Musharraf thunders again

By Malik Siraj Akbar

“I am not a person to be subdued by cowardly attacks. If they fire one rocket, they will receive 10 hits” [General Pervez Musharraf in Turbat on November 16, 2006]

While media reports say President Pervez Musharraf visited the Gwadar and Turbat districts on November 16 to inaugurate the mega Mirani Dam and Balochistan’s first five-star hotel in Gwadar, in addition to inspecting the pace of development work on Gwadar Port, insiders list different reasons for the visit to Mekran.

The ‘game’ started following the grand jirga of Baloch tribal elders in Kalat on September 21, 2006 where it was announced that the International Court of Justice (ICJ) would be moved against the violation of an agreement between the Khan of Kalat and the Government of Pakistan in 1947; that agreement had envisaged maximum autonomy to the State of Kalat in return for its accession to Pakistan.

To counter that jirga, the federal government decided to convene a similar jirga in Islamabad on November 8. The provincial government entrusted the District Coordination Officers (DCOs) with the task of convincing Baloch sardars in their respective districts to attend the proposed jirga in Islamabad, but no one showed up. This was supposedly because of a warning by Mir Suleman Dawood, the Khan of Kalat, that “the Baloch masses would take to task any sardar who attended the official Islamabad jirga”.

The government was thus forced to postpone the Islamabad jirga and also change its venue. Gwadar was chosen as the new location and November 16 fixed as the date for the assembly. But having failed to muster the support of any major Baloch sardar, Jam Yousaf, Balochistan chief minister, announced at the eleventh hour that instead of convening a jirga of Baloch sardars, the president would only address notables of the five districts of Gwadar, Turbat, Panjgur, Awaran and Lasbela.

Thus, with nothing else to do but save face, Musharraf had to address Baloch notables rather than a bigger jirga of all Baloch tribal elders. These five districts, incidentally, are ones where no sardars exist today.

“It was a big failure for the government – it wanted a jirga but couldn’t put one together,” an observer pointed to TFT. “Mekran discarded the sardari [tribal] system a century back. The change in the location and date of the Islamabad jirga clearly negates General Musharraf’s claim that he enjoys the backing of 72 Baloch sardars and that the trouble is confined to just three sardars, out of which one is already dead.”

Quetta-based observers say they were hoping that Musharraf’s visit would ease tensions and build confidence between the estranged Centre and the disgruntled Baloch. However, his harsh words at Turbat seem only to have worsened the situation. Baloch leaders see his speech as derogatory and unacceptable. “The General entered our house and threatened our Baloch honour,” one leader told TFT.

Dr Jehanzaib Jamaldini, vice president of Balochistan National Party (Mengal), said: “He [Musharraf] stepped on Baloch land as a conqueror and challenged us but soon learnt that he was not welcome. The Baloch cannot be bribed into selling their coast and resources to usurpers.”

Amanullah Kanrani, the spokesperson of Jamhoori Watan Party (JWP), says Musharraf has a ‘personal grudge’ against the Baloch.

“How can such statements result in a peaceful settlement of the Balochistan problem is anybody’s guess. Musharraf has no political sense,” says an observer. “This is the time to avoid belligerence.”

Indeed, no one welcomed Musharraf in Balochistan on his two-day visit, his first to the restive province since the assassination of Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti. The entire province, including the Baloch and Pashtun-populated areas, observed ‘black day’ and a complete shutter-down strike.

In Turbat, the electoral constituency of Balochistan’s finance minister Syed Ehshan Shah and federal minister for special education Zubaida Jalal, government functionaries had to face an embarrassing situation when their plea to the local business community not to go on a strike was rejected outright. The strike, despite all government-sponsored plans to sabotage it, managed to paralyse normal life in the province. At the end of the day, government authorities also rounded up more than 140 Baloch political activists, most of them from the National Party. Detainees included NP central secretary general Mir Hasil Khan Bezanjo and Turbat zone president, Mullah Barkat.

The strike was called by the nationalist National Party (NP), and backed by the Pakistan People’s Party, Balochistan National Party and Pakhtoonkhwa Milli Awami Party, a Pashtun nationalist group. All business centres in Quetta remained shut; shutter-down was maintained with even greatest intensity in the districts of Turbat, Panjgur, Gwadar, Mustung, Khuzdar, Naseerabad, Noshaki, Kalat, Nal, Taftan, Kharan, Pasni and Sibi. Nationalist groups have now also called for a similar black day when Musharraf visits Quetta in the second week of December.

“The successful Balochistan-wide strike should open Musharraf’s eyes. After all the exploitation they have seen, the Baloch now have antagonistic designs,” remarked NP president Dr Abdul Hayee Baloch.

Considering that ‘miscreants’ fired rockets on the convoy of Musharraf and IG-FC (Inspector General Frontier Corps) in two separate incidents last December, the latest visit saw very stringent security arrangements for Musharraf. The telecommunication system in the Mekran region was jammed and a two-day ban was imposed on fishing in the coastal regions, leaving local fishermen confined to their residences.

Meanwhile, in the face of the long march called by the Balochistan National Party, police has launched a massive crack down against Baloch leaders, keeping Balochistan’s former chief minister and BNP president Sardar Akhtar Mengal and secretary general Habib Jalib, under house arrest in the Sakuran area of Lasbila district. BNP sources claim that more than seven hundred leaders and workers had been booked in the latest crackdown.

The government also implicated Nawabzada Jamil Bugti, the son of Nawab Akbar Bugti, in a treason case. In connection with an attack on the residence of Abdul Samad Lasi, DCO Dera Bugti, cases were registered against Mir Suleman Dawood and Mohammad Aslam Bhothani, who, ironically, is a staunch critic of the government’s Balochistan policy despite being a Leaguer. Consequently, BNP was forced to postpone its long march temporarily.

However, Sardar Mengal told TFT that he considered the crackdown a success for his party because it revealed the government’s fear of nationalist forces. “The world has seen that the Baloch are a democratic people and believe in a peaceful, democratic struggle. In the power circles of Pakistan, democratic struggle is always discouraged and capitulation before the military is encouraged,” Mengal maintained. “This is not about to happen.”

Balochistan home minister Shoaib Nausherwani, however, says the crackdown has been carried to maintain peace in the province: “Those who are calling for long marches want to destabilise the province and the government will never allow that.”

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