OVER A COFFEE : Balochistan or Waziristan first? — Dr Haider Shah
The Baloch leaders are right in claiming that they could only participate in elections if a conducive environment for political activities is created first
Balochistan grabbed the headlines when Akhtar Mengal appeared before the Supreme Court last week. Articulating his views quite well, the former chief minister of Balochistan compared his six demands to the six-point programme of Sheikh Mujibur Rehman of East Pakistan. Even though the Baloch leader deliberately made a thinly veiled threat of parting ways with Pakistan, unlike the Awami League leaders, he did not sound rebellious.
Through his six-point programme, Sheikh Mujib had demanded a kind of confederation with only defence and foreign affairs remaining with the Centre. No separatist demand has been made by Akhtar Mengal and if the contents of the six demands are examined, one can hardly see any departure from what the Constitution has already guaranteed to all citizens of Pakistan. Who can disagree with Mengal if he demands the safe return of missing persons and an end to the state-sponsored target killing in Balochistan? The response of the present PPP-led government however has been timid, betraying its lack of faith in itself. The aggrieved Baloch leaders are therefore justified in their lack of trust in the capability of the present government to make any progress on the Balochistan front.
We all think in terms of bounded rationality dictated by our training and circumstances. How Institutions think? is a popular work of Mary Douglas in which she examines the role of shared vision in shaping institutional thinking of various organisations. The military, as an organisation, has its own peculiar way of looking at the world and its decision-making therefore suffers from the fatal flaw of seeing things in black and white. While the military is often employed as an important provider of input, the job of resolution of complex disputes remains the forte of politicians. In 1971, the military strategists viewed the deep-rooted East Pakistan situation as a mere law and order problem and thought they could fix it with Operation Searchlight. The big brains in the military establishment are again trying to impose a military solution on a combustible situation in Balochistan. Due to its alleged deadly embrace of al Qaeda linked terrorists, Pakistan already suffers from a trustworthiness problem and the human rights abuses in Balochistan will hardly make its image any better.
It is not all gloom and doom though. Historically, Punjab has been accused by the smaller provinces, especially Balochistan, of exploitation. The PML-N as the representative of the largest province of Pakistan, however, appears not to be in the bad books of the Baloch leaders like Mengal. If the gulf between Punjab and Balochistan narrows, it would be a positive step towards national reconciliation. It is important for the leaders of the mainstream parties to develop a strategic consensus on showing solidarity with the genuine demands of the Baloch leaders so that their return to national politics is made possible. Standing next to Mengal for a photo opportunity is not enough. They should all demand that the uniformed men should vacate decision-making positions to the politicians. Hopefully, fair and free elections can prove a panacea for the grievous wounds inflicted by successive regimes upon Balochistan. But the Baloch leaders are right in claiming that they could only participate in elections if a conducive environment for political activities is created first.
The Baloch leaders also need to know that while cherishing tribal identity is an inalienable right of all citizens of Pakistan, tribalism itself cannot co-exist inside the notion of a modern democratic state forever. In order to remain a leader, the claimant must serve the electorate. The critics of Baloch tribal leaders contend that they do not spend enough on social sectors like education and health so that the old tribal structure may stay intact. No doubt, Mengal rightly takes the credit for establishing the Bolan University, but much more needs to be done for education in Balochistan. They also need to understand that when developmental projects are launched, skilled labour from various parts of the world, including the other provinces of Pakistan, will have to be welcomed. If the trust deficit is not huge, all stakeholders realise that development demands long-term partnerships.
When the Mehran naval base was being attacked by the Taliban-affiliated terrorists, Imran Khan was busy in a futile dharna (sit-in) to express solidarity with the Taliban. Now when the Supreme Court, national media and political leaders are all discussing the Balochistan situation with a sense of urgency, he is staging a march to Waziristan. He had earlier claimed that his public meetings in Karachi and Quetta would usher in a new era of peace and prosperity. Neither do energy problems get resolved with water-run cars, nor do conflicts go away by music-enthralled crowds or white people-led marches. If Khan was leading the march to sign a peace treaty with the main Taliban leaders in which they declare a renunciation of extremism after laying down their arms and express their allegiance to the Constitution of Pakistan, I would have today extended my warmest support. But demanding security from the Taliban for his march, he is rather surrendering the sovereignty of the state to a paramilitary force that takes pride in beheading captured soldiers of Pakistan. In a television programme, the visitors from abroad were expressing concerns for human rights violations in Waziristan. Would it not be a good idea to take them to the relatives of missing persons and the leaders of the Hazara community in Balochistan as well? After all, human misery has neither any nationality nor any faith.
The writer teaches public policy in the UK and is the
founding member of the Rationalist Society of Pakistan.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org