The constitutional actions and benevolence of Punjab have never translated into happiness for the Baloch people
A neighbour intending to borrow a donkey went to the sardonic sage Mullah Nasruddin’s house. The mullah apologised, saying someone had already taken it. As the disappointed neighbour was leaving, Mullah’s donkey brayed stridently from the courtyard. He returned and said, “Nasruddin, you are being economical with the truth; it seems that your donkey has not gone anywhere.” Chastising him with a sombre face Mullah said, “It is surely very silly of you to disbelieve me and believe the donkey instead.” The Baloch people in particular and concerned people in general, like Mullah’s neighbour, are certainly in a dilemma regarding the Balochistan situation. They do not know whether to believe Mullah’s subtle fibs or the donkey’s strident truths, i.e. the sombre Pakistani pronouncements that the middle class elected representative is independently running affairs in Balochistan or is Balochistan in reality being run from Islamabad or more precisely from Lahore. By the way, Dr Malik Baloch’s cabinet still awaits approval from Lahore.
Shahbaz Sharif’s Punjab government has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the China Power International (CPI) Holding Limited to generate 2,400 megawatts (MW) electricity within the next couple of years. It would not have been odd if the power plants had been in Punjab; the MoU is in fact for four plants producing 600 MW each in Gadani, roughly an hour’s drive from Karachi with the country’s only shipbreaking yard in the area of Lasbela district. Imported coal will run the plants and most probably will be the smog-creating low quality Chinese coal, which will certainly create a colossal environmental disaster as the coastal wind will take the pollution deep inland into Balochistan.
The Habib Jalib-quoting Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif did not disclose how much Punjab was investing but said that his government had a “little share”; how much is that ‘little share’ and why is it Punjab and not Balochistan that has that ‘little share’ was not elaborated upon. He said all project-related issues will be dealt with according to the constitution. When asked if the Balochistan government had been taken on board for the ”project, he replied in the affirmative and said that the people of Balochistan should be happy as China and the Punjab government were making a big investment there. By extension the people of Balochistan should also be happy about the March 27, 1948 forced accession of Balochistan and all the subsequent economic exploitation, the numerous military operations, the ongoing ‘dirty war’, which has claimed 700 plus victims and the 14,000 missing persons because all these too were according to the constitution. They should also be happy about China milking Saindak dry and it helping Pakistan exploit Balochistan’s resources.
The constitutional actions and benevolence of Punjab have never translated into happiness for the Baloch people. Recently, Dera Bugti, after eight years under army rule, saw the return of some internally displaced Bugtis. One wonders if all of the estimated 170,000 IDPs will be allowed back or this is just a ruse to defuse resistance with pliable plants. Kiyya Qadir Baloch reported in this paper that Dera Bugti has no proper communication infrastructure and not much development work has been carried out there. The helpless people of Sui and Dera Bugti still use wood to cook while the educated youth are largely unemployed. Most educational institutions, including an intermediate college in Dera Bugti, a technical training centre and a girls’ school in Sui are inoperative for the last three years but teachers and other staff regularly draw salaries under army patronage.
The Dera Bugti deputy commissioner told reporters that because of prevailing violence the government machinery and business was totally disturbed while another government official, on condition of anonymity, said that the current wave of violence has affected the Hindu community most as they control the major business there. He said, “Often, there are rocket attacks on the army’s cantonment or DCO office from the Baloch Republican Army (BRA), which is fighting the army oppression. These attacks irk the army, which then uses several organisations such as Musalla Difa Tanzeem, Sipah-e-Shuhada-e-Balochistan and Tehreek-e-Nifaz-e-Aman Balochistan to counter the Baloch militants.” Asked about the people working for these organisations, he said, “These organisations recruit religious extremists, thugs, criminals and drug dealers as mercenaries, and in return get incentives and license to rob on highways, loot civilians, attack NATO supplies, smuggle drugs from the Afghan border to anywhere in the country and kidnap people for ransom.” Run by the army and Frontier Corps, Dera Bugti has become economically bankrupt and with the exodus of Bugtis due to state terror, has deteriorated in every aspect and become a picture of desolation. Dera Bugti languishes at the very bottom of the Human Development Index and eight years of unchallenged army rule only worsened the situation. Dera Bugti’s utterly decrepit and despairing state of affairs is a microcosm of the Balochistan situation as a whole.
Ironically, the state narrative has always almost exclusively blamed the Sardars (tribal chiefs) for Balochistan’s travails followed by charges of a nexus of RAW-CIA-Mossad being culpable for the Baloch resentment and resistance that the state terror, exploitation and neglect generates. Kamran Shafi in his op-ed, “We must face our demons” on August 1, 2013 in a national daily mentions a preposterous news item (from Ummat, January 16, 2013) about a Mossad agent helping the Baloch, which people think is true.
The state narrative regarding Balochistan prevails because apparently people are comfortable with it and want to believe it. They prefer the subtle untruths to the strident earth-shaking truths, of course unless woken up by a shock. Another Mullah Nasruddin anecdote may help us understand why. Mullah occasionally borrowed a neighbour’s cauldron and diligently returned it after use. Once Mullah surprised the neighbour by returning it with a smaller newer cauldron; on inquiry, Mullah said your cauldron bore a baby. Once again he borrowed and returned it with a baby cauldron. The third time there was a long delay so the neighbour asked him for it. Mullah made a melancholy face and said that he did not have the heart to break the news that his cauldron had suddenly expired. Outraged, the owner said how could a cauldron die, to which pat came Mullah’s reply, “A cauldron that delivers baby cauldrons can surely die too.” Sadly it is the state narrative that people conveniently believe because this narrative keeps presenting imaginary baby cauldrons to appease them and the disillusionment will only come when the cauldron finally expires.
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]