The News on Sunday: What do you make of the government claims that hundreds of Baloch insurgents have surrendered arms on August 14? There were conflicting reports about the killing of Dr Allah Nazar Baloch. What is the state of insurgency like in Balochistan today?
Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur: The government has always claimed that there are only a handful of misguided Baloch who resist progress at the behest of foreign hands. But since June, going by press reports, those surrendering number at least 800 so then why are the attacks still going on? The latest charade was on August 17, claiming that right hand men of Brahamdagh along with 23 others surrendered. These are ‘rent a crowd surrenders’, quite pointless.
The reports on Dr Allah Nazar Baloch simply indicate that away from the public eye there is a continued massive army operation in Awaran and he is being hunted because he symbolises the Baloch resistance. He is considered an obstacle to the CPEC but the government doesn’t realise that fish survive in the sea and the people of Balochistan are the sea for those who oppose the exploitation of resources and land grab under the flimsy garb of development.
The insurgency in Balochistan is definitely active and worrying enough for the government — apart from the forces already there including the Quetta cantonment and numerous naval bases — to announce that it would establish a Special Security Division (SSD) consisting of nine battalions of the army and six battalions of the civilian forces, and that it may extend Operation Zarb-e-Azb to Balochistan to protect Chinese personnel. The continued operation in Awaran speaks volumes about the Balochistan situation.
TNS: Last week Balochistan’s senior parliamentary leader, Nawab Sanaullah Zehri, met the self-exiled Baloch leader, Khan of Kalat Agha Suleman Dawood Ahmedzai in London to urge him to come back and play his role in Balochistan. Do you think he can play any role in the near future?
MMAT: The important question here is as Stalin asked, “How many divisions does the Pope have?” The Khan of Kalat has no divisions and is no Pope either. He no longer enjoys the influence that his elders did so his return will not change the insurgency situation in Balochistan though he too may arrange the lucrative rent a crowd surrenders to prove that his return has triggered a change.
TNS: How does the provincial government of Dr Malik plan to deal with the situation? How is it different from Prime Minister’s Pur Amn Balochistan programme or from PPP’s Aghaz-e-Huqooq-e-Balochistan Package?
MMAT: Dr. Malik’s provincial government has absolutely no plan to deal with the situation. It takes orders from Rawalpindi and Islamabad for general (pun intended) policy and the day to day government is subject to their wishes. Moreover Dr. Malik with his total 4000 votes election win doesn’t represent the Baloch people.
The PPP’s Aghaz-e-Huqooq-e-Balochistan Package was an absolute failure; it may have benefited some figures but not the people there. In February 2013, a 10-member special cabinet committee said that desired results were not achieved despite unprecedented allocation of funds.
The Pur Amn Balochistan programme of the two Shareefs isn’t a development programme but is a ‘pacification’ one, based solely on brute force to ensure security for the Chinese working on CPEC. It is in pursuance of this pacification plan that SSD formation became necessary in spite of the 50,000 plus FC already present there.
TNS: Some analysts think that the government should ideally open the door for negotiations with the estranged Baloch if it is serious about the CPEC and even the Iran Pakistan gas pipeline. Do you agree with this and is there still scope for negotiations?
MMAT: There were windows of opportunities for peace in the past but were squandered through arrogance and ignorance; the best among them was the 1972-73 Ataullah Mengal government. In September 2008, the Baloch militant groups unilaterally observed ceasefire but there was no response and in January 2009 they ended the ceasefire.
The people and the groups fighting no longer trust the government because of the frequent operations and continuing policy of systematic enforced disappearances. The trust deficit is too huge and moreover the establishment is totally intransigent because it believes, as it did in East Pakistan, that they are powerful enough to crush peoples’ aspirations in Balochistan.
TNS: What about the freedom for the media in that province?
MMAT: A workshop on ‘Media and Civil Society in Balochistan’ in Quetta in July 2012 disclosed that media there wasn’t free and journalists on professional duty often faced harassment and 22 journalists had been killed there in four years.
In February 2014, the Reporters Without Borders’ annual report said that of the seven reporters killed in Pakistan in 2013, four were from Balochistan. Last August Irshad Mastoi and trainee reporter Abdul Rasul were killed and like all previous killings these remain unsolved. A total of 32 journalists have been killed there.
In 2009, the FC laid siege to three newspaper offices in Quetta — Daily Asaap, Azadi and Balochistan Express. The FC personnel posted outside Asaap’s offices eventually forced it to stop publication.
Discussing Balochistan is not tolerated elsewhere too; a seminar “Unsilencing Balochistan” in LUMS where Mama Qadeer Baloch, Farzana Majeed and myself were to speak was arbitrarily cancelled by the intelligence agencies. Journalists and columnists outside Balochistan writing about Balochistan face pressures so Balochistan conditions can well be imagined. PTA blocks all Baloch websites while sectarian ones flourish.
TNS: What do you make of the government claims of other countries’ interference in the affairs of Balochistan?
MMAT: Since March 27, 1948, when Balochistan was forcibly annexed to Pakistan, the government has been imputing that there is foreign involvement. The intensity of these allegations is related to the insecurity that the establishment feels; recently there has been an orchestrated effort to blame foreign powers for all that is wrong in Balochistan, with special emphasis on RAW.
The insurgency and struggle in Balochistan is indigenous; there were no Indian Consulates in Kandahar when the Khan of Kalat Mehrab Khan fought the British on November 13, 1839 and when Marris defeated them at Sarat Aaf and Nafusk in 1840.
This government feels that by harping on this bogey of foreign hand they will be able to alienate all those who would feel sympathy towards the Baloch struggle. More importantly, this also provides them with justification for the unparalleled brutality that we witness in Balochistan in the form of missing persons and the abominable ‘kill and dump’ policy.
TNS: What do you suggest should be the future course of action for the government to bring peace and political stability to the province?
MMAT: With an establishment that has use of brute force as the cornerstone of its permanent policy towards dissent as one has seen in Balochistan since 1948 and saw in East Pakistan in 1971, one cannot expect it to heed suggestions for peace. It cannot be expected to respect the reservations that Baloch have because its policy is (mis)guided by the view that all Baloch who talk about their rights are foreign funded. I will not waste my time suggesting measures which will never even be considered, leave alone implemented.