When security forces killed more than 20 people in Balochistan chief minister says, “C’mon! You didn’t do it. The Indians did it.”
Betrayal in Balochistan
Malik Siraj Akbar Edward Mason Fellow at Harvard Kennedy School of Government
When the Taliban carry out a terrorist attack in Pakistan and claim responsibility for it, the government authorities tell them, “Shut up. You didn’t do it. The Indians did it.” When the country’s security forces confirm that they have actually killed more than 20 people in Balochistan, the turbulent province in the southwest, the Baloch chief minister says, “C’mon! You didn’t do it. The Indians did it.”
In Pakistan, everyone says they have incontrovertible evidence about India’s involvement in destabilizing Balochistan. They only won’t share the evidence with you because they insist that when evidence is already too evident then why should one make the evident, evident? Hence, there is national consensus that the assumption that there is evidence should be taken as the evidence and journalists and human rights activists should stop asking for making the evidence evident.
This truly complicates the situation. Some might even find it funny, but it is not. We are talking about a situation where dozens of people are losing their lives every day in extra judicial killings committed by the Pakistani security forces in the province of Balochistan. Since the government views them as “insurgents” and “terrorists,” it does not bother to identify anyone of them or provide any accountability why alleged terrorists are not arrested and given a fair trial. A country where security forces kill fellow countrymen so indiscriminately, and then flaunt over their extrajudicial actions, certainly shames democracy.
What has gone wrong in Balochistan? A quick recap: General Musharraf (1999-2008) unleashed a military operation against the Baloch nationalists who wanted control over their province and its resources. President Asif Ali Zardari (2008-2013) procrastinated for five years while constantly promising to reconcile with the disgruntled Baloch separatists. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif (since 2013), falsely assuming that Zardari had already completed the reconciliation process, won the hearts and minds of the Baloch people, decided to take the supposed post-reconciliation period to the next level by empowering the Baloch middle class. He blundered: He picked up the wrong guy.
Dr. Abdul Malik, Sharif’s handpicked chief executive in Balochistan, mislead Islamabad in order to become the chief minister after the general elections of 2013. He took advantage of Sharif’s ignorance about the dynamics and the key players of the conflict in Balochistan and told Sharif that he was so connected in Balochistan that he could bring all the insurgents to the negotiation table. Sharif trusted him. The army endorsed him. Why? Because there was nobody else among the Baloch nationalists willing to talk to Islamabad. Most Baloch voters had boycotted the general election on the call of the separatist groups. In order to prove that the elections were successful and representative of all people’s vote, Sharif selected a man who over promised to him and the army that he would end the insurgency.
Mr. Malik was the first chief minister in Balochistan’s tribal region who did not come from the tribal elite. He symbolized the educated middle class of the province. Some, including this writer, hoped that he would rewrite Balochistan’s history by challenging the Pakistani security forces and stoping the military operation in order to pave the way for a political resolution of the conflict. Some also hoped that he would fight in Islamabad against the forced disappearance of hundreds of activists who have allegedly been whisked away by the Pakistani intelligence. Some even naively hoped that he would bring to justice the government intelligence personnel who were accused for the murder of hundreds of political workers who were murdered in the government custody. The list of expectations from the new chief minister kept on rising as people also hoped that would develop Balochistan’s infrastructure during his term. None of this happened. The chief minister neither delivered to the promises he had made to Islamabad nor did he meet analysts’ expectations.
In order to make sure that he stayed in power in spite of all odds, the chief minister gave the Pakistani intelligence agencies a blank check to continue with the forced disappearances in Balochistan. He even did not utter a word when a 21-year old son of one of his old political comrades and now an exiled Baloch leader, Kachkol Ali, was whisked away from Karachi on August 30th, 2014. Mr. Ali had formerly served as the Leader of the Opposition during General Musharraf’s military rule in the Balochistan legislative assembly while, ironically, representing the current chief minister’s party, the National Party. Times have changed. Dr. Malik has ditched his old nationalist comrades in a desperate attempt to please the Pakistani military. The explosive province is under such a weak chief minister that when the army wants to say that there is no military operation going on, the chief minister is the one ready to deliver the message for them in the media and he even has a more sophisticated way to hide his incompetence and please Islamabad: The Indians are involved in stirring trouble in Balochistan. He literally said that this past weekend at a press conference in Lahore.
The army and Sharif also have to realize that they have chosen the wrong ally in Balochistan. Mr. Malik has been misinforming them about the intensity and the seriousness of the situation in Balochistan only to protect his own seat. There is growing, and often uncontrollable, anger among the people over the military operations being conducted across Balochistan. The chief minister does not protest nor does he convey people’s anger to Islamabad because the price for this could be his own job. But somebody has to communicate the right message. Interlocutors who lie and misinform for their own interests will exasperate an existing crisis.
Dr. Malik is not the political heavyweight who can persuade the pro-independent Balochistan leadership of the Baloch nationalist movement to trust Pakistan and initiate dialogue with them. He will not tell Islamabad that he is unable to manage the conflict. So, he just tells them that all is well when nearly nothing is well in Balochistan. Dr. Malik has become Balochistan’s Hamid Karzai. Neither he could bring the Taliban to the negotiation table nor could he sell the American values to the Taliban. In Balochistan, only one man, the chief minister, has benefited from the conflict between Islamabad and the Baloch separatists. He has betrayed both the sides without even making them notice. Who wouldn’t blame the Indians if the price is so awesome?
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MORE: Dr. Abdul Malik Baloch Balochistan Pakistan Hamid Karzai Nawaz Sharif Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif Pervez Musharraf Human Rights Balochistan Conflict