You didn’t care for us … so we won’t for you

By Malik Siraj Akbar

QUETTA: While Chief Justice-turned-crowed-puller Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry has overnight emerged as an icon of resistance against dictatorship across the country, his popularity among the Baloch population in the country’s largest province remains as high as that of General Pervez Musharraf.

Despite the strident hullabaloo in the principal cities of the country against the filing of a presidential reference against the CJP, Balochistan – the home province of Justice Chaudhry – has, surprisingly, remained indifferent and largely quiet over the ongoing crisis.

Political parties, lawyers’ bodies and civil society in Quetta in general and elsewhere in the province in particular have not stringently protested in favour of the ‘suspended’ CJP.

“Balochistan’s calmness and indifference over the current crisis is significant,” a veteran journalist, requesting anonymity, told Daily Times. “The Baloch are neutral on the issue, which largely translates into a lack of support for both the president and the CJP. Yet again, this is a grave indication that the Baloch consider themselves irrelevant and snubbed over decisions of national importance made at the federal level,” he said.

Barring a few protest rallies, nowhere in the resource-rich, yet conflict-ridden, province did people decide to come on the roads in support of the chief justice.

“Baloch have lost faith in the judiciary as it has failed to play its due role in preventing mass violation of human rights in the province by the security forces in Balochistan,” Amanullah Kanrani, former Balochistan Bar Association vice chairman, said, adding that the Baloch saw the current turmoil as the culmination of the “judiciary-military nexus”.

“Around 4,000 Baloch students and political activists have gone missing at the hands of state intelligence agencies. A full-fledged military operation was carried out in the province and the towering leader, Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, was brutally killed by the state. But Justice Chaudhry remained supportive to the policies of the president. Why should Baloch support him when he is in trouble?” he added.

Kanrani said Justice Chaudhary did not deserve the sympathies of the Baloch people because he was the first and the only chief justice in the history of the country who “willingly” went to Army House to present his performance report to a “uniformed resident”., a leading website in the country, earlier held a discussion as to why Balochistan decided to remain calm and neutral over the ongoing crisis. The website quoted former Balochistan Bar Association president Wasey Tareen as saying, “I appreciate the president’s move (of filing a reference) against Justice Chaudhry. This step should have been taken much earlier. He used to act autocratically when he was the chief justice of the Balochistan High Court. He overtly formulated and backed a lobby of privileged lawyers against former Baloch Chief Justice Amir-ul-Mulk Mengal. He was not free in making decisions. He used to take dictations from politicians.”

Tareen said he himself had been sacked from the post of sessions judge in Noshaki district by Justice Chaudhry. “I was then a member of the Pakistan People’s Party and Nawaz Sharif, the former prime minister, dictated Justice Chaudhry to fire me,” he added.

Baloch lawyers in the province are skeptical of Justice Chaudhry. They regret that Justice Chaudhry promoted an anti-Baloch lobby in the provincial judiciary.

“The settlers constitute a minor proportion of Balochistan’s population but they hold 90 percent posts of judges and lawyers in the province. They don’t tolerate the Baloch. Even when 10 Baloch sessions and additional sessions judges were recently inducted, Justice Chaudhry billed it intolerable and demanded an inquiry into the matter by Justice Javed Iqbal and Justice Raja Fayyaz,” alleged Sadiq Raisani, the Baloch Bar Association president.

A Baloch nationalist leader said he believed the judicial crisis had been deliberately orchestrated by the military regime to divert the attention of the national and international media and human rights’ organisations from the Balochistan crisis that, according to him, is of more importance for the national integrity. “People in Balochistan have more pressing issues to be bothered about than a mere change of guard at the Supreme Court. No one is addressing our genuine complaints. The Baloch would have rushed to the streets in support of the judiciary if they had received justice from the courts of law,” he remarked.

The missing people issue has also disillusioned the Baloch. For instance, a leader of the Baloch Students’ Organisation (BSO) said the judiciary had taken no action against the kidnappers of Munir Mengal, managing director of the Baloch Voice, the first to-be-launched Balochi television channel, who was whisked away last April from Karachi airport, presumably by intelligence personnel. “How can people in Balochistan march in support of the judicial system when a former chief minister (Akhtar Mengal) is produced before a court in an iron cage?,” asked Agha Hassan Baloch, labour secretary of the Balochistan National Party (BNP). He is currently observing a huger strike against the detention of Sardar Akhtar Mengal.

Though around 2,000 lawyers are working across Balochistan, hardly more than 50 of them turned up in the protest rallies in support of Justice Chaudhry. An observer said it is unlikely that the CJP will experience a Lahore-like rousing welcome in his home province on his forthcoming trip to Balochistan.

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