Gillani and shutter down strike meet in Gwadar

The Baloch Hal Editorial December 30th, 2009

By Malik Siraj Akbar

Prime Minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gillani visited the Baloch port town of Gwadar on Tuesday. In his two-day visit, the primer would inaugurate an international airport in Gwadar and many other “development projects”. It was the first visit of the head of the federal government to Balochistan after the unveiling of the much-hyped Balochistan package. Another important aspect of this visit of the prime minister to Gwadar is a meeting of the federal cabinet and the signing of the National Finance Commission (NFC) award on which consensus was recently developed among all four provinces and the federal government following exhaustive consultations in all four provinces.

As the Prime Minister visited Gwadar, a complete shutter down strike was observed in the very city that was flooded with the VVIPs of the country. People stayed inside their homes and did not come out to cheer the visiting VVIPs or those who gave them the Balochistan Package. Perhaps, the deprived and backward people of Gwadar have become habitual of seeing the motorcade of VVIPs passing in front of their homes since the days of General Pervez Musharraf.

A call to boo the Prime Minister was given by the Baloch National Front (BNF), a group of pro-independence several Baloch nationalist parties, was responded very positively by the people of Gwadar as day-to-day life remained completely paralyzed. All shopping centers and public places gave an abandoned look. Balochs also unwelcome the prime minister by observing shutter drown strikes in different parts of Turbat. Likewise, the families of the missing persons took out a mammoth protest rally in front of the Quetta Press Club. They accused the federal government of not fulfilling its promises made regarding the recovery of the missing persons.

The shutter down strike observed in Mekran and the protest rally by the families of missing persons should not be underestimated but looked as a very alarming development. The successful strike must have embarrassed a democratically elected prime minister. The expression of complete anger by the Balochs weeks after the announcement of the Balochistan package means that the government efforts to mitigate the Baloch anguish have fizzled out. Otherwise, a lackluster response similar to what was given to Pervez Musharraf during his visits to Balochistan after the killing of Nawab Bugti was not what one could expect for Gillani.

Democratic governments with their roots in the people are always expected to realistically analyze such embarrassing situations to surmount their existing weaknesses. General Musharraf never cared whether people welcomed him or responded positively to the nationalists’ calls for strikes. Lack of interest towards the public opinion by the former dictator remarkably contributed to aggravating the situation in Balochistan.

Thus, the policymakers in Islamabad should keep in mind the fact that Mekeran’s frustration is not the same that existed a few years ago when people only wanted jobs at the Gwadar Port and assurances that the construction of the port would not cause demographic changes. The Baloch resistance movement, what was repeatedly billed by former Balochistan governor Owais Ahmed Ghani as “a phenomenon merely confined to two tehsils of Balochistan”, has now reached in Mekran with full ferocity.

After all, Mekran is the area from where three Baloch leaders – Ghulam Mohammad Baloch, Lala Munir Baloch and Sher Mohammad Baloch – belonged. All these three leaders were killed under the PPP government and their murderers have not been brought to justice. The killing of these three Baloch leaders extraordinarily radicalized the minds of the younger lot of the Balochs living in Mekran, the only part of Balochistan where tribal system was abolished centuries ago. Mekran has a strong educated middle-class. This segment of society has also lost faith in parliamentary politics and it is also gradually venting support for the armed struggle.

One is not sure what the provincial government had in its mind while preparing the welcome arrangements for the prime minister to Gwadar. The local people and political observers were certain that a shutter down strike would welcome the prime ministers in the backdrop of recent arrests of Baloch leaders. After all, the Balochistan package had been categorically rejected by the moderate and hardliner Baloch nationalist parties. On the top of it, the process of arresting Baloch leaders continued even after the presentation of the Balochistan package.

Much to PPP’s chagrin, the people of Mekran voted against the Prime Minister’s trip by staying inside their homes. That said, the government has a long way to go to win the trust of the Balochs who have been cheated so many times in the past. They simply ask the government to give reasons to be trusted. Therefore, it is important that the government should not live in fools’ paradise by falsely believing that the Balochistan crisis is over after the presentation of the Balochistan Package. Balochistan’s problems need regular nursing. The province needs long-term engagement by Islamabad to meet its genuine democratic demands.

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