Dressed with nowhere to go
By Malik Siraj Akbar
At agrand Baloch jirga on September 21, convened after 126 years, some 85 Baloch tribal chiefs and 300 representatives of political parties from all the provinces unanimously resolved that they would move the International Court of Justice against the Pakistan government for violating an agreement between the former Khan of Kalat, Ahmed Yar Khan, and the Quaid-e-Azam.
Under the agreement, the State of Kalat was promised complete internal autonomy while defence, external affairs, communication and some ancillaries were the only subjects given to the federation. Because of the state’s continued breach of this agreement, the sardars said they would approach the ICJ for justice.
“Although it took these sardars over 136 days to get together on the same platform and raise these issues, what they have said and unanimously agreed on is quite hard hitting,” said a source privy to the jirga session. “It is clear that the Baloch have lost hope and trust in state institutions and are moving an international body as a last resort. This is definitely a failure of the central government,” he added.
Representatives at the jirga also refuted President Pervez Musharraf’s claims that most sardars in Balochistan are supporting him. Mir Suleman Dawood, the Khan of Kalat said: “He [Musharraf] is wrong when he says that only three sardars in Balochistan are opposed to his policies. The fact that almost all Baloch tribal chiefs were present at the recent jirga demonstrates the extent of Baloch resentment towards Musharraf’s militaristic designs.”
The grand jirga was held at the Shahi Darbar of Mir Suleman Dawood and all Baloch tribal chiefs who attended it were agreed that the state of Pakistan had failed to uphold its agreement with the defunct State of Kalat, which comprised a large part of the present-day Balochistan province. An unending list of complaints against the federal government was tabled and raised during the Jirga.
These demands included an immediate end to the military operation in the province and the release of arrested Baloch activists. Baloch sardars also denounced mega projects, including the Gwadar Port, and said that the projects were not meant to develop Balochistan but to convert its local population into a minority. The Khan of Kalat has announced that a similar jirga would be held in Punjab soon.
While some view the jirga session as a major development, others see it only as a political gimmick by the Khan. “The fact that these 85 Baloch sardars were able to gather at the same platform is a big development considering that they are usually always engaged in internal, personal vendettas,” said Shahzada Zulfiqar, president of the Balochistan Union of Journalists (BUJ). “The presence of some supporters of the Pakistan Muslim League at the jirga also sends a clear message to the Centre that it will lose more allies if it doesn’t review its aggressive policies,” he added.
However, the jirga’s road map to move the ICJ is ambiguous; it was not made clear when the ICJ would be approached and how. Also, legal experts point out that while the Court adjudges cases between two sovereign states, Kalat, today, is no longer a sovereign state.
That Nawab Khair Baksh Marri, the Baloch leader believed to be leading the armed struggle in the province, was missing from the jirga session also takes away from its importance and potential impact. Sources close to Marri say he has rejected the jirga as unimportant and believes it was convened by the Khan of Kalat simply to earn political points. “The Marri and Bugti sardars play a pivotal role in Balochistan. That they were absent should say something about the Jirga,” says an observer.
Analysts, in fact, argue that there could be some truth in the observation that the Khan called the jirga to make a political impact. “For the past few decades, the Khanate of Kalat has lost its importance in the politics of Balochistan. The Khanate and the Khan do not enjoy the position they used to. So it could be that the Khan, who no longer has the tribal and constitutional status to decide the fate of the Baloch, is trying to exploit the situation,” said an observer.
Ironically, the jirga was mainly represented by sardars who have a history of serving at top positions in the provincial and central governments. For instances, Sardar Akhtar Mengal, who urged the jirga to announce Balochistan’s independence, served as Balochistan’s chief minister during the second Nawaz Sharif government in 1997. Nawab Zulfiqar Magsi and Taj Mohammad Jamali are also two well-known Leaguers and were present at the jirga.
“For these Sardars, Pakistan is good as long as they are in the government. When they are isolated and deprived of power, they adopt an anti-Pakistan stance,” a Balochistan minister remarked.
Mir Mohim Khan of the Balochistan National Party (Awami), which is a coalition partner in the Jam Yousaf-led provincial government, also attended the jirga. Coincidentally, it was this very provincial government that requested the federal government to deploy troops to the province. Additionally, Mohim Khan’s party holds key ministries in the government, including that of finance. Prince Fiasal Dawood, the younger brother of the Khan of Kalat, was also at the jirga. He is a serving minister in the Balochistan cabinet.
“This was, by no means, the representative jirga of the Baloch people. It was more of a political gathering,” Raziq Bugti, spokesperson of the Balochistan government, told TFT. “In any case, the jirga’s recommendations are illogical and impractical and I see this as nothing but an attempt to fool the Baloch people.” (See Raziq Bugti’s interview in this issue).
The Baloch Students Organisation (BSO), the largest body of Baloch students, has also denounced the recommendations of the Jirga. Annoyed Baloch students say the jirga means nothing because it did not include the Baloch demand for ‘self-determination’, which needs to be a part of any declaration in the future.