Rights ‘movements’: separating myth from reality


By Imtiaz Gul

What forces are driving the current Baloch and Pakhtun ‘rights’ movements in this country? Why is such hype created when the proponents of these ‘movements’ take on state institutions?

First, let us observe the constitutional status of human rights in this country; since fundamental rights such as freedom of expression, faith, assembly, protection of property and right to dignity constitute inalienable ingredients of a functional democracy. Hence, they are an essential part of the constitution of Pakistan. Most of these ingredients guide the state’s governance regime. This is even true in socialist societies such as China, where citizens’ welfare remains the primary focus of the Communist Party.

From Article 8 to 28, the constitution of Pakistan, too, promises all possible rights. These include security of person (Article 9), right to fair trial, inviolability of dignity of man, freedom of movement, freedom of assembly, freedom of association, freedom of trade, business or profession, freedom of speech, right to information, freedom to profess religion and to manage religious institutions, protection of property rights, equality of citizens (Article 25), and right to education.

Ideally, these rights should apply to all and sundry — across the board. But we certainly don’t live in an ideal world. The world today is ideologically driven and politically uncertain, dictated and defined largely by geopolitical alliances. The fact that NATO ally, Turkey threatens the United States with an ‘Ottoman Empire’ because the latter openly supports anti-Ankara Kurd rebels, or India deals with pro-China rebels in the north east through officially sponsored non-state actors are but a few manifestation of geo-politics that weigh heavily on individual states’ responses to armed or political opposition.  Often states end up committing mistakes and violating citizens’ human rights. Eventually these transgressions are held out against these states as charge-sheets. At times they are genuine, but often they can be geo-politically driven.

Pakistan has had its share of human rights violations and international condemnations, but the West has always looked the other way as long as the country’s military rulers obliged them in their geo-political games. But the western nations have kept turning on Pakistan, usually with the human rights’ stick, whenever their respective approaches diverged.

Pashtuns are very much a part of nearly all spheres of Pakistani life; they command very good representation in the Parliament, as well as most federal ministries and allied institutions. They are also the second largest ethnic group in the armed forces, paramilitary included. They also hold a near monopoly over the trucking and transportation industry

These divergences have been absolutely legitimate when it comes to equal rights for issues such as the disenfranchised FATA residents, mitigation of Baloch grievances and unexplained enforced disappearances. There can’t be any two opinions about the need to fix these issues as demanded by law. Yet, such demands are often conflated with “conscious state actions against certain ethnic groups such as Pakhtuns and the Baloch. Here begins the challenge of politically motivated narratives, which feed on the missteps of state institutions.

Let us now analyse how these missteps can potentially be turned into a rights’ campaign by legitimate as well as vested interests.

Back in 2014, an official from an Indian publishing company introduced a dissident Pakistani writer settled in North America to Ajit Doval, the Indian National Security Advisor. The objective of the meeting was handing over a personal letter by Brahamdagh Bugti to Doval, following which Bugti was invited to India for four months. The young Bugti enjoyed the best of hospitality during his time in India, often as a cherished guest of RSS affiliated organisations for lectures across India as a much sought after ‘Baloch liberation fighter’.

Dear readers, this is not hearsay but extrapolation of a Whatsapp chat I had with an Indian acquaintance on September 17, 2016.

My interlocutor on the chat claims to have organised Bugti’s first interview on Zee TV, after which the Baloch became the darlings of the Indian media. He went on to explain that Bugti had a tendency to lose his line of argument and start repeating himself if the crowd starts clapping.

“The Indian High Commission granted him a visa in 12 hours (and) funnily wrote my name on his visa,” said the acquaintance, who felt that the Pakistani establishment mishandled – through careless approaches – estranged…intellectuals” and threw them in the Indian lap.

He also spoke of the asylum offered to Brahamdagh by India. Other Baloch leaders have been asked to file for it with the ultimate objective of allowing a Baloch government in exile in India.

“What’s the real rationale for India to have a Baloch government in exile?” I asked.

“Just a pressure tactic to square off Kashmir,” he said.

It made sense, as in August 2016, PM Modi mentioned “excesses meted out to the Baloch in Pakistan” in his Independence Day speech. This resonated what Doval and his colleagues had recommended back in 2009; exploit fault lines within Pakistan, and Balochistan offers one such opportunity.

All democratically thinking Pakistanis support the Pakhtun Tahafuz Movement as far as it relates to the disenfranchised FATA residents, who deserve to be treated as equal citizens of Pakistan. They want FATA mainstreamed and rehabilitation of homes and livelihoods in areas, where many terrorists and insurgents lived as paying guests until October 2009.

But most Pakistanis also know that Pakhtuns (as a group) are very much a part of nearly all spheres of Pakistani life; they command very good representation in the Parliament, as well as most federal ministries and allied institutions. They are also the second largest ethnic group in the armed forces, paramilitary included. Pakhtuns hold a near monopoly over the trucking and transportation industry as well as mining, heavy machinery, and construction industries. Therefore, to portray all Pakhtuns as lacking citizenship rights may not be an accurate picture.

The state institutions should be united in their resolve not to let politically motivated elements hijack the rights and development agenda. In the words of General Qamar Bajwa, Pakistan has successfully defeated monsters (disguised terrorists and separatists) in the last decade or so. They don’t have a chance if all state institutions (parliament, bureaucracy and the armed forces) consciously pursue the path of rule of law, he says.