Balochistan: Back from the brink?
Air Commodore (R) Khalid Iqbal
Recently launched report of the fact-finding mission to Balochistan by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) stirs up as much anxiety as it radiates a ray of hope.
It is too early to say that Balochistan is on its way to recovery; however it will not be an overstatement if we say that it is back from the brink. This is not to undermine the seriousness of the heinous events which are frequently happening there. Most worrisome finding of the Commission is that the patterns and trends have not been reversed. Nevertheless, emergence of indigenous urge to recover out of the mess is something encouraging. Special focus on Balochistan by the Chief Justice of Pakistan and the Government appointed commission on missing persons headed by Justice Javed Iqbal alongside HRCP provide multiple windows on Balochistan; these three entities have come out with similar observations about all major vows of Balochistan.
The HRCP mission had visited the province from May 15 to 19, 2012, in order to review the impact of recent Balochistan related measures by the government. Mission interacted with a cross section of people. Mission is of the opinion that there is a genuine will and commitment to find solutions, the numerous challenges facing Balochistan could be effectively tackled. However, it also pointed out the stark reality that the government’s strategy in Balochistan has not been able to make any headway; hence there is an urgent need of a bold course correction. It corroborates with this scribe’s observation during a visit to the province early this year. Political and bureaucratic inertia was at its worst.
Though all top bureaucratic slots were held by the provincial service cadre, and all except one MPA were minister, there was an environment ranging from resignation to indifference.
Commission’s report has rightly pointed out that ‘in many fundamental respects the situation had not changed in Balochistan’ since the mission’s previous visit in 2011. During the intervening period, ‘enforced disappearances and dumping of bodies continued’ with impunity. At perceptional level, ‘Frontier Corps and intelligence agencies are believed to be involved in enforced disappearance of people…In some cases their involvement had been proved beyond doubt’. People generally expressed faith in the Levies force because of its local composition. FC and Police are not well respected. ‘The law and order situation had worsened and sectarian killings (have) increased in all districts’.
The HRCP has reported some signs of improvement though each with a stipulation, which present a foundation, provided we consistently build upon these. Commission is of the view that the Supreme Court’s hearings in Quetta are having a positive impact. However, these are not being followed by concrete corrective measures at political and administrative level; hence, the effort may soon lose the public confidence. It is encouraging to learn that the youth and political activists were more willing to talk and more keen to engage in efforts to resolve the crises politically; and they look forward towards coming general elections. There is need to capitalize on this through free and fair elections. To give credence to the process, it would be appropriate to invite national and international observers. All mainstream political parties have a responsibility towards achieving this end. Hopefully, nationalist parties would stand up to the occasion, and face and adjust to the changed political environment boldly instead of resigning to the politics of boycott. Commission has rightly opined that if the nationalists become part of the political process, the overall political environment would improve.
Unfortunately under the existing structures, even democratic process reinforces clout and powers of the tribal chieftains. Due to prevalent socio-cultural inhibitions and structural weaknesses, people of Balochistan have a long way to go before reaching the level of democracy that the other parts of the country enjoy. However, there is a need to show perseverance and keep inching towards that objective.
Mission is of the view that: “Despite the government’s oft-voiced desire for a political solution to the crisis in Balochistan no progress had been made on engaging through talks with the nationalist elements. Even preparatory steps towards that end remained lacking. The provincial government was nowhere to be seen in the crises. The chief minister was away from the province for a lot of time and the provincial government held meetings regarding Balochistan outside the province. The provincial government seemed to have earned a lot of discredit in a short span of time. After the 18th Amendment and the National Finance Commission Award, more funds had certainly become available to Balochistan but those did not seem to have trickled down. A general observation was that corruption had spiked by the same margin”.
Report further points out about ‘multiple layers of violence and tension’ contributing towards worsening of law and order situation radiating an aura of general insecurity and an environment of public-under-siege. Corporatization of kidnapping for ransom and perception of collusion-cum-incompetence as a major cause for proliferation in urban and highway crimes are alarming indicators. Yet, more serious indicator is the conclusion which most people have reached in Balochistan that the criminals were not arrested because they enjoyed the patronage of the authorities including the politicians.
Mission noted that ‘all investigations end as soon as claims of responsibility were made by any militant or insurgent organisation’. Even for common crimes, meaningful investigation or prosecution was not done. There was ‘glut of sophisticated firearms’. State appeared unable and or unwilling to protect the lives of religious minorities. Killings and harassment of the settler population by the insurgents had led to their exodus. The continued persecution of Hazaras was ruthless and unprecedented.
Mission observed ‘state abdicating its basic responsibility and NGOs retreating for fear of abduction of their staff (which) had further aggravated the crises. The government and development agencies had abandoned the troubled areas. Healthcare and education were neglected. Many good teachers had migrated’. Report is of the view that: ‘An insurgency in parts of the province did not justify the state ignoring the people’s health, sanitation and other basic needs and infrastructure’, especially in the areas which were not affected by the ongoing strife. ‘There were places in the province where the people, irrespective of their ethnicity, survived in conditions that were not far removed from the Stone Age. Alleviating their problems was no one’s priority’.
It is commendable that the Mission has gone beyond mere finger pointing ritual; it also suggests a strategy by pointing out that the issues in Balochistan ‘had long been looked at in the perspective of a ‘Baluch insurgency and Baluch rights’. It recommends to have a ‘holistic look at all the problems in Balochistan, including those faced by a substantial Pakhtun population, the Hazaras, non-Muslims and settlers as well as economic and livelihood issues in the province’.
Balochistan has its peculiar paradoxes, requiring continuous monitoring and a cautious approach. Crumbling tribal structure is trying all its might to hold on to the power, suitable alternative socio-political structures are not evolving at the requisite speed. Hence, there is a void in the context of the ownership of the vows of Balochistan. Therefore, the offered solutions are erratic, half-baked and insincere.
The ray of hope is frail, the window of opportunity is short, we need to seize the moment and build upon it through a coherent national strategy.