Saturday, September 29, 2012

Daily Times Editorial Sept 30, 2012

The ostrich rules ok Not unexpectedly, the government and the military/intelligence authorities have come back to the Supreme Court (SC) in reply to Akhtar Mengal’s statement before the court the other day with a blanket denial of all he had said. In short, according to the civilian/military authorities’ riposte, there is no overt or covert military operation going on in Balochistan, no death squads are operating under the aegis of the ISI and MI, and no missing person is in the custody of the secret agencies. Reading these assertions at face value, one could be forgiven for thinking that all is well in the best of all possible worlds in Balochistan. And yet, the stubborn facts and ground realities render the authorities’ statements falling far short of plausible deniability. After all, hundreds of tortured dead bodies of dissidents in the province keep appearing all over the province every other day. Thousands of people are missing, believed ‘disappeared' by the intelligence agencies. How do the authorities explain this? Their assertion that missing persons are being searched for is belied again by the fact that hardly any of the disappeared have ‘appeared’. The disturbing factor in the statement is the elected civilian government and the military establishment not just being on the same page on the issue, but in complete unanimity. What was started by military dictator General Musharraf in Balochistan therefore continues under the rule of the civilian government elected in 2008. Only two possibilities can explain this unholy convergence. Either the government is convinced of the implausible and blanket denial by the military and intelligence establishment, or they know the truth but are not willing to take the risk of annoying the military establishment by taking a principled stand against the brutal repression going on in Balochistan. Both possibilities are equally troubling. The authorities’ statement before the SC also asserts all political parties are free to operate in the province. Two facts undermine this assertion. Most of the dead or missing belong to nationalist parties or are their supporters. Akhtar Mengal’s own party’s general secretary, Habib Jalib Baloch, was murdered in Quetta after speaking at a seminar on Balochistan in Islamabad. The case has yet to reach any conclusion. Looked at as a whole, the ostrich-with-its head-in-the-sand attitude of the authorities suggest that the earth has swallowed up all the thousands of missing persons without the help of human agency, and the only exception is when the bowels of that same earth disgorge the mangled dead bodies of some of those already known to be missing. The government’s defence by recounting the steps it has taken to improve matters in Balochistan smacks of misplaced concreteness. Development packages, autonomy (under a ‘manufactured’ leadership), jobs for unemployed youth may all in totality be considered missing the wood for the trees. Unless the issues raised by Akhtar Mengal and the six-point raft of measures suggested by him to pave the way for a serious dialogue are taken note of and implemented, peace in Balochistan has all the chances of a snowball in hell. To the Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry and the SC’s credit, they have rejected the government’s assertions, albeit in ‘soft’ language. The CJP once again asked the rhetorical question in court why the government and military authorities do not see the gravity of the situation. Asserting once again the supremacy of the law and constitution, the SC has decided to conduct further proceedings on a case-by-case basis, starting with the next hearing on October 8 at the Quetta registry. Akhtar Mengal’s eloquent presentation of the Balochistan people’s case has evoked support from PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif, whom Mengal met. In addition, support to Mengal has come from the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party chief Mahmood Khan Achakzai, Imran Khan and the Jamaat-i-Islami. If the government and the military authorities persist in their ostrich-like attitude, the CJP’s remark that a solution must be found before we enter a ‘blind alley’ may turn out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Mengal’s return and appearance before the SC offers an opportunity to retreat from the brink of the country’s destruction and engage seriously with the estranged Baloch leadership to salvage the integrity of the country before it is too late and the growing separatist sentiment inside Balochistan finds succour and support from the increasing internationalisation of the issue to bring about precisely a disastrous denouement.

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