Balochistan: Back to Suo Motu

supreme courtThe Supreme Court Chief Justice (C.J.), Ifthakar Mohammad Chaudhary, is in Quetta and ready for another hearing on the explosive situation in Balochistan. Mr. Chaudhary, who took suo motu notice of the recent wave of violence that has engulfed Balochistan, has summoned top government officials. He had to intervene in the wake of a number of terrorist attacks that took place last week in Bolan and Quetta which collectively killed more than 50 people, mostly police officers. Since the new government took over following the general elections of May this year, terrorist incidents have killed more than a hundred people in Balochistan. 

The Supreme Court has had a positive image before the general public with regards to its engagement in issues pertaining to Balochistan. There is always a difference between perception and reality. While previous hearings related to the province did not produce positive results, the judiciary still enjoys a good reputation. People generally view it as the last institution that can provide them some hope and hold the government accountable for its failures. Technically, the judiciary is just equal, not superior, to the legislative and executive branches of the government. However, the Chief Justice’s personal role as a crusader or as an activist judge  has raised public expectations from him.

What should one expect from the Supreme Court’s latest suo motu notice?

The upcoming hearing is going to be a mere repetition of the past hearings on the province. In October 2012, the apex court finished an extensive hearing on the state of law and order in Balochistan. Senior officials from the government, including the Police Department, testified before the Court saying that the intelligence agencies and the Frontier Corps (F.C.) were involved in extrajudicial activities and responsible for the worsening of the situation over there.

That hearing received tremendous media coverage but the end result was zero. Actually the Court had initially begun hearing a case about the missing persons in Balochistan but, in the meanwhile, so many other issues came up that the court remained totally distracted from the actual subject of the hearing. The Court was so overwhelmed that it had to discuss a very broad range of issues including sectarian killings, highway robberies, kidnappings and even smuggled vehicles.  At the end of the hearing, the court was exhausted and could not provide further instructions as to what the government should do next.

The S.C. is back to square one on Balochistan. It is unlikely to succeed this time too. Consider:

The government is currently working on three different tracks to address the issue of lawlessness.

First, the federal government is coming up with a much-hyped national policy on counter-terrorism. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has said the policy should be tabled by August 20th. Nobody knows what measures the upcoming counter-terrorism policy is going to propose. After all, the Taliban, the Baloch armed groups and the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi are different entities with different goals. They also have different constituencies of supporters and sponsors. The government, including elements in the Pakistan army, do not have consensus as to who is a “terrorist” and who should be dealt with “peaceful negotiations” and who should be “crushed” because their alleged “anti-state” activities. Until, these important details are finalized, we cannot predict with confidence about the outcome of the government’s peace plans.

Second, Balochistan Chief Minister Dr. Malik Baloch has his own plan, totally different from that of the federal government’s. Mr. Baloch had stated that he intended to initiate talks with Baloch insurgents soon after the Eid. Now, we are in the post-Eid era. The Chief Minister does not seem to realize how fast time flies. Unable to form a cabinet for his government three months after his election, the Chief Minister should not complain about whispers, gossips and rumors in various circles about his worrisome failures. While it is deeply encouraging to initiate negotiations with Baloch separatists, it seems  that the chief minister’s efforts are only restricted to newspaper statements. There are currently no formal talks going on between the Balochistan government and the Baloch underground organizations. The latter questions Dr. Baloch’s legitimacy and credentials.

Third, the Supreme Court is starting another hearing on Balochistan on August 15th. But who needs another S.C. hearing when the court does not have the teeth to bite?

Interestingly, all S.C. verdicts do not have the same implications. For instance, when it disqualified former prime minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gillani, the former head of the government had to go home. On the other hand, when the S.C. said that the Balochistan government under the leadership of (former chief minister) Nawab Aslam Raisani had “failed” to perform its duty, no one  in the government agreed to go home. Despite repeated calls from opposition leaders such as Dr. Malik Baloch (now the chief minister) and Senator Hasil Khan Bizenjo of the National Party, the Raisani government did not resign. Even, Raisani returned to power after a two-month long governor’s rule earlier this year.

There is no coordination at all among the three tracks of initiatives led by the federal and provincial governments and the Supreme Court.

So, what is the S.C. going to tell the Balochistan government?

Not many people noticed what the Chief Justice said about Dr. Malik’s government in July. While reacting to the attack on Ziarat Residency, bombing of a university bus and the siege of Bolan Medical College, the C.J. said on July 17th that the new government had also failed and it did not meet the public expectations attached to it. Neither the government admitted its failures nor did it apologize. It just silently snubbed the court remarks in order to avoid embarrassment.

How about the army? What is the Army doing?

Interior Minister Chaudhary Nisar Ali Khan has some bad news!

During his latest visit to Quetta, Mr. Khan said that the Pakistan army would provide 5000 submachine guns to the Balochistan police and also impart training.

C’mon, Mr. Minister. No body needs more weapons in Balochistan. There is in fact an urgent need for deweaponizing Balochistan instead of adding more guns. The problem is not the lack of weapons but it is the lack of political will to resolve the conflict. If we look at all the three tracks of government initiatives currently underway, all of them, for example, fail to provide an exact date for the release/return of the missing Baloch persons. These initiatives do not provide us a road map for peace nor do they include any political and economic reforms. There are no promises of spreading education and employment across the province to counter religious and nationalistic extremism.

We have repeatedly argued that there are no shortcuts to peace in Balochistan. The government should devise a long-term multifaceted strategy which should focus on empowering and accommodating the Baloch in the national mainstream. Presently, nationalistic violence has taken a backseat as compared to the skyrocketing religious fanaticism. The Supreme Court can only make observations and recommendations but the executive branch of the government has to do the real job at the center and the province to smoothly implement reforms on the ground. At the moment, the government has no plans to implement.



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