On question of Balochistan independence

Mengal’s six points – to little the price

By Babar Ayaz

The last chance to save Pakistan as one country, was given to the Pakistani establishment, by Akhtar Mengal, before the Supreme Court of Pakistan last week. He has taken this bold and practical step at the cost of losing his credibility among the Baloch separatists who want nothing less than a distant dream–independence.

Rehman Malik debunked Mengal and made an unbelievable statement that there was no military operation in Balochistan. Mengal’s comrades, who believe he shouldn’t have gone to Islamabad to launch his six points, are blaming him for making a deal with the establishment and preparing for elections.

A close look at Mengal’s six points tells us that they are mostly against the extra-constitutional measures being taken by the top agencies overtly and covertly. He demanded the same fundamental rights for the Baloch as provided in the constitution to every Pakistani. Is it too much to ask? Indeed, not. But the establishment believes that Balochistan’s independence movement is inspired by the CIA and RAW, hence asking for stopping operation in Balochistan is colluding with the foreign intelligence agencies. They do not understand that Balochistan cannot be kept in the federation by brow-beating dissent. State violence in such cases begets violence. Independence and militant Naxalite movements across the border are examples to learn from. They have not learnt any lesson from the failure of the 1971 adventure which resulted in the massive liberation movement of Bangladesh.

To any military government the state is its geography and they are the custodians to maintain the status quo. History on the contrary has spoken otherwise. The state is actually the people who live in it, voluntarily. Coercion cannot keep the people together. In the case of Balochistan its nationalism is based on its history. “From the 17th century until 1928 and 1948 respectively, Balochistan preserved its independent status. The Baloch country maintained diplomatic relations with Mughal India, Ottoman Turkey, Iran and Afghanistan, Oman and British India. Its occupation by the modern armies of Iran in 1928 and Pakistan in March 1948 led to the birth of the Baloch nationalism.” (Breseeg 2004)

But the establishment argues that a bunch of separatists do not represent the people of Balochistan. They claim that 90 percent Baloch of the 70 major tribes and the Pakhtuns of Balochistan support them. A policy was adopted by General Ziaul Haq’s regime to divide each powerful tribe by creating rifts among the various clans in one tribe. In some cases this divide was already there, the agencies worked towards deepening these fissures. The Bugtis are divided today. Not all are with Bramdagh Bugti, who is camping in exile in Geneva — one of the most expensive cities of the world. The Kalpars, a clan of Bugtis, had developed serious differences with Akbar Bugti in his life time and they were shunted out from their homes by the autocratic Nawab. Another grandson of Akbar Bugti has been installed as Sardar, with the backing of the military.

The Marris are also divided. Bijaranis, a sub-tribe of Marris, are patronized by the establishment and they are seen often in Islamabad’s power corridors. Justice Khuda Baksh Marri was killed. His scions alleged that the murder was on the order of Khair Baksh, one of the most respected leaders of the independence movement.

The Mengals have a contender to the Sardari seat once the grand old man Sardar Attaullah calls it a day. “Establishment,” a self-exiled leader Zafar Baloch says, “has extended support to a disgruntled Mengal militant group against Sardar Attaullah.” The pro-Pakistan faction is called Defence of Balochistan. It is led by Shafiqur Rehman, son of Musharraf’s regimes minister Nasir Mengal. It is perhaps this fear that in his absence, the tribe’s Sardari may be claimed by Rehman that Akhtar decided to make a last ditch effort to demand that “all proxy death squads created by the ISI and MI should be disbanded.” Before Akhtar Mengal’s return to Pakistan from self-exile, Zafar Baloch an activist of the independence movement in a chance meeting in London told me that Sardar Attaullah had told Prime Minister Gilani that if the government wants Akhtar to return; the agencies should stop supporting Shafiq’s militant group and assure that Akhtar would not be assassinated like Benazir Bhutto.

Let’s accept the establishment’s claim that 90% Baloch tribes are with them and have no sympathy for the romantic slogan of “Independence”. In that case why is the establishment afraid of not solving this 65 years old issue in a more civilised manner, instead of using brute force? The Québécois in Canada seek independence, no French-speaking Québécoise went missing, no tortured bodies were thrown in the wilderness and no military operation was launched the Canadian government. They agreed to a referendum, something we officially propose for Kashmir. Not once but twice. There is a movement in Scotland at present to separate from United Kingdom. The British government is considering a referendum instead of launching a military operation against the Scots. When no government could be formed in Belgium after the last election for about six months, because the Walloons and Flemish speaking regions refused to co-operate with each other, leading European media suggested letting them separate because they are always fighting. The former Soviet Union broke into 15 states including Russia in 1991, without Russia resorting to violence.

Why can’t Pakistanis be more civilised? The major reason is that such decisions are not in the hands of the civilian government. Islamabad knows that while the tribal leaders are with them, the Baloch youth want independence and full control on their land and sea resources. Now this is not acceptable to the establishment.

The security establishment is by training, bent to think in the geo-strategic terms. When the Soviets came to Afghanistan to support its socialist government, Pakistan’s military government bogey was that Russian’s real aim is access to Balochistan’s warm waters. Now the haunting spectre is that in the post-Afghanistan scenario, Americans would like to get control of Balochistan’s warm waters. They reason that the Americans are planning to keep control over the energy routes of China. Remember, the great American plan to have a Bamboo-curtain around China in the East, and to control the Persian/Arabian Gulf. In this game Balochistan’s water and natural resources are important, who cares for its people who feel occupied and exploited? And Balochistan is also important as a base against Iran for the US and its loving buddy Saudi Arabia.

Once again errant Pakistan has the desire to play a grand role in this tussle for energy routes, but is finding it hard to balance between its two allies—the US and China. The establishment’s mood is to go with China; instead of ‘unreliable American allies.’ Hence they fear that anybody who is asking for independence is serving the US-India alliance interests. In the case of Balochistan it is the question of 7-8 million people only. Give them what Akhtar Mengal wants and complete control over their natural resources and you will have a peaceful province and a stronger Pakistan. (ayazbabar@gmail.com)

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