COMMENT: Plans to sabotage the Balochistan package —Malik Siraj Akbar
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
COMMENT: Plans to sabotage the Balochistan package —Malik Siraj Akbar
Backed by powerful quarters, the FC is simultaneously penetrating Baloch society as a community police, intelligence agency, force to crush political dissent and a tool of propaganda against the Baloch nationalist leadership
Smooth implementation of the Balochistan package, as announced by Prime Minister Gilani, is extremely essential to immediately de-escalate tensions in the insurgency-stricken Balochistan province. Two months after the announcement of the package, indications have now emerged on the political milieu to foresee the sabotage of the multi-pronged Balochistan package. What Senator Mushahid Hussain Syed, General Secretary of the PML-Q, bills as “a hawkish mindset in the establishment that does not believe in the rights of smaller provinces” is once again out to derail the reconciliation process in Balochistan.
On January 15, the Frontier Corps (FC) opened indiscriminate fire on a peaceful political rally of the Baloch Students Organisation (BSO) in Khuzdar, reported the local chapter of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP). This unprovoked firing killed two young students and injured four others. The killing of political activists by a federal paramilitary force that is often seen as an ‘alien force’ in Balochistan has sparked a renewed phase of protests and demonstrations across Balochistan.
The FC has become a new power centre in the restive province. Having a clearly defined constitutional mandate to guard Balochistan’s borders with Iran and Afghanistan, the FC has, on the contrary, begun work on multiple tasks. The worst among such responsibilities is the job to crush political opponents. Last year, the FC besieged the offices of three Quetta-based newspapers in order to force them to give up their editorial policies and follow the establishment’s line. While two newspapers bravely resisted the pressure, Daily Asaap had to succumb to mounting pressure and shut down its publication for good.
The FC is also blamed for whisking away political activists and handing them over to intelligence agencies. In one such significant breach of law, FC officials whisked away three prominent Baloch nationalist leaders –Ghulam Mohammad Baloch, Lala Munir Baloch and Sher Mohammad Baloch — from the legal chamber of Kachkol Ali Baloch, former leader of the opposition in the Balochistan Assembly, in April last year. No police station agreed to register a case against the FC in connection with the ‘disappearance’ of the Baloch leaders nor did the courts take notice despite submission of an application by the lawyer of the three missing leaders. A week later, the dead bodies of all three Baloch leaders were recovered at a deserted place in the outskirts of Turbat district.
Widely regarded as a controversial and belligerent official, Major General Saleem Nawaz, the Inspector General (IG) of the FC, has always remained defensive about the activities of his force. In the first place, Major General Nawaz insisted that those who whisked away the three Baloch leaders from Turbat did not belong to the FC. Similarly, he contradicted the local media, political parties and the HRCP regarding the fresh killings in Khuzdar district by insisting that the FC had not been deployed at the protest rally where the firing took place.
Observers believe that the IG exercises more power than the provincial chief minister. He is the only official deployed in the province who does not hesitate in giving statements related to foreign affairs. Backed by powerful quarters, the FC is simultaneously penetrating Baloch society as a community police, intelligence agency, force to crush political dissent and a tool of propaganda against the Baloch nationalist leadership.
It is not the first time that hawks in the establishment are discouraging a political solution to the Balochistan conflict. The timing of such gruesome developments, like the one in Khuzdar, is significant given the fact that the political leadership is making some progress in settling the Balochistan issue through dialogue. The Khuzdar killings must have come as a major disappointment for Chief Minister Nawab Mohammad Aslam Raisani who was still busy celebrating the breakthrough achieved among the federal government and the four provinces on the National Finance Commission (NFC) Award at Gwadar.
Though the Balochistan package was widely rejected by nationalist parties, it still has the potential to mitigate public disillusionment provided that most, if not all, of the recommendations proposed in the package are implemented without any delay. While the government has acted too slowly to induct some drastic changes on the political, social and economic fronts, hawks in the establishment, on the other hand, have unfortunately moved faster to sabotage the Balochistan package.
For instance, political activists have gone missing in Balochistan even after the presentation of the package. No doubt, the issue of missing persons has become the major source of unrest in Balochistan. On the eve of presenting the Balochistan package, Prime Minister Gilani promised that all missing persons would soon return home to celebrate Eid with their families. Though the government had issued a verified list of 992 missing persons, hardly any were released. Chief Minister Raisani added fuel to the fire when he said in Khuzdar that many of the missing persons had deliberately gone underground merely to malign state intelligence agencies. On the other hand, children and women hailing from the families of the missing persons have once again established a hunger strike camp before the Quetta Press Club to coax the government into releasing the missing persons. They are planning a long march from Quetta to Islamabad in the coming days.
The kind of stand the provincial and federal governments have taken on the issue of enforced disappearances clearly shows their powerlessness to deal with this ‘sensitive’ matter entailing ‘sensitive institutions’. Hence, no progress has been made in recovering the missing persons, even after the presentation of the Balochistan package. Worse still, the recent firing incident on the protestors in Khuzdar is likely to further jeopardise the peace process in Balochistan.
Elements in the establishment sabotaged a similar previous attempt to find a political solution to the Balochistan conflict back in 2004 when a parliamentary committee headed by Mushahid Hussain Syed had almost achieved some progress in talks with Baloch leaders. As the leaders hailing from Marri, Bugti and Mengal tribes and the National Party agreed to negotiate with the parliamentary committee on Balochistan on all outstanding issues, security forces derailed the peace process by arresting Baloch political activists and carrying out search operations in different districts. As a result, the Baloch leaders withdrew from the parliamentary committee in protest. Even then, the government could have done some damage control if the recommendations of the parliamentary committee were wholeheartedly implemented. According to Mushahid Hussain, the chairman of the committee, elements in the establishment did not allow the implementation of the recommendations of the parliamentary committee.
Another area that merits attention in the wake of the newly announced Balochistan package is the official plan to provide 20,000 jobs to the unemployed youth of Balochistan. The provincial government has already given the department of Services and General Administration the responsibility to collect forms and undertake the recruitment process. Many Baloch see the recruitment process sceptically because the government in Quetta has not chalked out a proper recruitment policy to ensure the employment of deserving people.
The Baloch complain that a majority of the beneficiaries of these jobs are the urban non-Baloch youth, while the rural youth does not have the resources to travel to the provincial capital, Quetta, to apply for these announced jobs. Likewise, they demand that jobs be distributed among the districts so that all districts in Balochistan benefit from the package. Under the current recruitment procedure, the biggest beneficiaries are the young boys and girls from Quetta.
On the other hand, youth from remote parts of the province who have truly been affected by the turmoil in the province, fear that they may not be able to compete on open merit with the youth of Quetta who are educationally more competent than those from backward areas. Chief Minister Raisani has completely rejected the proposal of distributing jobs to districts by saying that all aspiring candidates must be selected on open merit. If merit is the sole benchmark for recruitment in the regressive province of Balochistan, ground realities suggest that unemployed youth from Dera Bugti and Kohlu will most probably remain outside the national mainstream forever.
The government has to first of all minimise the use of force by the security forces against the people of Balochistan in order to save the reconciliation process from being hijacked and elements responsible for the Khuzdar firing incident must be brought to justice. Secondly, the government must not waste much time in implementing the recommendations of the Balochistan package. Durable peace in Balochistan is intertwined with sustainability of government policies and timely implementation of the Balochistan package.
The writer is a staff member and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org