstreaming youth," says Dr Ishaque Baloch.

For him, participatory federalism is important. The 18th Amendment should be implemented in letter and spirit which is not the case so far. "Under Article 172(3), federation and the province would have an equal share. Balochistan was promised 20 per cent share of OGDCL on face value, which is several times less than the market value. But, so far nothing has been done on this front," he says.

His government, he says, has proposed setting up of a petroleum commission instead of a ministry where federation and units have their representation.

He says his government has the authority, "You need time and environment for talks. We cannot push the FC out of the province in the current scenario."

Losing youth to rebels