Doctors’ Agonizing Strike

By Malik Siraj Akbar

Doctors in Balochistan have been on a strike for almost one month now. They are protesting the enforced disappearance of Baloch people in general and three Baloch doctors in particular. The strike call is backed by Pakistan Paramedical Staff Association.

According to the enraged doctors, the state intelligence agencies have expanded the network of missing persons to medical professionals as well. Many Baloch doctors who subscribe to a political ideology dissimilar from that of the accepted political doctrine held by the country’s security establishment have had to face the heat of the ruling elite’s wrath. Dr. Din Mohammad, Dr. Naseem Baloch and Dr. Akbar Marri are three Baloch doctors who have been allegedly whisked away by the intelligence agencies from different places at different times. They have gone ‘missing’.

The issue of missing persons rose in Balochistan during the military regime of General Pervez Musharraf. As a military operation was launched in the province by the country’s military in order to pursue what Islamabad billed as an agenda of progress and development in Balochistan, political dissent rose incredibly high. Brutal force was employed to crush political dissent. The worst among all draconian tactics was to whisk people away to unknown torture sells, deny them a fair legal trial and release them after leaving them mentally and physically incapacitated.

A vast majority of such operations was the Baloch young students who held membership of the Baloch Students Organization (BSO). But the list of the missing people continued to grow until people from divergent walks of life came under its radar.

There was no change in the situation in Balochistan even after Musharraf’s exit. Even though the democratically elected government of the Pakistan People’s Party promised to reverse General Musharraf’s repressive policies in Balochistan, the issue of missing persons has still not been resolved. It would be unfair to blame the PPP for doing nothing at all in Balochistan. The PPP government must be complimented for preparing a complete multi-pronged package for Balochistan to address the political and economic woes of the province.

It also managed to devise a new formula on the National Finance Commission (NFC) award and agreed to grant more autonomy to the provinces under the 18th amendment. The issue of the missing persons, however, seems to be beyond the control of Zardaris, Gilanis, Reman Maliks, Raisanis and, above all, Ifthakar Chaudharys. This is an issue kept very close to the heart of the country’s military establishment. Until the military decides to release the missing persons, no one else can do what right now looks like an undoable task.

Doctors, like other professionals, are a part of this society. They cannot detach themselves from developments that take place around them. They get mentally agitated after seeing the unacceptable political developments. In other words, they also have the right to indulge into politics as the citizens of the land. In Balochistan, doctors cannot disassociate themselves from the political developments in the troubled province when the signs of operation, desperation, suppression and anguish are writ large on every citizen’s face.

They have demonstrated their political consciousness by deciding to come out on the roads to protest the painful government policies which have now begun to target the doctors as well. The doctors have also greatly impressed the families of the missing persons and the Baloch society with their bold initiative. After the Baloch students and lawyers, the doctors are a new segment of professionals in Balochistan to assert their vocal support for the families of the missing persons.

These developments clearly negate the widely held perception in Islamabad that the Baloch movement is orchestrated by a handful of anti-development rustic Baloch tribal chiefs. On the contrary, these disgruntled doctors are MBBS and FCPS degree holders who equally believe that their province is not being properly treated and they, thus, have a role to play on the political front as well.

Meanwhile, all efforts on the part of the government to reconcile with the protesting doctors have fizzled out. As a result, the hospitals and medical centers across Balochistan remain unattended. The strike has, since the inception, not affected the government at all. It has only added to the woes of the poor ailing people. Patients are refused medical treatment and medicine by the protesting doctors.

As the protest continues without showing any signs of culmination, more among the poor ill masses are obliged to bear the brunt of the indefatigable strike. While the rich ones can still afford to ” buy” treatment at private hospitals and clinics, the poor masses have no such lucrative options. Worst still, those who come to Quetta, the provincial capital, from remote corners of Balochistan for treatment of more serious illnesses have had to squander more money and time in return of nothing.

Now, this is wrong. Wrong politics. Wrong professionalism.

Being a victim of state repression does not entitle the Baloch doctors to add to the patients’ miseries. As victims of brutalities, the Balochs should today feel the pain of the ailing masses more than the others. The best way to avenge painful attitude is to cure the wounds of those in pain.

Doctors who are unwilling to take end their strike or attend patients should take a look at one excellent example of “revenge” taken in a different manner: American journalist, Daniel Pearl was kidnapped and murdered by religious terrorists in Pakistan in 2002. The brutal killing of the only son almost devastated the Pearl family. Among multiple options of revenge, according to official website of Daniel Pearl Foundation, “the enlightened ‘revenge’ that Professor Pearl (Danny’s father) is pursuing is not what you’d expect. ‘Hatred took my son,’ he says, ‘and hatred I shall fight for the rest of my life.””

We hope the Baloch doctors will take the ongoing conflict as an opportunity to enchance their professional commitment with the ailing humanity and not contributing to their sufferings.

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