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Revisiting Balochistan

SARDAR Akhtar Mengal has complained on the floor of the National Assembly that the government is not honouring its agreement signed with his BNP-M on key issues of import to the Baloch ahead of securing the party’s support for Imran Khan’s election as prime minister.

The six-point agreement included progress on the recovery of the missing and checking the practice of enforced disappearances, implementation of the National Action Plan and the six per cent quota of Balochistan in federal jobs as we all as repatriation of the Afghan displaced persons from Balochistan.

Taking the floor of the National Assembly, earlier this week the Baloch leader said he was deeply concerned that there was no headway on any of the agreed points and the government should make clear whether it was able to honour its commitment at all.

In another sign of Baloch unease, the Balochistan Assembly passed a unanimous resolution seeking Quetta’s control over the province’s resources after reports emerged that Pakistan had offered exploration rights to Saudi Arabia in the Saindak and Reko Diq mines without consulting the province.

The resolution was moved by BNP-M’s MPA Sanaullah Baloch. Of course, this was pre-emptive as till its passage there was no confirmation of any such offer by the federal government. For its part, the government appears overwhelmed by the onerous task of governance which does not help matters.

It is incumbent on all Balochistan politicians to stand up and be counted as their only loyalties now need be with their constituents.

Its various announcements regarding what the Saudi delegation’s visit was aimed at and then walking back on some of these ‘decisions’ such as the inclusion of Saudi Arabia in CPEC projects and Riyadh being asked to supply oil on the basis of deferred payment could only fuel more confusion.

This indecision and the resultant confusion can be attributed to lack of experience and one can be sure things will improve with the passage of time once the various key cabinet members become more experienced and self-assured in their decision-making.

But it is critical that the issue of Balochistan and its concerns be addressed without delay by the prime minister, who I know from his past visits to Quetta and his statements, has the human rights situation in the province and other issues close to his heart.

Space for dialogue and progress on thorny issues exists right now but just about. Despite being subjected to shabby treatment by the state, politicians such as Akhtar Mengal have aired all their concerns and made all their demands within the framework of the country.

The state too should now realise that an operation where serious charges of abuse of rights have been levelled against the security forces and a situation where some of the terrorists have allegedly not even spared impoverished daily wage earners in the name of the Baloch cause cannot be sustained indefinitely.

This July’s general election and the election to the Senate before that in March this year demonstrated that state institutions continue to wield considerable influence over the process and more so in Balochistan.

The senators who were elected in March (and later in a by-election) from Balochistan included articulate luminaries such as Anwarul Haq Kakar, who used to be the spokesman of the provincial government and robustly defended the crackdown there.

Little-known Sadiq Sanjrani was not only elected senator from Balochistan but also installed as chairman of the Senate. Then there was Sarfraz Bugti, who held the home portfolio through some of the period of the operation and was never found wanting when it came to defending the most brutal and draconian of measures to curb the insurgency.

It is often said that most Pakistani politicians have begun their journey in the lap of military strongmen. Given the span of time the country has remained under direct or quasi-military rule this is hardly surprising.

What is more significant, however, is how some of the politicians have evolved in a manner different to others. For example, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto may have started his career under the tutelage of Field Marshal Ayub Khan but he went on to find his own feet. He challenged the status quo and in the process picked up huge popular support and went on to command the sort of adulation one has rarely seen any leader enjoy over the past five decades. In fact, his popularity so irked his chief of army staff that he was not only deposed but executed after a sham trial.

Look at Nawaz Sharif whose sole initial raison d’être as a politician was to be a junior partner of the military regime of Gen Ziaul Haq and assist in stopping the march to power of Benazir Bhutto. And he did to a large extent. But we all also know how Sharif evolved over the years, particularly after he was ousted by his own handpicked army chief Gen Pervez Musharraf and remained in exile abroad for a number of years.

Whenever one talks of the state’s follies, the forced metamorphosis of a pro-Islamabad/Rawalpindi Baloch leader into first an icon of the Baloch rights movement and then as a martyr for the same cause would figure at the top of the list.

This was not a digression. It is incumbent on all Balochistan politicians and legislators however so they entered parliament to stand up and be counted as their only loyalties now need be with their constituents.

People who are known to have a capacity for articulating unpopular causes with a vigour bordering on passion need to know that their continued silence over Baloch rights may earn them brownie points with some of their backers but the Baloch may not find it in themselves to forgive them.

Yes, you can chide me for expressing hope that they can be stirred but I prefer staying buoyant with optimism over sinking in doom and gloom.

The writer is a former editor of Dawn.

abbas.nasir@hotmail.com

Published in Dawn, October 6th, 2018

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