Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Daily Times Editorial Oct 4, 2012

Political football over Balochistan Politics in Pakistan having veered increasingly towards confrontationist postures and away from the ruling PPP’s oft-repeated mantra of ‘reconciliation’, it should not come as a surprise that any and all criticism, including the mildest and most apologetic, invites fierce verbal retaliation. This has increasingly been in evidence from the PPP government at the highest level, a seeming loss of patience with its numerous and increasingly vocal critics. Take for example the statement of PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif after his meetings with Akhtar Mengal and Talal Bugti. Nawaz expressed his sympathy, solidarity and support for the suffering people of Balochistan, adding that if the Baloch leaders think that the presence of the army and Frontier Corps (FC) would impede the holding of free and fair elections, they should be withdrawn. In the same breath, Nawaz said he was not inclined to criticise the PPP government needlessly, but only pointing out the critical need to address the issue of Balochistan. Federal Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira, instead of approaching the issue in the serious mien he says it deserves, chose to indulge in political point scoring by sarcastically inviting Nawaz to guarantee peace in Balochistan and the government would withdraw the army and FC. The suggestion of course is absurd. Nawaz Sharif or the PML-N are not in power either at the Centre or in Balochistan. How then can they be asked to take this responsibility? Mr Kaira went on to accept the situation in Balochistan was sensitive and serious and required urgent solution, but at the same time hid behind the formula that ‘forces’ behind the complex situation in the province want to endanger national unity. If the reference is to the separatist sentiment in Balochistan, this is hardly a secret. On the other hand, the worthy minister should also focus on the ‘forces’ right in front of our eyes who, arguably, through their repressive policies, are ensuring that national unity is threatened in no uncertain terms. Mr Kaira reiterated the government’s ‘resolve’ to resolve the issue, but in the same breath made some startling revelations. He said the secret agencies were working under the government and had answered all the accusations against them in the Supreme Court (SC). Now this is stretching credibility to breaking point. Everyone knows by now, including the SC, that the secret agencies and the FC are involved in enforced disappearances, torture and dumping dead bodies all over the province. If Mr Kaira’s claim is taken at face value, it would imply the government is complicit in this ‘kill and dump’ policy, a claim it is certain the minister would balk at on reflection. If we leave the penchant of our political culture to indulge in point scoring and making serious issues a political football, it would be in the fitness of things to remind ourselves once again of the ground realities in Balochistan. Long simmering resentments and grievances of the people of the province first found expression in a return of young militants to the mountains in 2002 to wage the only form of resistance they concluded would make any difference to their plight, having been utterly frustrated in their efforts to ‘engage’ with the system for 25 years between the end of the last resistance in 1977 and the start of the current fifth one. The situation was exacerbated and polarised even further when Nawab Akbar Bugti was killed by the Musharraf regime in 2006. Since then, a new and formerly unknown factor has entered the scenario. There are reports that in order to maintain plausible deniability and carry out actions to defame the Baloch nationalist resistance, the intelligence agencies have nurtured local mercenary proxies who not only carry out abductions and killings of dissidents, they also carry out orders (in return for money of course) to kill settlers and other innocents to defame the nationalist resistance and solidify opinion elsewhere against the just demands of the Baloch. If any of the nationalists were at any point indulging in such misguided tactics, it appears better sense has prevailed in their ranks. Evidence of this is the reduced instances of settler targeting over the last two years. Perhaps the residual incidents are now authored by the proxies mentioned above for totally mercenary reasons. If there is any truth to these assertions, it is a very dangerous game in an already very dangerous situation. Given the incrementally growing worry over the largest in area province of the country with great geo-strategic importance and development potential, it is heartening to note that on the eve of his departure for Russia, COAS General Kayani has stated that the military will support any political settlement in Balochistan within the confines of the constitution. Since it is the military that is accused of running the show in the province (with the chief minister a top candidate for being included in the list of ‘missing persons’), this statement may represent a chink of light in the darkness that has overtaken Balochistan, towards a political solution of an essentially political problem.

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