government had no idea how bad the Balochistan situation had become until the congressman came and opened up a can of worms, so to speak. Suddenly, Balochistan started trending as the hottest topic under the sun, forcing the government to do something, anything.
Interior Minister Rehman Malik says cases against Baloch separatist leaders are being withdrawn. About time he said something sensible.
The government has been groping in the dark on Balochistan. In fact, it wasn’t even groping, because you only grope when you are looking for something, or trying to go somewhere. The Gilani government was obviously doing neither of the two. It was sitting pretty watching the khakis do whatever they have always done in Balochistan.
Look where it got us.
Trust an obscure backbencher American congressman by the name of Dana Rohrabacher to jolt the government out of its lethargy and indifference. It was almost as if the government had no idea how bad the Balochistan situation had become until the congressman came and opened up a can of worms, so to speak. Suddenly, Balochistan started trending as the hottest topic under the sun, forcing the government to do something, anything.
So what does it do? Call an All Parties Conference (APC). The disgruntled Baloch were clearly not impressed. And neither was anyone else, for that matter. APC is a do-nothing tactic used by governments when they want to show they’re doing something. In the name of building consensus, a whole lot of nothing happens. Remember the APC in the Prime Minister’s house last year, called to debate the May 2 incident? Everyone who thinks he’s anyone was there. Net result? Zero.
Here then is the real deal: the government does not control what happens in Balochistan. And yes, I’m talking about the federal government, and not the Balochistan government because that’s not even worth talking about. The government can announce packages, promise jobs, offer development, etc but at this stage, all this doesn’t cut it.
What does then? A stop to killings, for a start. This is easier said than done. Let’s face it: Balochistan right now is a complicated mess. If you are looking to heap blame on one side, and one side alone, you’ve got another thing coming. If the FC and the security agencies are spilling blood – and lots of it – they are not the only one. The tit-for-tat has got so bad, and so ugly, and so gruesome, that it is very easy to lose sight of the bigger picture. Someone, somehow, somewhere has to put a stop to this vortex of violence before things actually spin out of control.
Haven’t they already, you ask? Perhaps not yet. If you hear the likes of Brahmdagh Bugti and Herbayar Marri, Balochistan appears to be on the verge of going its way. Hopefully, that’s not the case. But whatever is left of the case is being systematically destroyed by the government and the establishment.
Here’s how: the government is not in a position to give the angry Baloch what they want. The establishment is. But so far it does not appear inclined to do so. There is a narrative that has been peddled for some time and it goes something like this: a handful of Baloch sardars and their offspring are creating trouble while the majority is ready to work within the constitutional structure. This clique of sardars has been milking the state for all its worth, and flirting with the enemy at the same time. The enemy gives them guns and money. Hence they are traitors. And traitors deserve to be … well you get the point.
This may be partially true. But things changed after the killing of Akbar Bugti. The Baloch narrative of persecution, which had always existed but never really gained enough traction to become a serious concern for Islamabad, suddenly began to acquire a new life. The reaction to Bugti’s killing elicited a counter-reaction which sparked off a series of events that ended up with mutilated bodies being found on deserted roads.
But this somehow never registered on the national radar. The parliament was too busy playing partisan politics, the provincial government was too busy stuffing its pockets while suspended in its natural position of inertia, the media was too busy focusing on ratings-driven content, and the establishment, well, was among other things dealing with America, India, Afghanistan, Swat, FATA and the rest. So people kept getting dead in Balochistan but no one took note.
No wonder when Baloch are asked what the problem is, they reach for the gun.
What now then? The Prime Minister has staked much on his APC. It will be a flop. Nawaz Sharif has already as good as opted out. Baloch leaders who matter have reacted to the meeting with a contempt that was not unexpected. And the establishment has given no indication yet that it is reviewing its way of doing things in Balochistan. In a belated reaction, Rehman Malik has now announced a series of steps which he hopes will cool the temperature and bring the Baloch to the table. He says not only are cases against Brahmdagh, Herbiyar and other Baloch leaders being withdrawn, he will personally receive them at the airport if they decide to return to Pakistan.
Now we at least know Rehman Malik has a heart. Sadly, it’s in the wrong place.
Yet again he’s skirting the real issue: killings. Till some headway is made on this issue – and I mean practical headway, not just Mr Malik’s rhetorical flourishes – all other steps being announced with the government will remain what they actually are: sops.
And sops are not what the Baloch need right now. Sadly sops are all that the government has to offer through the APC. It is a waste of time. Regardless of who is right and who is wrong, the initiative to stop this slide into the abyss has to be taken by the establishment. There will be plenty of time later to determine the heroes and villains.
For once, let’s make some new mistakes instead of repeating old ones.