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Exceptional sight but absolute lack of vision

Little do political parties in Balochistan realise that the noose of disaster, devastation and desolation will tighten around the neck of the people

Ironically, an irony that escaped him, Sardar Akhtar Mengal’s decision to participate in the forthcoming elections coincided with March 27, the day Baloch nationalists observe as a ‘Black Day’, because that day in 1948, Balochistan was forcibly annexed, depriving the Baloch of their freedom. Interestingly, on March 25 on arrival he had said that nothing had changed since his last September Supreme Court (SC) appearance. He said since then 70 bodies had been dumped and 60 target killings had taken place. He said institutions were mistakenly trying to impose their views by force and had pushed Balochistan to the present critical situation. He added he would not have lived four years in exile had there been constitutional rule in the country and was of the view that free, fair and transparent elections could not be held without ending interference by the intelligence agencies, and moreover, the caretaker government was unlikely to succeed in restoring law and order in two months, where previous rulers had failed. He emphatically added it was not clear how the elections would be held in a ‘bloodstained’ Balochistan.

Apparently, somehow the situation suddenly changed and Mengal joined the bandwagon though the ground reality was that a few more bodies were dumped in Karachi and Hub after his arrival. This kidnapping and killing will not end during the caretaker period or after the elections because not a single person has been held accountable. A March 21 news report stated that the SC’s three-member bench was told by DIG CID Balochistan Feroze Shah that 10 army officers are involved in the abduction of missing persons in Balochistan. He stated, “Following the statements of 12 missing persons after they returned home the Balochistan police asked the Frontier Corps (FC) to trace the whereabouts of the accused army men including two Lt Colonels, six majors and two subedaars.” He disclosed that the FC said some of these officers did not belong to it, and others had gone back to the army. So there the matter rests; people continue to go missing without accountability.

This is not the first instance that evidence has prompted no action; the PPP Balochistan president Sadiq Umrani had made a stunning disclosure in the Balochistan Assembly on February 6, 2012 that he and two other ministers, Yunis Mullazai and Zafar Zehri, witnessed the killing of two citizens by the FC personnel on the Quetta-Kalat National Highway. This and even the CCTV evidence was ignored, so there is no hope of any change in the establishment’s attitude towards the Baloch.

Elections help strengthen democracy only where democratic traditions and conditions exist. Hosni Mubarak held elections and so does Robert Mugabe but things keep worsening. The elected PPP government completed five years at the Centre, and a coalition in Balochistan, yet this period saw the Baloch subjected to the worst atrocities. Wherefrom comes the optimism that this situation will change with new dispensations?

Naturally, people will ask how a boycott will help; it may not bring about a change, but at least, it will not provide legitimacy to the atrocities against the Baloch. It is not only about Mengal alone, this is about all those who are willing to legitimise the atrocities simply in return for benefits.

Certainly, there are ample benefits in being part of politics here. This is what Aasim Sajjad Akhtar says in his March 29 op-ed in a national daily, “The Mundanity of it All”. “Let us take the example of Balochistan, where the very holding of and legitimacy of elections is under question. It is worth bearing in mind that even while a wide cross-section of Baloch society is alienated from the mainstream — as Akhtar Mengal has been at pains to point out — there are still many political and economic resources at stake in the upcoming elections, and there are many Baloch from dominant, intermediate and subordinate class backgrounds that will potentially be vying for these resources. The political economy of smuggling (and transport) is, for instance, a complex matter that involves hundreds of thousands of Baloch. Many of the licences and permits needed to facilitate the trade and transport of a host of goods are issued by government officials. The Baloch people might be loath to make any kind of ideological commitment to the Pakistani state, but the reality of economic integration means that elections are nevertheless an important exercise that affects the lives of many who otherwise might politically support the separatist movement. Little wonder that clearing houses data show Quetta’s phenomenal financial rise; concomitantly, there exists acute anxiety in different institutions and political parties to secure a major share in the windfall through politically legitimising the loot. No wonder, nearly the entire past Balochistan assembly also doubled as cabinet.”

So participation in elections here is not a futile exercise for those who want to join the gravy train of which Sajjad has given but one example. Extractive institutions thrive in pseudo-legitimate conditions, and that is exactly what the so-called nationalist parties’ participation in elections will provide to these institutions. Expecting these parties to forsake their benefits for the sake of Baloch rights, and a safe environment for the Hazaras is asking too much.

Mengal is taking most of the flak because of the expectations that people have had in him because of his family’s previous record in nationalist politics. Others have avowedly been pro-establishment, and therefore, were expected to do what they have always done. They probably interpret Leon Trotsky’s quote that the “end may justify the means as long as there is something that justifies the end” better than we can imagine. However, here only personal benefits are the end. Just because most have joined the bandwagon it does not necessarily mean they are right. The political parties’ decision to disregard Baloch demands for their own interests and their lack of vision to understand the consequences of their hurry to be a part of the gravy train is a sign of their immaturity and opportunism. A Sheikh Saadi parable may explain it; in the parable, a vulture boasting of its phenomenal ability to see far off things tells a kite: “No one has a better sight than mine.” The kite to test its claim asks what it could see in the plains. The vulture looks around and says, “Would you believe I can see a grain of wheat a day’s journey away. To confirm the claim they fly towards it and amazingly there it is.” But then as the vulture tries to pick it, a snare snaps around its neck. The kite perceptively says, “What use this extraordinary sight that sees a single grain from afar but isn’t able discern the snare that lies in wait with it.” The vulture’s exceptional sight but absolute lack of vision had become the reason for its entrapment and misery.

The sight here like that of the vulture is transfixed on the objective of benefitting from the gravy train that the election provides at the cost of everything else. Little do political parties in Balochistan realise that the noose of disaster, devastation and desolation will tighten around the neck of the people. Moreover, this will make Baloch society more fragmented and more fractured than it was ever before for the simple reason that they can only see the single grain but not the whole host of problems it will create. These elections will only widen the divide between the establishment and pro-establishment politicians and parties on the one hand, and the nationalist Baloch on the other, and in the end help no one. The result will be a more estranged and sharply divided Balochistan.

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