By Air Commodore (R) Khalid Iqbal 

Attempt on Malalah’s life, dumping of defaced dead bodies in Baluchistan and surfacing of body bags in Karachi are some of the facets of terrorism running high in Pakistan; intricately linked together by common financier, trainer and arms provider. Logistics trail leads to one source, though operatives have diversified origins and purposes. All these acts need unequivocal condemnation by the entire nation. Under these circumstances, a reiteration that there is no foreign interference in Baluchistan is an act of extreme ignorance or criminal connivance, or may be a combination of the two. Under this gloomy environment, Supreme Court has emerged as a beacon of hope. At least it provides a shoulder against which aggrieved ones can lean and cry.

Baluchistan is under constant national focus, with missing persons’ conundrum as a key Human Rights issue resonating at international level. Sardar Akhtar Mengal’s appearance before the Supreme Court was a pleasant event. His interaction with national political leaders indicated unanimous urge to bring Baluchistan out of the unfortunate situation that it is going through since the early seventies.

Mengal’s six points were reasonable in content. Equating these points with Sheikh Mujib’s six points was essentially a political rhetoric directed at emotional black mail. Neither Akhtar Mengal is Shiekh Mujib, nor is Baluchistan East Pakistan. Mengal was also widely off the mark in his reference to neutral international supervision for the peaceful resolution of the Baluchistan conflict. His citing of UN-backed processes in East Timor, Kosovo and South Sudan was certainly erratic. Any attempt to involve the UN is obviously unacceptable and will be vehemently opposed by all Pakistanis.

Mujib’s six points went far beyond the constitutional frame-work of that time.  Akhtar’s points were well within the constitutional provisions, mainly focusing on ordinary civil rights. Akhtar has submitted his case before the apex court; hopefully he would pursue it as a legal matter, lest it fizzles down as a politically motivated oratory. However, a posture of denial by the government was a disappointment. Unambiguous charges on the one hand and forceful rebuttal on the other have made the situation hazy. Confutation to Mengal’s position also came from amongst Baluch leaders, which indicate ample play-able space between the two extreme stances. Mengal is certainly aware that the majority of hard-core Baluch like Raisanis, Bizenjos, Magsis and an overwhelming majority within Marris, Bugtis and Mengals do not support Baluchistan’s secession. Likewise, Pakhtuns and Hazaras have never talked about leaving the federation.

Chief of Jamhoori Watan Party Talal Bugti recently said that use of force by the state institutions had caused “irreparable damage to our province.” He questioned whether there was anything in the Mengal’s six points that went against the interests of Pakistan. Talal claimed credit for being the originator of Mengal’s six points. However, his stance was more moderate and compatible with a political solution within the framework of the constitution. He indicated his party’s willingness to rejoin the political process and participate in the coming elections, provided the government acts on the six points, opens up Dera Bugti and rehabilitates the displaced Baluch including Bugti people affected by the insurgency.

Apparently, the political process has jump-stated in Baluchistan and the thing would move in the right direction. It appears that nationalist parties have realized that boycott of elections is neither useful to them, nor to a common Baluch. Despite Mengal’s stance that Baluchistan issue is no more a matter of fair resource distribution or provincial autonomy, he got overwhelming support from all main-stream political parties. In an apparent response, Army Chief also commented that: “The Army fully supports any political process, as long as it is within the constitution of Pakistan.”

As of now, there is a serious political vacuum in Baluchistan. The civil administration has collapsed. The politicians have lost both public confidence as well as legitimacy. Certainly, the current political dispensation of Baluchistan has lost its credibility and is beyond the scope of patchy repair. Starting point could be fresh elections in the province and revivification of the benefits envisaged in the Eighteenth Constitutional Amendment and the seventh NFC Award. Mere allocation of funds and constitution of committees and commissions would not bring respite.

Baluchistan is essentially an internal problem of Pakistan warranting a consensus based political solution aimed at redressing the grievances, factual or perceptional. In a joint security meeting on Baluchistan, in May this year, the national leadership has already resolved that the issue needs a political tackling and there is a need to get serious about the situation in the province. Federal and provincial governments need to lead the process.

As regards external interference, the foreign office should effectively play its part in highlighting such involvements at appropriate international forums. Countries suspected of playing catalytic role in the deteriorating situations must be engaged constructively by sharing the information. A professional approach needs to replace ambiguity and evasion.

Beating which FC and other Law Enforcing Agencies (LEAs) are getting is uncalled for. Irresponsible statements by provincial ministers have heavily contributed towards tarnishing the image of LEAs. Talal Bugti recently said, “The fate of FC should be similar to that of ‘Federal Security Force’ created by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and was finished off by Gen Ziaul Haq.” He said that police should be responsible for controlling law and order in city areas. He conveniently skipped as to who would control rural areas. There are many narratives circulating about the high handedness of the FC. Even if these are mere myths, very strong negative perceptions have successfully been created, which cannot be just wished away.  Maligning of FC is a part of concerted campaign to force withdrawal of FC and push Baluchistan into an anarchic situation beyond redemption.

Bold steps are needed to counter the prevalent negative perception about FC and other LEAs. There is a need to redefine the rules of engagement for them. Without a viable force in place to enforce order, pulling out of FC would only benefit the elements working for destabilization of Pakistan. An alternative structure may be raised and a timeframe for phased withdrawal of FC may be announced. This would remove a major irritant in the way of an early calm.

Baluch nationalist political parties often call for an environment where they could freely practice politics without interference from the agencies. This demand is genuine; however such conditions could only emerge as a result of satisfactory law and order situation. Poor law and order would prevail till sectarian and ethnic killings of Punjabis and Hazaras come to an end. So, it is a chicken and egg situation. Yet, all need to strive for this end.

Mengal’s return may be part of some understanding. In Talal Bugti’s reckoning, Mengal may have received the go-ahead from concerned military quarters to return and rejoin the political process. Whatever the case, both Mengal and Talal Bugti have an opportunity to regain their lost political space. Other Baluch nationalists also need to come forward and join the process.

Akhtar Mengal deserves praise for having the courage to come personally to make his peace offer. He summed up the outcome of his visit: “The ball is in (your) court now. If (you) want to play fair we are ready to play fair.” It is time for the political leadership to seize the moment and move ahead. Political solution should aim at empowering of a common Baluch rather than appeasing a couple of tribal chieftains.

Writer is Consultant, Policy & Strategic Response, IPRI.