Editorial: Balochistan To The Fore

In today’s world, it is no longer possible to carry on blithely with this kind of slow genocide without the world taking notice, sooner or later.

Balochistan has an unfortunate history of denial of rights and repression against those who demand them. It is doubly unfortunate because it has been largely ignored by the political forces as well as the media, barring untoward incidents such as the murder of Nawab Akbar Bugti.

Daily Times is proud to have consistently led in this regard. Our persistence in reporting and commenting on a critical issue may finally be bearing fruit in bringing the issue into the mainstream political discourse as well as gathering the belated attention of the media. One example of the former is the heated debate in the National Assembly (NA) the other day, related to the killing in Karachi of the wife and daughter of Balochistan MPA Mir Bakhtiyar Domki, which expanded to a discussion of the regime of extra-judicial killings that are the norm in that benighted province.

Parliamentarians bemoaned the fact that the committee set up to look into the troubled situation in the province has failed to report. The demand now for a special committee for the same purpose misses the point. Neither the federal nor the provincial Balochistan government are in charge of policy in the province.

The ‘kill and dump’ policy is being pursued by the FC, obviously under the orders of the military establishment. The FC has once again sprinkled salt on the wounds of the Baloch by killing protestors against the Domki family murders. No political force has so far been able to prevail upon the military authorities to revisit their policy and desist from what more and more people are characterising as a disastrous course.

In today’s world, it is no longer possible to carry on blithely with this kind of slow genocide without the world taking notice, sooner or later. This is what explains the US Congress’ decision to hold a hearing on the Balochistan situation. While some may see this development as a triumph for the lobbying of exiled Baloch nationalists in the US, it sits uncomfortably with both Islamabad and the Obama administration for their own discrete reasons. Pakistan’s foreign office sees the hearing as an unjustified interference in a purely internal affair of Pakistan, while the US administration, engaged in fence mending with Islamabad after the relations between the two countries went into deep freeze following the Salala attack, views the hearing and its timing as deeply embarrassing in its efforts to woo Pakistan back into a friendlier posture. Our foreign office seems woefully out of touch with the way the world works at present. Interconnectedness has ensured that no major development, let alone one involving a deliberate policy of decapitating the small intelligentsia of a still largely tribal society (albeit evolving haltingly into modernity), can stay off the radar forever. Washington is despatching General James Mattis, the head of the US’s Central Command, to Pakistan for talks with the Pakistani military top brass regarding the new terms of engagement desired by Islamabad and under discussion in Pakistan’s parliament currently. In fact those deliberations resulted in the cancellation of US Special Representative for Pakistan and Afghanistan Marc Grossman’s visit recently, and has led to General Mattis’ visit being postponed by at least a week. Apart from the general tenor of the relationship going forward, the US and NATO desire a reopening of the supply route for their forces in Afghanistan that stays blocked since the Salala incident. To persuade Islamabad, the US administration is said to be contemplating reversing its initial reluctance to offer an apology for the deaths of Pakistani soldiers at the hands of the US and allied forces in Salala. The US Congress hearing at this precise moment could, in the administration’s view, cause further embarrassment in its relationship-healing thrust. The hearing itself will reveal its contours today, but the contentious issue of some nationalists’ demand for independence for Balochistan, implying the balkanisation of Pakistan, is considered too sensitive even to be commented on by the US State Department.

As an example of Baloch grievances, the issue of its natural resources and control/benefit for the local population has once again been highlighted by the case of the Tethyan copper project at Reko Diq. The Baloch are still smarting from the outcome of an earlier copper project, Saindak, which eventually ended up with a Chinese company with little or no benefit to locals or the province. Historical resentment over the use of Sui gas all over the country while depriving Balochistan of its benefits for many years still simmers despite the partial supply of gas to some urban areas since some years. The constitutional construct of Pakistan makes it very difficult for provinces to claim their just rights over their natural resources. That is an area which, if revisited, could go some way towards mitigating resentment in Balochistan. But the real issue is the attempt by the military to resolve the political/economic conundrum of Balochistan through unfettered force and repression. The times have changed. Force and repression will only reap the whirlwind of greater resistance by the Baloch people, now encouraged by the increasing attention being paid to their issues by local and international opinion. *

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