The Baloch question

DESPITE constant rumours about the postponement of the general elections slated for Feb 8, there is no logical or legal justification for any such move and there are far more important issues that warrant attention.

Even if a pretext could be found for seeking a poll delay, one can be sure that any attempt to push elections back further would not be approved by the Supreme Court but the media particularly TV channels continues to devote time to discussing the topic.

Regardless of who comes into power from among the major political parties contesting the elections, what needs to be actually focused on is what plan each party has to pick up the pieces of the seriously undermined democratic order and restore some essentials to it.

First and foremost is returning to the negotiating table I almost said drawing board and deciding the parameters of influence, authority and power of each of the major players involved in the country`s running.

If this isn`t done, whatever little democracy we have left in three of our four provinces will be no more than a carcass that has had all its flesh picked by the various vultures that have descended on it after it has been slayed by one individual or institution`s adventurism or the other`s.

You`d ask why I refer to three provinces when there are four. Balochistan has seen an everincreasing footprint of the security services since Nawab Akbar Bugti challenged the military ruler back in 2006 and had to pay the price with his life for that dare.

When the anger at Nawab Bugti`s killing sparked a militant movement, a security crackdown that has seen an untold number of Baloch men becoming victims of enforced disappearance and kill-and-dump policy, also saw the security forces virtually taking over and running the province.

This virtual takeover has seen the Baloch people largely disenfranchised and democracy discredited and a suspect electoral process producing politicians who are touted as being `middle class, educated and young` but are no more thanglib surrogates or minions of the security state.

It would be wholly unnecessary to name names as, I am sure, you can rattle of half a dozen at the drop of a hat. These people are bereft of empathy who deny the existence of the enforced disappearance cases and stoop to denigrate their own people, including women activists, pleading to the state for a clue to their missing loved ones.

I am not one to deny a violent movement in the province and the killing of paramilitary and military personnel too, but to somehow justify mass scale and beyond all proportion retribution is patently wrong, dishonest and utterly unhelpful.The question, however, remains whether the ushering in of an elected leader will let us witness leadership of the sort that is needed to sort out the sordid mess we have created in our biggest province, as per its land mass, and restore the faith of the Baloch in both the federation and the constitutional, democratic order.

So far starting from Nawaz Sharif, Maryam Nawaz to Imran Khan and Asif Ali Zardari and Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari all have, whilst in opposition, expressed great sympathy for our wronged Baloch. One or more of them have stood shoulder to shoulder with relatives of our `missing` Baloch and embraced them before TV cameras and pledged to end their pain.

But when any of them has scented power, let alone acquired it, their sudden disinterest in resolving the matter can only be explained by their fear of upsetting the security institutions that can pave their way to power or erect massive boulders in their path to office.

Talk to anyone in Balochistan, and contrary towhat the establishment`s favourite `politicians` say, you will learn that there is considerable anger, disappointment, even despondency, particularly among the Baloch in the coastal districts and their faith in the federation is at its lowest ebb.

If I am honest with you, I am despondent too that any of our big politicians have what it takes to address this vexing issue and bring all those alienated together so their aspirations and expectations of our country are no different than yours or mine.

Allow me to dispense with honesty this one time and let my optimism gallop ahead of me and say that the Baloch question will be addressed, and resolved, and they will truly be able to have their say in matters to do with their resources ie their economic rights side by side with their political rights.

Any more controlled elections that see people with low or no credibility among the Baloch helped along into the assemblies and the Senate just so their puppeteers can pull their strings at will, will only deepen the crisis.

It is incumbent on the most powerful of elements in the ruling structure to see that use of force and surrogates has delivered nothing in the past and will not deliver anything worthwhile in future. One can appeal to their patriotism to acknowledge this fact as it is in the country`s best interest.

For now, the Baloch are at the mercy of the security state and the women and child relatives and supporters of the wronged, the disappeared Baloch at the mercy of a sub-inspector, an SHO, of the Islamabad police who addresses those freezing in the protest camp in language which reminds one of the country`s chief executive`s words.

One earnestly hopes any government formed after the elections will be different. Bringing peace, empowerment to Balochistan is just one of the several critical tests the elected government will have to pass to have its democratic credentials accepted. Any bets on how it will do? • The wnter is a former editor of Dawn.


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