Fishing in troubled Baloch waters
Sultan M Hali
The return of Sardar Akhtar Mengal to Pakistan after three years of self-imposed exile has created cataclysmic tremors in Pakistani politics. During his statement on the state of Balochistan before the Supreme Court, the sardar has submitted a six-point plan in order to create an environment of truth and reconciliation for resolving the conflict in the province. His six points may not have a parallel with the six points presented in 1966 by the Bengali nationalist leader, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, but have created mayhem similar to the Sheikh’s bombshell. Sardar Mengal’s six points envisage the following:
(1) All overt and covert military operations against the Baloch should end;
(2) All missing persons should be produced;
(3) All proxy death squads created by the ISI and MI should be disbanded;
(4) Baloch nationalist parties should be allowed free political play without interference from the ISI and MI;
(5) Those responsible for the killings and disappearances should be brought to book; and
(6) Thousands of Baloch displaced due to the conflict should be rehabilitated.
A number of players have jumped into the political fray after Mengal’s declaration of the six points. Talk show hosts and columnists gave adequate coverage to the Baloch sardar, while politicians lost little time in having photo opportunities with him. Foremost among them was Mian Nawaz Sharif, who went from Lahore to Islamabad to reiterate solidarity with the erstwhile estranged sardar. Perhaps, It is naive to think that the average Pakistani has a fleeting memory. It was during his tenure as Prime Minister that Mengal was sacked from the post of Chief Minister of Balochistan and now Mian Sahib is seeking to gain political mileage by wooing him. Perhaps, the sardar is too magnanimous in letting “bygones be bygones.”
Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan endorsed the points raised by Mengal. However, it is not clear whether or not the cricketing Khan absorbed the full significance of the points before endorsing them. The presence of the armed state and non-state actors in the strife-torn province of Balochistan not only makes the scenario murkier, but also complicates the issue of accepting the six points.
Another major player in the Pakistani milieu is the Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP). By demanding the compliance to Mengal’s third point that “all proxy death squads created by the ISI and MI should be disbanded”, the CJP has in fact accepted his assertion about the existence of such heinous bands. However, the military has already denied any culpability. It insists that there are no death squads, nor any covert or overt military operations, and no missing persons in its custody in Balochistan.
The Army Chief, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, before his departure for Moscow categorically stated: “The army fully supports any political process (in Balochistan), as long as it is within the Constitution of Pakistan.” This lays to rest any speculation of divergence in views of the political dispensation and the army about the province. However, the CJP’s strong statement will draw attention towards the issue and raise the hackles of the UN and other human rights bodies on whose radars, Balochistan already appears as a prominent blip. Against this backdrop, a UN team was recently in Pakistan to investigate the case of missing persons’.
The government, on the other hand, claims that maximum provincial autonomy has already been given to the province through the 18th Amendment and revised 7th NFC Award and Aghaz-e-Haqooq –Balochistan package.
Nevertheless, the Balochistan morass is so knotty that it will take more than six points of Sardar Mengal, and tit-for-tat retorts by the government and the army, to resolve the problem. Only Baloch leaders like Mengal do not hold the cards to a solution. It is the Marris and Bugtis, who are not only estranged, but also wield ample clout to return to the fold of political reconciliation.
If our politicians, especially those out of power are serious about resolving the Balochistan imbroglio, they must stop fishing in troubled waters and instead find a level playing field in the troubled province so that the separatists too are enticed into participating in the forthcoming elections, and become a part of the solution and not part of the problem. The Marris and Bugtis have spurned political overtures in the past and will require more than lip sympathy to be amicable to a solution. Indeed, complex problems require bolder solutions.