With number of missing persons in Balochistan on the rise, support for rebels demanding independence has grown in recent years as many in the province feel neglected by the Pakistani state. [Image : Pakistani children with their mothers protest in Quetta, Balochistan raising slogans for peace in the province. Photo by Banaras Khan/AFP/Getty Images]
THE POLITICAL CONTOURS
by Hashim bin Rashid
The first question is to understand the political backdrop to the current insurgency in Balochistan. The suggestion to the reader is to do some digging on 2005 themselves.
That Bugti became an avowed state-enemy and died a martyr to the Baloch cause was not so fated if his history of collusion be gazed. It is an irony of fate that his grandson now is acting spearhead of one of the leading Baloch insurgent groups.
The current Baloch insurgency has centred itself around three figureheads: Dr Allah Nazar Baloch, Harbiyar Marri and Brahamdagh Bugti.
This Baloch insurgency itself also challenges traditional notions of Balochi resistance as sardar driven. The 1973 struggle had a Marxist-Leninist dimension. The current struggle has outreach into the Baloch educated middle class. The figure of Dr Allah Nazar Baloch remains omnipresent. The Bolan Medical College hostels in Quetta , where Allah Nazar graduated, are painted with BSO (Asad) slogans. Their library adorns Allah Nazar’s photos and tributes.
The political core of the movement has been led by the Baloch National Front, a conglomeration of eight organizations, which has opposed parliamentary political participation in Pakistan and has stood by the call for revolutionary politics. The BNF, however, does not include any of the groups directly waging the armed struggle. While sympathies cut across, the BNF is the political front of the current struggle.
Outside the struggle, but part of the voices for provincial autonomy, the National Party and the Baloch National Party (Mengal) are the two Baloch parties that still believe in a working arrangement within the Pakistan.
Of influential sardari families only the Raisani’s appear closest to the Pakistani state since they have access to power. The Mengals, the Marris, the Bhugtis have all turned the cord.
It is through media silencing that the strength of the Baloch struggle is underrepresented. Under the veil, Balochistan has remained the site of many a military operation after 2005. Reporters who have attempted to report have been brought in for questioning, with allegations thrown that they are RAW supporters.
Even Baloch families that find themselves aligned with the Pakistani state, feel the Baloch are humiliated by it. During conversations, a member of the Raisani family said, “We are able to secure benefits through our political affiliation, however, the day-to-day discrimination against the Baloch at the hands of the Pashtun-dominated FC and the daily return of butchered Baloch bodies means we have to reconsider our position.”
The same remains true of the National Party and BNP-M. The BNP-M’s vice president, which lost a senior leader to the violence recently, told this writer that he was holding onto a slippery rope and had been declared a traitor. “With each body that turns up mutilated, our faith in the Pakistani state lessens,” he said.
There is the question of foreign (specifically Indian involvement). To the Baloch, the question is in fact the reverse: where does the Pakistani Army get its weapons and funds?
Nawab Khair Bux Marri was blunt enough to state in 1982, in an on-record interview, “If we accept foreign weapons, why is it an issue since we are fighting against the American-weapon built Punjabi army?”
During the Dera Bugti operation in 2005, a New York Times report uncovered ‘Made in USA’ labelled bomb-shell. The discovery of Indian-built or supplied weapons has, however, not been reported. Nor is it a legitimate political question to ask.
The spread of the insurgency is far-and-wide. Loralai, Gwadar, Khuzdar, Mastung and Quetta all lie under the grips of the insurgency. Quetta-based reporters tell that the only place one will find a Pakistani flag is Quetta.
BSO (Azad) activists interpret the flag in a different way. In a meeting, they say, “The Pakistan army raises the Pakistani flag wherever it is able to conquer. The flag represents our being conquered.”
They also declare the will to martyrdom in the Baloch cause. “We do not fear death. It may be our destiny,” is what one of the BSO (Azad) Education wing activists tell the writer.
The activists I meet are all enrolled in Balochistan’s top universities.
They are well-articulate critics of Pakistan’s relationship to Balochistan. Asked about missing persons and the dead, a cold reply is received, “they have fulfilled their destiny.”
THE MISSING AND DEAD PERSONS’ QUESTION
The rise of the political demand of independence is attributed to the now-brought-to-record security forces policy of ‘kill-and-dump.’ A recently released report by the Human Rights Watch names Pakistani security forces directly in its documentation of 45 missing persons cases.The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), in guarded words, points the finger the same way.
The Baloch, however, consider it a continuation of the domination of Balochistan by Pakistan.
When does ‘kill-and-dump’ begin? And what are its effects? remain the two questions this writer intended to seek answers to.
Quetta-based journalists tell the narrative begins with the kidnapping of three Baloch leaders, all part of the Baloch National Front. On April 3 2009, Baloch National Movement (BNM) President Ghulam Muhammad Baloch, Baloch Republican Party (BRP) Joint Secretary Sher Muhammad Baloch and BNM ex-Vice President Lala Munir Baloch are acquitted by the Anti-Terrorism Court Turbat on charges of aiding insurgency and terrorism.
In abeyance of the courts order, on the same date, the three were sitting at their lawyers’ Advocate Kachkol Ali chambers when they were abducted by security agency officials. On April 9, their bodies turned up and riots broke out at Karachi, Khuzdar and Quetta. The HRCP pointed the finger squarely at security agencies in an independent investigation into the incident.
After this incident, the bodies toll began to pile up. The targeted begin to include officials of the HRCP. HRCP’s Pasni core coordinator Siddique Eido was picked up by ‘security agency clothes wearing officials in security agency vehicles’ is how the HRCP terms it, in a letter to the President.
On 28 April 2011, however, Eido’s bullet-ridden body is recovered near Gwadar. The irony is that the body of Baloch Student Organisation (Azad) activist Yousaf Nazar accompanies Eido’s body. The question ‘whodunnit ‘ is directed only one way. This is not the only HRCP death. On 1 March HRCP Khuzdar coordinator Naeem Sabir is shot dead at a stationary shop.
The death that shakes the Punjabi intellectuals is the shooting of Professor Saba Dastiyari in the centre of the Quetta Cantonment. This means sporadic protests in Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad and a few editorials and columns – but nothing more.
The Pakistani media’s gaze however begins to turn to Balochistan. Perhaps, in opposition to the desires of those running the show in Balochistan.
The discovery of mutilated bodies continues. On the side, a number of Baloch are reported to have been picked up by intelligence agencies. Family members continue to nag the police, are threatened and silenced until the emergence of the Baloch Voice for Missing Persons.
Made up of direct relatives, the organization goes about documenting the missing Baloch and organizing a legal and political campaign for their recovery. Its records now document over 1,400 missing Baloch. A number of them have since reappeared as mutilated bodies. The unofficial figure it cites is 14,000 missing but the figure it claims to represent remains to be documented.
What is more troubling is that the tale of the missing and killed leads into Karachi’s Baloch community. A number of the pick-ups are from Karachi. During interviews at Karachi, the Baloch community express fears to another journalist friend. It appears that another tale, the tale of Karachi’s missing Baloch remains untold.
It is in this context, while the Pakistan Army Chief General Kiyani has denied claims of the army and intelligence agencies involvement in the kidnap and murder of the Baloch, that the denials are made in Islamabad and not Quetta is instructive.
The Pakistan Army’s Southern Commander Javed Zia however spoke a different tone when addressing journalists at the Quetta Press Club. “If mutilated bodies continue to appear, Balochistan will declare independence,” he said. However, he subsequently retract a part of his statement claiming, “no state agencies are doing so.”
Responding to a query over this, a Quetta-based journalist suggested that both statements were a “manifestation of the complex dynamics within the military over Balochistan. Some are now saying, ‘how many more Baloch will we kill?”
It is either a positive sign, or, a manifestation of how the dynamics of media and the outreach of the Baloch, now running an independent radio station from Brussels, have changed the Pakistan army. A former chief was known to have unashamedly called for the slaughter of Bengalis during 1971 and similar statements were made by him on Sindh.
The need to issue denials at the centre means at least a basic set of questions are being asked about Balochistan and the army is being made answerable. However, with 200 bodies ‘killed-and-dumped’ [figure from 2010], too much has gone under the table to be resolved amicably.
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