Rapprochement with Baloch leaders

The Baloch Hal Editorial
By Malik Siraj Akbar

Pakistan’s most reputed English daily carried out a misleading news story the other day. The newspaper reported President Asif Ali Zardari meeting with some leaders from Balochistan. The heading of the news report said, “President Zardari meets Baloch elders.” The contents of the news report contradicted the headline as one came to know that three out of four leaders from Balochistan who visited Zardari were in fact not “Baloch leaders”. Instead, they were Pashtun leaders, who are not the direct victims of the Baloch conflict that has entailed a military operation, target killing of Baloch leaders and the issues of missing persons and internally displaced persons.

The only Baloch leader present in the meeting was Dr. Abdul Malik Baloch, the central president of the National Party (NP). However, the newspaper further undermined its credibility by describing Malik Baloch as the leader of the Balochistan (sic) National Movement (BNM). This was a serious professional blunder for the reason that BNM, unlike the NP, is a hardliner organization that has rejected all offers of negotiations with the government.

On the other hand, a similar claim was made by Balochistan’s Chief Minister Nawab Mohammad Aslam Raisani while talking to journalists in Quetta on his arrival from Lahore that his government was in touch with key Baloch leaders to reconcile with them. Basically the idea of approaching senior and still disillusioned Baloch leaders was floated by Prime Minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gillani after the announcement of the Balochistan package. The ruling Pakistan People’s Party saw the widespread rejection of its package from all nationalist parties of Balochistan as a serious setback. In the meanwhile, some political gurus recommended Premier Gillani to talk to potential and “broadly accepted” Baloch leaders in order to ensure damage control.

Thus, he publically said that his government was willing to reach the real stakeholders of the Balochistan conflict. Though the Prime Minister did not name any individuals, everyone knew that these potential leaders are Nawab Khair Baksh Marri and his sons (Hairbayar Marri and Gazin Marri), Sardar Attaullah Mengal and his son Sardar Akhtar Mengal, Nawabzada Bramdagh Bugti, the chief of Baloch Republican Party (BRP) and Dr. Allah Nizar Baloch of the Baloch National Movement.

On their part, all these top Baloch leaders have not only vocally rejected the Balochistan package but also hinted at refraining from negotiations with the government in the midst of prevailing circumstances. These senior and widely respected Baloch leaders have time and again put their policies and demands before successive federal governments. It is very unfortunate that Islamabad has not been looking at all such demands realistically. It refuses to acknowledge that the Balochs are truly angry with Islamabad.

Having failed to bring the real Baloch leaders on the negotiation table, a fake impression was created in the so-called national media that the Baloch leaders agreed to meet President Zardari even though three out of four leaders who met Zardari were non-Balochs. How does that qualify as a “meeting with the Baloch leaders” under any benchmark?

It is very unfortunate that the official disinformation is disseminated by the most prestigious newspaper in the country. The reasons are understandable if one is cognizant with the fact that the owner of this daily happens to be a man who has been “rewarded” by President Asif Ail Zardari with the coveted job of Pakistan’s representation in the United Nations.

It is not the first time that the government is claiming to have established contacts with the Baloch leaders. One heard similar statements for the first time when Nawab Raisani was about to assume the charge of his office back in 2008. Nawab Zulfiqar Ali Magsi, the governor of Balochistan, told the media at the residence of Mir Asim Kurd, the current finance minister, that the Baloch separatists had been approached and Nawab Raisani would resume negotiations as soon as taking charge of his office. The statement was vehemently rebutted by the Baloch groups. Similar statements have been given off and on by the government that talks are about to commence. In practical, the outcome was made public as much as the evidence of Indian involvement in Balochistan.

Besides the ruling PPPP and its coalition partners, no one is celebrating the Balochistan package in the very province for which it was drafted and crafted. If the package was meant to win the hearts of Balochs, it has surely fizzled out to accomplish its intended goals. The government needs to cogitate over the reasons that led to the rejection of the package. Instead of addressing the root causes of Balochistan’s backwardness, the government has unleashed a campaign to undermine the credibility of the key Baloch leaders by associating their names with a process of negotiation that these Baloch leaders refuse to link themselves.

Given the history of rigorous political struggle carried out by Nawab Khair Baksh Marri, Sardar Attaullah Mengal, Sardar Akhtar Menga, Bramdagh Bugti and Dr. Allah Nizar Baloch, the people of Balochistan rightly expect these leaders to keep in view their aspirations if they ever agree to communicate with the government. Secrete negotiations with Islamabad would surely come as a major setback for their followers. Thus, all forms of talks on Balochistan should be open to the people of the province and covered in the media.

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