Balochistan: A Costly Failure Abbas Nasir

It is strange that the state has a history of talking to the Taliban and cutting a number of deals with them.

WHEN the balance sheet of the current PPP-led government is finalised towards the end of its term, its paralysis over Balochistan must stand out as a major minus, a huge failing.

If this paralysis could be explained away by its inexplicably self-destructive lack of interest in good governance, it would have been bad enough. That it chose to take this course mainly to keep the military onside spoke volumes about its leadership and character.

Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf’s statement on Tuesday at the National Defence University is a prime example. He displayed utter lack of imagination when he said he wasn’t prepared to talk to those who are against Pakistan’s territorial integrity and disrespect its flag.

Very few in the country would side with those avowedly striving to separate from Pakistan but the prime minister would do well to consider two issues. Is his stance an endorsement of the kill-and-dump policy that’s been the state’s response to these elements in the province for years now?

Also, has he examined why some people who have lived in Pakistan since its inception and even as they agitated for their rights did so within the ambit of the federation, are pursuing separatist goals now?

One can be sure that when we create such a mess the inevitable ‘foreign hand’ PM Ashraf alluded to could get to work exploiting the chinks in our armour. But we ourselves are responsible for these vulnerabilities. Others merely use them to further their goals, if that.

Did the prime minister and his party ever ponder how things got to this pass? Did they trace the recent history of how Balochistan and the Baloch have been dealt with, particularly starting with the killing of Nawab Akbar Bugti in an army operation in 2006?

When did Akbar Bugti, one of the most loyal servants of the federation, talk of separation or taking on the state of Pakistan? What were the circumstances in which he was forced at his age to head for the mountains, in a symbolic Baloch gesture of defiance?

Not a day passes when bodies aren’t found of young men, mostly Baloch nationalists/separatists, who have not been arrested and tried for their beliefs or crimes but kidnapped and summarily executed.

The Supreme Court says it finds this unacceptable and castigates those responsible. But PPP MNA from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Noor Alam says the court’s proceedings and statements were ‘demoralising’ the security forces. Perhaps the governing-party legislator was again appeasing the military at a time the government feels fresh pressure from the judiciary.

It is strange that the state has a history of talking to the Taliban and cutting a number of deals with them. Hafiz Gul Bahadar, who has ordered a stop to the polio vaccination campaign in North Waziristan, is but one. Who wouldn’t recall the ‘peace deal’ with Baitullah Mehsud in 2005 in South Waziristan?

That deal marked a costly mistake of the state which was eventually to take a toll of more than 3,500 of our soldiers. We support people such as the Haqqanis who can strike Kabul at will but cannot check Mullah Radio’s gang of marauding murderers in Kunar province as they launch attack after attack on our land.

The wisdom of our security apparatus appears infinite. It opposes talks with the Baloch. There are indications that the agencies have infiltrated the separatist movement in Balochistan. There are also plans afoot to insert Jamaat-ud Dawa into the province, as if more religious zealots would solve the puzzle.

Having tried to brutally crush the separatists and having chosen to look the other way as Shia Hazaras have come under murderous attacks with increasing regularity by the sectarian Lashkar-i-Jhangvi, the secu-rity set-up is now said to be playing a suicidal game by fanning Baloch-Pashtun differences.

Yes, it is equally mindless of some elements of the separatist movement – which is rooted in the legitimate demand for rights – to see it fit to kill innocent poor people such as, recently, the Swati miners, dealing a blow to the credibility of their whole cause.

Statements such as the prime minister’s won’t encourage even the saner among them to the negotiating table. One can be sure nobody has bothered to explore whether some of their separatist rhetoric is mere posturing by those who feel wronged and violated by the state and are lashing out in desperation.

Consider the utterances of Islamabad and Washington starting with the Salala attack and through the period when the two sides were negotiating the restoration of Nato supply routes. Their relations seemed irreparably damaged. And what happened? Both made concessions.

Just a few months ago, after yet another pronouncement by the former prime minister of wanting dialogue, Mir Harbiyar Marri’s younger brother told an interviewer: nobody has knocked on our door. Wouldn’t you get the sense that this meant they wouldn’t be totally averse to talks?

It seems like a long time ago when President Asif Ali Zardari first talked about addressing the issue. Himself Baloch, there was hope he would use his effective negotiating skills to quickly make a breakthrough.

But nothing happened. Perhaps the president found it too much to challenge the wisdom of the GHQ on this matter. Remaining on the right side of the military has been and continues to remain a key priority of the PPP-led government.

How successful this policy has been was evidenced during ‘memogate’. The military establishment thought nothing of trying to pull the rug out from under the feet of a government that has owned many of GHQ’s decisions and repeatedly taken flak for them at home and abroad.

As the terms of the government and the president near their end, critics would point to ‘corruption and misgovernance’ as two significant failings. To many like me, Balochistan would rank right up there with them. Perhaps even higher. An utter and complete leadership failure.

The writer is a former editor of Dawn.

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