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For a credible inquiry

By Sanaullah Baloch

THE attention the Supreme Court (SC) has focused on the Balochistan conflict and the human rights abuses being committed there raised the expectations of the affected population.

Today Balochistan is a virtual prison. With thousands of check-posts dotting the province, the Baloch are a society under siege. This land of despair, death, and violence in numerous forms, had largely been peaceful before Musharraf launched an aggressive campaign of what can only be described as “colonisation.”

But after Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry departed from Quetta, (the hearing, headed by the chief justice, over law and order in Balochistan resumed on Monday in Quetta) a few weeks back the situation soon reverted to the status quo. Since then, more mutilated bodies of Baloch activists have been recovered. Many activists have reportedly been ‘abducted’.

The piecemeal nature of the SC’s approach is neither helping victims nor discouraging the violators of human rights from curtailing what appears to be a policy to eliminate moderate Baloch activists under the pretext of counter-insurgency efforts.

The apex court in the federal system has, in this regard, two sets of responsibilities: first, to ensure the provision of fundamental rights and restrain dominant ethnic groups from abusing the rights of non-core groups, and secondly, to guarantee the full implementation of the constitution with regard to the political and economic rights of the federating units and check the systematic exploitation of groups and individuals.

Sadly for Pakistan, the role played by the apex as well as the high courts in terms of conflict prevention and resolution has been disappointing. In order to prevent further political and human catastrophes, this forum ought to immediately order a comprehensive and impartial inquiry with regard to Balochistan’s political, economic, security and human rights’ complexities.

The inquiry should focus on examining the role of the central government and law-enforcement agencies in Balochistan, and their involvement in the way decisions were made by the Musharraf-led and subsequent governments.

The decisions made and actions taken between 2004 and now must be looked into to establish as accurately and reliably as possible where things went wrong and what lessons must be learnt.

If an inquiry could be conducted impartially and free from the influence of institutions notorious for interfering, it could provide a reliable account of the events that drove matters to the current pass.

This would identify lessons helpful in guiding federal-provincial relations, addressing social and economic disparities, reducing ethnic prejudice and instituting security-sector reforms that are not ethnically biased. There would be the further potential of defining conflict prevention and resolution mechanisms.

This is without doubt a challenging task. Should the SC be able to make a bold decision, though, what the country stands to gain is the restoration of the trust of marginalised ethnic communities, and the restoration of rights to the people that have been devastated by discriminatory policies and state structures that are imbalanced in terms of ethnicity.

The judicial inquiry constituted by the SC should provide a reliable account of the nearly eight-year-long and continuing conflict in Balochistan. A Balochistan inquiry committee could take matters further and ask national and international experts and advisers to assist in its work of asking the questions that need to be asked to establish the truth, resolve the situation and prevent it in the future.

The stakeholders to be called on would include Baloch nationalist parties, victims of enforced disappearances, the family members of ‘kill and dump’ victims, journalists, Baloch leaders here and in exile, and Baloch writers and intellectuals.

From the side of the state, respondents would include former and current federal government representatives, former and current heads of the Frontier Corps, representatives of the intelligence agencies and all other actors that were involved in Musharraf’s deadly policy vis-à-vis Balochistan.

Everything would hinge, though, on witnesses’ ability to speak freely and provide truthful, fair and accurate evidences and assessments. Matters could be improved if the government extended immunity from disciplinary action to serving official and military and paramilitary officials who give evidence to or otherwise assist the inquiry committee.

It is possible — indeed, likely — that the issues raised will include political, economic and development dimensions. However, all these fields are intertwined and central to the ongoing conflict. An example is the role played by the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Resources, or the Oil and Gas Development Corporation, which are earning billions of rupees a year from the wells of Dera Bugti. Meanwhile, the government must ensure full cooperation with the inquiry committee by committing that no document or witness lies beyond the scope of the forum — including reports by the intelligence agencies and top military commanders’ decisions that led to the endless blood-letting.

Furthermore, the state must make sure that the inquiry committee has all the resources it needs to properly fulfil its mandate. The latter must reciprocate by making sure it functions efficiently and does not waste public money.

There would be a great deal of interest in how the inquiry committee conducts its business, particularly in how it ensures fairness to witnesses whilst making sure that it is able to elicit a full, accurate and truthful account of the military operation in Balochistan.

To have credibility, though, the inquiry must be transparent about its approach and the processes it adopts. All the citizens of the country have a right to know what underpins the conflict and what its destructive consequences have been.

Accounts of the hearings and copies of all the documents submitted should be put on the Internet, and the media must have full access to the hearings. Arrangements should be made for both the media and the public for the public evidence sessions. This would help increase public understanding and reduce the chances of further misadventures.

Balochistan has suffered immensely in the past six decades. It is time to redress the grievances and end systematic oppression and exploitation through a genuine and credible process. Genuine peace — one that is not enforced through the security apparatus — will produce an assortment of positive outcomes.

The writer is a Baloch leader who resigned from the Upper House in protest against Islamabad’s discriminatory policies against Baloch people. He can be reached at balochbnp@gmail.com

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Faiz Baluch