Comment: Reminding The Village Idiot Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur

Ironically, the situation in Balochistan is already more akin to an emergency rule than to a democratic one

Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry’s pronouncement that “the Constitution will take its course if the prime minister fails to take steps with immediate effect to resolve the crisis in Balochistan,” warning that imposition of emergency could be one of the options to restore sanity to the province has sparked a wave of consternation among the Baloch people. He further said, “All major political players should keep in mind that non-implementation of the Constitution had led to imposition of martial law more than once,” and added, “Why don’t we implement the Constitution before the army imposes martial law.” The Baloch are trying to fathom the real reason behind this ominous threat, which seems to be aimed at them – who are the victims of atrocities and a slow-track genocide – and not at the ‘establishment’ and its departments who are the perpetrators; obviously, this is tantamount to urging the state to impose an ‘emergency’ in Balochistan.

There is an anecdote in Sindh that most of the inhabitants of a village were going off for an extended stay at a neighbouring village for a wedding ceremony and the village idiot was the only one staying behind. As the villagers prepared to leave the village, the elders, hoping to advise the village idiot about his conduct during their absence told him, “Now, don’t you set the village on fire while we are away.” The village idiot gleefully clapped his hands and said, “Gosh! This possibility had simply escaped my mind, thank you for reminding me!” This is what this statement has served to do; it has reminded the ‘village idiot’ that he has forgotten the possibility of setting the village on fire, i.e. step up repression by suspending whatever sham fundamental rights exist in Balochistan.

The Chief Justice’s statement has puzzled even leading legal minds. Renowned jurist Justice (retd) Fakharuddin G Ibrahim expressed his surprise over the remarks, and questioning the judiciary’s powers in this regard said, “Only the executive has the authority to declare an emergency. What powers do you have? I don’t know in which direction things are moving.” Consternation among the Baloch arises from the ominous direction that these hearings about ‘missing persons’ have taken. The hearings are aimed ostensibly at the recovery of missing persons, but could be used to give the agencies authorisation to commit atrocities under an emergency. Instead of addressing their problems, the option of suspending rights is being used; but then what one can expect of a state that is interested in Balochistan simply for its resources.

Needless to say: “A state of emergency is a governmental declaration that may suspend some normal functions of the executive, legislative and judicial powers, alert citizens to change their normal behaviours, or order government agencies to implement emergency preparedness plans. It can also be used as a rationale for suspending rights and freedoms, even if guaranteed under the constitution.” During an emergency, special powers are devolved to the military or the law enforcing agencies; thus, essentially, what this pronouncement means is that the powers be officially devolved in Balochistan to further repress the Baloch. The Frontier Corps already runs a ‘parallel government’ in Balochistan and has been ‘disappearing’ people at will, but probably feel hindered even by the rubber stamp Balochistan government and legislature. An emergency would do away with even the pretext of civilian interference in the way they want to conduct a policy of repression against the Baloch.

This statement coming from the highest judicial officer of the state does not support the rule of law; instead, it favours the use of emergency powers by those responsible for the disappearances and killings. It is like advocating that the fox be entrusted with the duty of guarding the chicken coop. Ironically, the situation in Balochistan is already more akin to an emergency rule than to a democratic one and the argument for an official imposition of emergency with the threat of martial law simply shows the nexus that has always existed between the judiciary and the military. The judiciary has never been averse to give a helping hand to the military wherever and whenever needed by either actively condoning its acts or by being a silent spectator. A de facto emergency is already in force in Balochistan – this statement may help it to be officially imposed. Ironically, what the state forgets is that if the atrocities and repression of the past 65 years have not cowed the Baloch, more of the same will fail too. I was a participant at ‘Compelling Conversations’ on Balochistan arranged by T2F in Karachi earlier this month. A member of the audience said that instead of apportioning blame, measures be taken to repair the damage. I had replied that for this two things are essential: one is the skill and the other, the instruments. I should have elaborated that in Balochistan, the state skills are limited to a systematic abduct and kill policy and the instruments at its disposal are a wide range of destructive weapons, which are used excessively.

George Monbiot in a recent article about the Bosnian Serb ex-army chief Ratko Mladic’s trial rightly said, “The term ‘genocide’ conjures up attempts to kill an entire people: the German slaughter of the Jews and the near-extermination of the Native Americans. But the identity of the crime does not depend on its scale or success: genocide means ‘acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group’.” The atrocities perpetrated in Balochistan do meet this definition. When more than 500 persons are killed in a year and a half and thousands have disappeared, it definitely is a genocide.

This statement has shorn the Baloch of the illusion that any state institution is even mildly interested in addressing their demands or stopping the genocide that has qualitatively progressed from the lower to a higher stage with the passage of time. They now realise that their fate lies in their own hands and they need to struggle relentlessly. Frederick Douglass (1818-1895), the black American human rights activist, rightly said, “The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those they suppress.” The Baloch know it is up to them to protect themselves and achieve their demands, for if they surrender their right to struggle for the illusory promises of justice and respect for their rights by state institutions that have their own interests to protect, they are doomed forever. The more they acquiesce in state tyranny, the more they will be trodden upon for sure.

The writer has an association with the Baloch rights movement going back to the early 1970s. He tweets at mmatalpur and can be contacted at [email protected]

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