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Dervishes and phonies

There certainly is a motive behind this obsession with being elected; there is a lot at stake in monetary gains and prestige

The caretaker prime minister (PM) Justice (retd) Hazar Khan Khoso reportedly was to undertake a trip to Balochistan for convincing the ‘disgruntled Baloch leaders’ to participate in the general elections. The caretakers, like their predecessors, are clutching at imaginary straws. This essentially vain effort reminds me of a Sheikh Saadi parable. A king concerned about the welfare of many dervishes (sages, ascetics) residing in his domain gave his vizier money for distribution among them. The vizier returned a few days later with the money unused and said he could not find any dervish. Annoyed, the king said that there were plenty. The vizier calmly explained, “O’ King, the real Dervishes wouldn’t touch the money and those who wanted it were phonies not dervishes so I didn’t give it to them.” Those opposing elections will not be meeting the PM and those already deeply involved and needing no convincing are falling over each other to meet him. The caretaker vizier’s Quetta trip to find dervishes will also be futile. Those who matter are not in Quetta while those talking are already bending over backwards to oblige and certainly those phonies are not the answer to Balochistan’s problems.

Sardar Akhtar Mengal is committed to the electoral process but is simultaneously making noises that would help project him as a ‘defender of Baloch rights’ as well. While talking to journalists in Uthal he said, “Fair, free and transparent elections are not possible in Balochistan where people are still receiving mutilated bodies of their loved ones.” He claimed that nobody can carry his party flags in Khuzdar district due to fear of “state-sponsored death squads”. He complained that, “More than 50 percent people have migrated from Khuzdar alone who are now settled in safer areas of Sindh, including Karachi.” He emphasised, “There are ‘no-go’ areas in Balochistan where armed gangs of killers hold sway under the protection of the establishment and paramilitary Frontier Corps,” and “Elections are being held in Balochistan at gunpoint, which could not be free and fair.” But in the same breath he also declared that if there was any option of securing the rights of the people of Balochistan available for him and his political colleagues, “...we will definitely use those options, and no power on earth can stop us.” Apparently, that option is becoming the titular head of government after elections.

The elections in Balochistan are bogus when even Mengal claims that the death squads’ open support by the establishment reigns supreme, and that is not the only impediment. Recently, at the Supreme Court hearing of the Balochistan target killing cases, Balochistan government’s counsel Shahid Hamid informed the court that around 18,000 claims were submitted by Dera Bugti’s displaced people for compensation, and that Rs136 million were issued by the government for the purpose. For a small place like Dera Bugti, 18,000 persons is a significant number and it shows the intensity of operations against the people. Moreover, Dera Bugti and Khuzdar are not the only place from which people have been forced out. Will these people be able to vote?

Those cosying up to the establishment, and at the same time trying to appear champions of the Baloch rights will not fool the people. An Aesop’s fable will elucidate it well. One bitter winter night a man lost his way in the woods. As he was wandering around, a satyr sensing his predicament promised to lodge him for the night and guide him out in the morning. As they went to the satyr’s place the man raised both his hands to his mouth and kept blowing on them. “What do you do that for?” asked the satyr. “My hands are numb with the cold,” said the man, “and my breath warms them.” After arrival at the satyr’s home, the satyr put a piping hot dish of porridge before him. The man raised his spoon to his mouth and blew upon it. “And what do you do that for?” inquired the satyr. “The porridge is too hot, and my breath will cool it.” “Out you go,” said the satyr. “I will have naught to do with a man who can blow hot and cold with the same breath.” The Baloch people too like the satyr will have nothing to do with those who blow hot and cold with the same breath. Because Mengal and others blow hot and cold in the same breath, people are wary of their intentions. You cannot eat the cake and have it too. People demand an unequivocal position; vacillators cannot inspire confidence.

For reasons best known to them, being elected is an obsession for some people. Ms Sakina Mengal of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, after being denied the party ticket, tried self-immolation during a Quetta press conference. There have been momentous instances of self-immolation in the world, the most recent that of Mohamed Bouazizi, the Tunisian street vendor, who protesting confiscation of his wares and harassment and humiliation by municipal officials, immolated himself on December 17, 2010, thus sparking the Arab Spring. Those flames have now engulfed the Middle-East. Thich Quang Duc, a Vietnamese Mahayana Buddhist monk, self-immolated at a busy Saigon road intersection on June 11, 1963. Jan Palach, a 21-year-old Czech student of history and political economy at the Charles University, committed self-immolation as a political protest on January 19, 1969 against the invasion of Czechoslovakia and suppression of the 1968 Prague Spring by the Warsaw Pact. These immolations left a lasting impression and were iconic; self-immolation for a party ticket is simply mind boggling.

There certainly is a motive behind this obsession with being elected; there is a lot at stake in monetary gains and prestige. Millions are spent to get elected and the aim is not altruistic; there is more to the game than is played out in elections. An anecdote of the humorous Sindhi sage Watayo Faqeer will elucidate this further. One day a man told Watayo that his mother had gone crazy and was rolling in the dust in the middle of the bazaar. On reaching home he asked his mother about the incident. She said she had seen a rupee on the ground and feared if she bent to pick it up, there would be claimants for it so she acted mad and rolled in the dust to collect it. A grinning Watayo said, “I knew my mother wasn’t all that mad after all.” Sardar Akhtar Mengal and all those who are contesting are not really mad but like Watayo’s mother have seen something on the ground.

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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