Friday, September 28, 2012

Daily Times Editorial Sept 29, 2012

Mengal in the SC After years of silence in self-imposed exile, chief of the Balochistan National Party and an ex-chief minister of Balochistan, Sardar Akhtar Jan Mengal made quite a splash in his appearance before the Supreme Court (SC). Akhtar Mengal’s return to the country and presenting himself before the apex court was the result of the three-member bench of the SC headed by the Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry ordering on September 20 that Sardar Aktar Mengal be asked to assist the court hearing a petition on the law and order situation in Balochistan. Apart from deposing before the SC, the visit allowed Akhtar Mengal to interact with the media and put his point of view across as articulately as he had done before the court. Essentially, Mengal distinguished between the immediate cause of the unrest in Balochistan, i.e. torture, killing and dumping of bodies all over the province, and the 65-year old political problem of Balochistan. He spotlighted enforced disappearances as the real current cause of the alienation of the Baloch people and the breakdown in law and order in the province. His solution too was in two distinct parts. First and foremost, he outlined before the court six measures that needed to be taken in order to create the atmosphere for meaningful negotiations with the genuine (not the present imposed hothouse flower) leadership of the Baloch people. These measures included, first and foremost, all proxy “death squads” murdering Baloch nationalists under the supervision of the ISI and MI must be disbanded. Mengal likened these groups’ activities to those of the infamous Al Badr and Al Shams in East Pakistan in 1971, when the Bengali people were subjected to horrendous brutalities. Mengal warned that the consequences of continuing with the death squads today would not be very different from what happened in East Pakistan in 1971. Second, all missing persons must be produce d before a court of law and allowed due process. Third, all political parties in Balochistan must be allowed to function freely, without any interference from the intelligence agencies. Fourth, all those responsible for the torture, killing and dumping of bodies of Baloch nationalists must be brought to justice. He poignantly referred to the beginnings of this regime of enforced disappearances when his brother, Asadullah Mengal, was disappeared along with a friend in 1976, and whose place of burial even has never been revealed to this day. He argued that if action against such heinous offences had been taken then, things would not have come to the present pass. Fifth, Mengal wanted rehabilitation of the displaced people in Balochistan, who were living in appalling conditions. Akhtar Mengal argued that only after these remedial steps were taken to redress the immediate cause of the Baloch people’s anger and alienation could the conditions be considered suitable for meaningful negotiations with the genuine representatives of the people of Balochistan rather than the present imposed leadership that did not even find it necessary to stay in Balochistan (the reference is to the chief minister, who is more often found in Islamabad than Quetta). Mengal came down harshly on the present so-called elected setup in Balochistan based on what he considers are tools of the establishment, leading to a situation where there is hardly any government visible in the province. The SC, after giving Akhtar Mengal a respectful hearing, ordered the chief secretary of Balochistan to discuss Mengal’s suggestions with the prime minister, governor of the province, chief minister and heads of MI, ISI, IB and submit their written response to the court today. The CJP expressed his anguish when he felt compelled to ask during the proceedings why the ISI, MI and IB were not realising the gravity of the situation. The court said if its orders were not complied with (which they have not been so far, given that the court stated it had issued 60 orders during 68 hearings, but none of them had been implemented), it would close these proceedings by issuing a binding injunction asking the responsible senior officer to recover all the missing persons. It does not take much imagination to understand who the ‘responsible senior officer’ referred to by the court is. And that precisely brings us to the 64,000 dollar question: what if the SC issues orders to recover the missing and carry out all of the steps suggested by Mengal, and those orders are, as usual, not obeyed, what then? The ticklish thought here is that that may lead to a clash/conflict between the court and the most powerful state institution. No bets on how that mother of all clashes might play out.

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