Seize the opportunity
Brig (r) Farooq Hameed Khan


General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani’s statement that the army would support a political solution to Balochistan’s problems, provided it is within the framework of the constitution, serves as a stern response to Sardar Akhtar Mengal’s repeated references to UN involvement/guarantees for resolving the Baloch crisis. It also sends a clear message to the secessionists: ‘no compromise’ on the federation’s integrity.

The angry Sardar faltered on two counts. First, in his statement submitted to the Supreme Court, he referred to neutral international supervision for the peaceful resolution of the Baloch conflict, citing UN-backed successes in East Timor, Kosovo and South Sudan. Mengal will have to give up this approach as it will only delay the reconciliation process in Balochistan. Any attempt to involve the UN is obviously unacceptable and will be vehemently opposed by all Pakistanis.

Second, Mengal cleverly played on the Pakistani psyche by asserting that his six points should not be considered any different from the six-points presented by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman prior to East Pakistan’s separation in 1971. Also, why only six points? Why not five or seven? This certainly made Pakistanis suspicious about Mengal’s ulterior plans about Balochistan’s future.

Can Mengal assume the role that Mujib played in then East Pakistan in 1970/71? Does he enjoy that level of popular support and trust that the majority of the Bengalis reposed in Mujib by granting him sweeping victory in the 1970 general elections? Mengal may be aware that the majority of hard-core Baloch leaders, including Raisanis, Bizenjos, Magsis and even stalwarts within Marris/Bugtis, do not support Balochistan’s secession. Have the hard working and prosperous Pakhtun/Hazara Baloch ever talked about leaving the federation?

Can the 1971 Bangladesh model be replicated in Balochistan? If an Indian invasion in November 1971 facilitated East Pakistan’s separation, are dissident Baloch leaders like Brahamdagh Bugti – who spearhead the insurgency – banking on a UN-backed US/Nato intervention in Balochistan? Akhtar Mengal needs to understand that he is no Mujibur Rahman and Balochistan no East Pakistan.

In an interactive session in Lahore with Nawab Talal Bugti, head of Jamhoori Watan Party, the estranged Baloch leader claimed credit for being the originator of Mengal’s six points. Though rightly bitter about Nawab Akbar Bugti’s death and the delay in trial of all accused, including General (r) Musharraf , his stance was more moderate than Mengal’s and more favourable to a political solution within the framework of the constitution/federation.

The veteran Bugti leader indicated his party’s willingness to rejoin the political process and participate in the coming elections, provided the government acts on the six points, opens up Dera Bugti and rehabilitates the displaced Baloch including Bugti tribals affected by the unrest.

Is Mengal’s return part of some understanding with the security establishment? In Talal Bugti’s view, Mengal may have received the go-ahead from concerned military quarters to return and rejoin the political process. Both Mengal and Talal Bugti may like to recover their lost political space with the establishment’s support. Why should these leaders and their parties miss their share from their province’s overflowing financial kitty?

The nation needs to be told how ordinary Baloch became victims of a proxy war between Frontier Corps (FC) combined with security agencies on the one side and foreign trained/armed militants on the other. Both Mengal and Talal Bugti refuse to acknowledge any external conspiracy to destabilise Balochistan and term it a ploy by the army/intelligence agencies to keep the province’s resources under control.

No Pakistani would support the phenomenon of missing persons or mutilated bodies in any part of the country, including Balochistan. That these incidents were the result of ‘death squads’ supported by security forces, as alleged by Akhtar Mengal, is unimaginable unless supported by solid evidence.

In an environment where the writ of the Balochistan government was invisible, the rule of militant groups, warlords and criminal mafias became the order of day. Did militant groups not unleash death squads that went around killing hundreds of non local/Punjabi settlers? Which militant entities were behind the genocide of peaceful Hazaras? What is the truth behind reports of a few Balochistan government ministers’ involvement in abductions for ransom?

The nation should be presented the facts about the mysterious circumstances surrounding Nawab Akbar Bugti’s tragic death during Musharraf’s rule. Let the Supreme Court constitute an independent judicial commission so that the authenticity of the ‘Army killed Nawab Akbar Bugti’ narrative is decided once and for all. Sardar Akhtar Mengal may have broken the impasse by showing confidence in the Supreme Court in the missing persons case and calling for action on the six points “to build a conducive atmosphere for Baloch reconciliation process.”

While the security establishment has categorically denied any military operation, rejected holding missing persons in their custody and the existence of death squads, certain confidence building measures (CBMs) are necessary to restore mutual trust and hasten the dialogue process.

A government announcement of amnesty for militants and setting up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission for rehabilitation of victims of the insurgency would have a positive impact. FC should release any person held in custody for interrogation etc, and Dera Bugti should be declared a ‘go’ area. Baloch political parties should be guaranteed a level playing field to elect genuine, representative Baloch leadership in the next elections. The trial of the accused in Nawab Akbar Bugti’s case must not be delayed.

Baloch nationalists should reciprocate by agreeing to a ceasefire and dismantling militant bases in Balochistan. Baloch youth under training in Afghan training camps should be identified to account for missing persons. A lot would depend on the extent to which nationalists exercise control over militant leadership. The Sardars/Nawabs must free all citizens held in their private jails.

Akhtar Mengal has called for meaningful negotiation between genuine representatives of the Baloch and the military establishment to decide a future relationship on Balochistan. If the government delays political dialogue, General Kayani should seize this opportunity to play a historic role in ending the Baloch conflict. The army, and not the UN, should guarantee political settlement and permanent peace in Balochistan within constitutional limits.