Claims, counterclaims confound Balochistan confusion

By Malik Siraj Akbar

Finally, the government is opening up in Balochistan. Only, the objective seems to be to push government-friendly stories out of the province.

Government media managers have been entrusted the responsibility of taking journalists from Balochistan around the tension-ridden zones of the province. What this means for the reliability and authenticity of reports that come out from these areas should be obvious.

Having filed a story about the surrender of 600 Bugti tribesmen on July 15, a journalist from a private news channel who was taken to Dera Bugti, said the total number of people gathered there to surrender arms was less than 50. But he reported the surrender of 600 tribesmen, which is the number the media managers wanted pushed out.

“It is difficult to see how ‘embedded’ journalists can report the correct situation,” says an analyst. But the plan seems to be to embed journalists from leading media organisations so that government-friendly stories can reach a very large audience and are also readily believed.

However, some analysts warn against taking a simplistic view of ‘embedding’. “There are problems with the concept,” says one, “but in situations where free movement of journalists is not possible because of a risk to their lives, they can be escorted. By itself that does not mean filing pro-government stories. In any case, journalists have the choice of braving it out themselves.”

According to the government – despite the increasing number of bomb blasts, rockets attacks and other violent incidents – Balochistan is steadily heading towards normalcy. Raziq Bugti, the official spokesperson claims that more than 50 ‘miscreants’ have been killed in a week and their fugitive camps eliminated. As Akbar Bugti’s loyalists surrender before the government, one after the other, celebrations have also been kicked off in official quarters over the conquest of Marri and Bugti areas.

The latest cycle of violence started on July 3 when a powerful bomb blast occurred in Gwadar. A day later, the government claimed to have conducted a successful operation against the Bugtis. Officials said they had killed 25 miscreants. While the government rejoiced, Baloch nationalists reacted very furiously by terming the incident “the third organised bid on the life of veteran politician Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti”.

The next day, according to some reports, militants attacked and killed 35 security personnel and shot down three helicopters. The government denied the incident. On July 8, Wadera Alam Khan, a spokesperson of the Bugti tribe claimed to have killed another 24 security forces and shot down five helicopters. “These claims do look quite fantastic. Even the hardened Iraqi resistance fighters have not had such levels of success against helicopters. This kind of success would need fighters as well trained as special-forces personnel,” says an analyst. Just like the official claims, it is difficult to ascertain the veracity of claims made by the Baloch fighters.

More in tune with what the Baloch are capable of doing, three power transmission lines were blown up in Sui while nearly a dozen rockets were fired on security forces’ check posts in the Pattar Nalla area of Dera Bugti.

Claims and counter-claims continue. When, on July 9, the government claimed that it has killed 21 suspected terrorists and wiped out seven fugitive camps, Khan, the rebel’s spokesperson, demanded that the government show a single dead body to substantiate its claims. For its part the government issued contradictory statements. While Raziq Bugti said that no dead bodies could be taken in official custody, the acting district coordination officer (DCO) of Dera Bugti, Abdul Samad Lasi, told newsmen that the government had handed over the dead bodies to their families.

In the midst of this violence, Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, on July 7, announced the revival of the Parliamentary Committee on Balochistan. Formed one and a half years ago to address Balochistan’s constitutional grievances, one of the two sub-committees of PCB, headed by Senator Wasim Sajjad, was not able to table its recommendations until very recently though it was required to do so within 90 days of its formation.

But the Baloch nationalists say they will not negotiate with the government of Pakistan under current circumstances. “The Parliamentary Committee has lost its credibility. After the lapse of 90 days, it has become redundant,” Sardar Akhtar Mengal, president of Balochistan National Party (BNP), told TFT. “We don’t trust Musharraf, his army and his cronies. The only way to address Balochistan’s crisis is the mediation of the international community. We want the United Nations and the European Union to arbitrate and grant us justice,” he added.

In the meantime, the disappearances and illegal detentions of political activists have increased. Two important members of Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti’s family were allegedly picked up by intelligence agencies. Agha Shahid Bugti, general secretary of Nawab Bugti’s Jamori Watan Party (JWP) told TFT that his younger brother Bilal Bugti was picked up by intelligence agencies from Clifton, Karachi, while he was going to the mosque for Friday prayers on 14 July.

A day later, Akbar Bugti’s nephew Murtiza Bugti, a Pakistan Petroleum Limited (PPL) engineer, was allegedly whisked away by intelligence agencies from the same area. The government also put Agha Shahid Bugti and Balochistan’s former chief minister Mir Humayun Khan Marri under house arrest on July 16.

“These illegal acts will further deepen the Balochistan crisis. If the government fails to contain intelligence agencies, anti-Islamabad feelings among the Baloch will considerably increase,” Kachkol Ali Baloch, the leader of the opposition in the Balochistan Assembly, told TFT.

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