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A ray of hope?

Sardar Akhtar Mengal’s unexpected capitulation and appearance before the Supreme Court (SC) has pleased a few but angered a majority of the Baloch. He has climbed down from his position of demanding an independent Balochistan. In the Daily Times of May 8, 2009, its then Quetta correspondent Malik Siraj Akbar reported Akhtar Mengal’s speech from the western Panjgur district bordering Iran. Mengal said that the ultimate goal of his party (BNP-M) was to seek Balochistan’s independence from Pakistan, for which the party was striving to prepare the ground and ensure unity among all Baloch nationalist political groups. The BNP-M chief said the Baloch had become tired of the unabated military operations and the excessive exploitation of their natural resources by the federal government, and now the BNP-M wanted the separation of Balochistan from Pakistan. Such climbdowns certainly have good reasons, the good reason here being a shot at the lucrative chief ministerial post. A bad bargain for sure, because Baloch rights would be bartered for a pittance. Wading through Baloch blood to this coveted position is insincerity personified.

Mengal’s six points, not akin to Sheikh Mujib’s six points, are certainly not the demands that the Baloch have fought and shed blood for, but are his spin on his capitulation in preparation for participation in the elections in the hope to once again adorn the post of chief minister that the Baloch label the ‘Cheap Minister’ seat. He has called for measures for the alleviation of symptoms but, unfortunately, has conveniently forgotten the disease that caused these symptoms in the first place. He has forsaken the Baloch sacrifices on the altar of uncertain personal gains and has tried to sabotage the Baloch demand for their inalienable rights. His submission to the wishes of the Pakistani state and going along with the SC charade of recovering the missing persons will simply lend legitimacy to all the past, present and future atrocities and excesses against the Baloch. He has thrown in his lot with the very establishment directly responsible for the disappearance of his brother, Asadullah Mengal, and Ahmed Shah in 1976.

Mengal’s six points, ostentatiously rejected by the army and government, are: ending military operations against the Baloch; procuring all missing persons before a court of law; disbanding all proxy death squads operating under the supervision of intelligence agencies; resumption of political activities by Baloch political parties without any interference from intelligence agencies; bringing to justice persons responsible for inhuman torture, killing and dumping of the Baloch political leaders and activists, and measures initiated for the rehabilitation of thousands of displaced Baloch living in appalling conditions. If he thinks all this will be done under the aegis of the SC, he is clutching at straws. The SC has, to date, achieved nothing in this respect; it admits that 60 of its 68 orders were ignored. The threatened SC ‘binding injunction’ will be the 61st. People continue to go missing and turning up dead. Nothing will change because those responsible are much too powerful and have high stakes in Balochistan.

Mengal, however, seemed overly optimistic and while praising the SC, said, “It was the first time in the history of the country that the Baloch people had found a ray of hope.” For him there may be a ray of hope but in reality, the Baloch have experienced nothing but a deepening gloom since March 27, 1948. I hope that Akhtar Mengal will share with all as to how a Balochistan enveloped in a pall of gloom and oppression will be illuminated by this ‘ray of hope’. If this ray of hope only means that Balochistan will be under his stewardship then the Baloch would be doubly burdened.

Mengal also said, “A meaningful negotiation between the recognised and genuine representatives of the Baloch and the military establishment on the future of the province was possible after implementation of his demands.” By genuine Baloch representatives he probably meant himself. Meaningful negotiations can never be held between victims and oppressors and certainly not when so much Baloch blood has been shed. Moreover, in an attempt to satisfy his mentors, Mengal belittled the Baloch honour, dignity and sacrifices by using a metaphor about divorces; the Baloch were not given in dowry to anyone or married off; they are and will remain a nation with a dignified history.

Anybody who thinks Mengal’s return is inconsequential for the Baloch rights struggle should think again. His willingness to compromise with the perpetrators of injustices will legitimise excesses in Balochistan and, moreover, increase the possibility of dissension within the Baloch, which will temporarily disadvantage those struggling for rights. The other equally important factor is that it will definitely weaken those demanding that the world and civil society here take notice of the injustices being committed against the Baloch. Mengal’s acceptance of the Supreme Court decisions will make the battle for justice for the missing thousands and those 600 Baloch tortured and killed even more arduous and more uncertain. International bodies like the WGEID trying to ameliorate the miseries of the enforced disappearances victims and relatives will be hesitant to continue if this charade of popular representation succeeds in Balochistan.

The ‘establishment’ may be excused for thinking that the rabbit it has pulled out from its very battered hat is a masterstroke but it will not pay off the way they expect it to. There is no denying that Sardar Akhtar Mengal has influence but his capitulation has alienated many Baloch people and his powerbase will erode rapidly; however, he may find support among some liberal circles.

The question is, will a Mengal-led government be more Baloch-friendly than the present Raisani-led government? I do not think there is even half a chance for that. The army and the Frontier Corps will continue to govern as in the past; only their actions will have more apparent legitimacy because of Akhtar Mengal’s previous position as an opposition figure. He will lend respectability to excesses and, more importantly, to ensure his survival he will give excuses for the past excesses. He will not challenge the status quo because the neo-colonisation principle is securely in place. M J Akbar in his brilliant book, Tinderbox, the Past and Future of Pakistan defines it as, “Neo-colonisation is the grant of independence on condition that you do not exercise it.” This exactly will be the case when and if Akhtar Mengal becomes the Balochistan government’s titular head.

Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur has an association with the Baloch rights movement going back to the early 1970s. He can be contacted at mmatalpur@gmail.com

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