Remember the 1992 Al Pacino starrer Scent of A Woman in which he plays the role of an irascible, blind, medically-retired army officer?
In a particularly poignant scene, while defending a preparatory school student, who is unfairly threatened with expulsion before a disciplinary committee, he says:
“There was a time I could see! And I have seen — boys like these, younger than these, their arms torn out, their legs ripped off. But there is nothin’ like the sight of an amputated spirit. There is… no prosthetic for that.” That’s how many Pakistanis felt after going over what happened in Ziarat — the picturesque holiday resort famous for its location as the second largest juniper forest in the world — between last Friday night and early Saturday morning. The amputated spirit of this South Asian nation was before the entire world to see. Indeed, it is difficult to recall a more devastating single-day slide into the depths of misery, anger, hurt, betrayal.
The day began with the destruction of the famous Ziarat Residency, renowned for being the last resting place of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the Founder of the Nation. Even Gulzaar, that great master of symbolism, would struggle to come up with a more potent metaphor for a country having lost its soul.
The emotional attachment that an average Pakistani has for Ziarat Residency — one of the four landmarks each of which reminds them of the country’s four provinces — is now gone as they knew it. Purely, on an emotional level, it may be difficult to reconcile the loss of a potent 65-year-old memory not to Alzheimer’s or a state of dementia but the abject failure of the security agencies to protect it from insurgents.
The secessionist Balochistan Liberation Army militants even managed to remove the national flag and replace it with their own after the rocket-propelled grenades hit the national heritage site.
Pakistanis had yet to recover from the shock of this heart-wrenching loss when news broke of the death of more than a dozen female students aboard a bus, which was hit by a female suicide bomber disguised as a student belonging to the banned militant outfit Lashkare-e-Jhangavi in the Sardar Bahadur Khan University parking lot.
This was soon followed by the siege of Bolan Medical Complex by a group of terrorists as victims were being shifted for treatment there. Just then, another blast occurred, leading to the death of the deputy commissioner, four nurses and four Frontier Constabulary personnel. Even though the security personnel were finally able to end the siege and kill four terrorists, it left behind serious questions surrounding the ability of the newly-elected provincial government to hold fort, in the short-term, and the very solidarity and integrity of Pakistan, in the long-term.
The single-day remains were a grim reminder of how perilous the situation still is in Balochistan. The re-entry of nationalists into the mainstream courtesy the May 11 general elections may have contributed in some way to crossing the Rubicon, but the Saturday blues have reinforced the fragility of the process, which was by no means wholly fair. Elected members of the estranged Balochistan National Party of Akhtar Mengal have already refused to take oath either in the Provincial or National Assembly under protest against an election, they alleged, was rigged to prevent them from gaining a major stake in power.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has long proposed a national debate with a view to solving the Balochistan imbroglio. However, as his government is just beginning to discover, it is easier said than done. Not only will it have to first find the magic potion that reconciles rival parties and groups in the complex power structure in place right now, but also help the provincial government’s establish its writ in an area in virtual control of the security forces.
It is instructive to note that Balochistan hasn’t come to this pass all of a sudden. Years of neglect and isolation from the mainstream have inculcated a strong sense of discrimination; hence, the rebellion in disturbing hues. Unfortunately, the powers-that-be have done precious little to allay the sense of deprivation. In fact, the poor substitution of power in the form of the last regime headed by the thoroughly incompetent Nawab Raisani did much to nearly destroy the last vestiges of hope the province had of genuine representation.
Last Saturday’s dark developments should serve as a wake-up call — that is, if there is still a desire to lock heads and come up with a holistic solution. The prognosis has to be dilated upon with an open mind. There is, after all, a reason why the province has become an experiment lab for foreign powers and grounds for exploitation by the enemies of the state. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has the kind of mandate to draw a framework for consensus before putting his foot down on what would constitute a national policy based on civilian control.
The author is a freelance journalist based in Islamabad. All the views and opinions expressed in the article are solely those of the author and do not reflect those of Times of Oman.