20 April 2024 08:40 AM



Balochistan: Can We Really Put Pakistan on the Defensive On Human Rights Now?

MUMBAI: Our Prime Minister’s Independence Day speech criticizing human rights abuses in Balochistan was hailed as a “game changer” by some who said that it was a riposte to Pakistan’s interference in Jammu & Kashmir. Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Baloch Nationalist leader Brahumdagh Bugti, grandson of slain leader Akbar Bugti, welcomed his remarks. Malik Siraj Akbar CEO of Washington based “Balochistan Institute” wrote in an Indian daily (August, 19) that the speech “recognized” Balochistan as an entity “separate from Pakistan”.

However Akbar changed his tune next day in “Dawn” saying that Baloch people were forced to take the help of “temporary allies in individuals, who are infamous for their deeply conservative views”.

Would our PM’s speech make any difference? Not likely if past history is any guide, except raising the pitch of bilateral blame game. Baloch uprisings had taken place in 1948, 1958, 1974 and 2004. Pakistan had ignored outside comments and continued repressing Baloch dissent. They had also used blackmail successfully. In 1963 Ayub Khan used America’s secret “Badaber” listening facility in Pakistan as a bargaining chip with the United States. Advised by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Khan delayed a US proposal of “Badaber” expansion to wrest financial aid from Kennedy. A democratically elected Bhutto used air force in 1973 to bomb “Marri” insurgents backed by Saddam Hussein, who hoped that the Baloch uprising would spread to Iran.

In 2012 Pakistan reacted violently when US Republican Congressman Dana Rohrabacher introduced a non binding resolution calling for the right to self-determination for the Baloch people. Pakistan hit back, blocking NATO supply going to Afghanistan. They spread rumours that this was an American-NATO conspiracy to allow unfettered access to the landlocked Afghanistan by dividing Pakistan. Simultaneously mass fury was whipped up over drone strikes which compelled Obama administration to officially deny any such move.

There are several reasons why Balochistan is so restive. Suppression of human rights is only one dimension. Historians say that the foundations for these uprisings date back to 1877. Sir Robert Sandeman, “conqueror of Balochistan’ institutionalized the “Sardari System” using them for “Tribal Pacification” to execute their “Forward Policy”. Under the feudal “Sardari system” ordinary tribe leaders had no power. The Sardars used to rule arbitrarily and brutally. Sylvia Matheson in her book “ Tigers of Balochistan” (1967) quotes the late Nawab Akbar Bugti telling her “ You must remember that I killed my first man when I was twelve…as the eldest son of the Chieftain I was perfectly entitled to do as I pleased in my own territory.”

Also, except for the late Khair Baksh Marri, who is considered as the “father of Baloch nationalism”, the leading “Baloch Sardars” were all part of that feudal power structure which continued after independence. Ataullah Mengal was Balochistan Chief Minister (1972-73) and “Nawab” Akbar Bugti Governor (1973-74) when Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was the Prime Minister. Stanley Wolpert says that in February 1973 Bugti betrayed Governor Ghaus Bakhsh Bizenjo (National Awami Party-NAP) to Bhutto by conveying that he was preparing for secession. Bhutto dismissed Bizenjo and appointed Bugti as governor even while federal troops were crushing unrest.

A close study of the rulers( governors, Chief Ministers or military administrators) in Balochistan from 1973 to 2008 would reveal that majority of them were Baloch “Sardars”. The Pashtuns find themselves neglected. Not many in India know that the present Balochistan was originally 3 main areas: A Pashtun majority British Balochistan, Kalat state with 3 dependencies (Kharan, Makran and Lasbela) and the Marri-Bugti tribal areas. The presence of 4 million Afghan refugees, mostly Pashtuns, has exacerbated tensions. On May 28, 2015 twenty passengers in 2 buses going to Karachi from Pashtun dominated Mastung District were shot dead by unidentified gunmen.

Yet another reason for Baloch unrest is water scarcity and climate change. An excellent paper by US Institute of Peace in 2013 by 3 Specialists including 2 Pakistani scholars found that climate change and environmental causes in Balochistan had contributed to homegrown militancy. The traditional “Karez” system of water supply (underground aqueduct that passively taps the groundwater) was sabotaged by rich farmers using electric pumps. Its disruption has led to water dispossession and social disintegration creating a huge army of landless and deprived rural population. The paper says: “This social disintegration runs the risk of contributing foot soldiers for assorted insurgent outfits in the region” for Jihad in Kashmir and Afghanistan.

Pakistan ignores all these and brands any Baloch unrest due to India’s interference through our external intelligence. They forget that India would have been able to neutralize Lashkar and Jaish threats had our external intelligence been so powerful and overreaching.

The credit for spreading universal publicity on human rights abuses in Balochistan goes to the London based Amnesty International (AI) which paradoxically is now facing our Union Home Ministry’s close attention. AI is also accused of “Sedition” by Hindu fundamentalists for arranging a Kashmir meeting in Bengaluru. AI has 7 million members across the world. In 1977 it was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Its 2015-16 annual report said that “in April, a human rights activist Sabeen Mahmud was killed after hosting a discussion on Balochistan at her cafe in Karachi. Her driver, a key witness, subsequently was shot dead, despite the Sindh Witness Protection Act 2013 that was passed to protect witnesses”.

It is odd that both Pakistan and India think alike on foreign NGOs like Amnesty. In January 2015 India prevented a Greenpeace campaigner from going to UK for attending a conference. Amnesty reported that three Baloch activists were prevented in March 2015 at Karachi from going to USA to attend a joint meeting of Baluch and Sindhi activists. Amnesty says that in October 2015 Pakistan asked all NGOs to register and obtain permission from the Ministry of Interior for carrying on activities. On August 13, 2016 our Home Ministry asked Amnesty to get a licence to receive funds from abroad.

This might be a coincidence but still relevant at a time when we take the initiative to point out other countries’ human rights abuses. As signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and the UN General Assembly’s (UNGA) International Covenant on Civil & Political Rights (1966-1976) we have certain obligations specified in UNGA Resolution 53/144 dated 1998. Article 5 of the resolution recognizes the rights of individuals to form, join and participate in non-governmental organizations, associations or groups and to communicate with non-governmental or intergovernmental organizations.

This brings us to our own human rights situation. Daily news headlines like “India blinding young Kashmiri protestors” (The Guardian UK) “HC seeks details about people blinded, injured in the valley” (Kashmir Reader), “Lecturer beaten to death in Kashmir; army regrets killing, orders probe” (Mumbai Mirror) and “BJP worker killed by Cow vigilantes” (The Hindu) do not give any credit to our own human rights situation. Merely transferring the blame for the situation in the Valley on Pakistan is no solution. Are we sure that things in the Kashmir Valley will become normal if Pakistan, under international pressure, stops its interference?

A guide to a resolution of the present Kashmir impasse could be what a non political professional had suggested on August 19. Lt.Gen.D.S.Hooda, Northern Army Commander had said that everybody who is involved including separatists should “sit down, put our heads together”. We cannot reject participation of “separatists” who live within our borders. If we do, we will be no better than Pakistan. Why are we having discussions with Naga groups who still do not proclaim allegiance to our Constitution?

[The writer is a former Special Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat and author of “National Security & Intelligence Management-A new paradigm”]