Monday, August 23, 2010 – Low-level insurgency is not a new phenomenon in Balochistan as its roots can be traced back to 1948 and later to 1970s when following the secession of East Pakistan, the Indians shifted their attention to the Western wing for further dismemberment of the country. In January 1973, late Prime Minister Z.A. Bhutto ordered the Army to suppress a rising insurgency in the Province and dismissed the Provincial Government. Since then it has been getting new and dangerous dimensions. However, the gory incident, which took place on Independence Day extremely disturbed me like every Pakistani and that prompted me to pen down this column.
As my readers are well aware, on the Independence Day about two dozens of armed men attacked a Quetta bound bus which was on its way from Lahore forcing it to stop at Aab-e-Gum, some 75 kilometres from Quetta. Then the attackers separated 10 passengers who were carrying NICs issued from Punjab and sprayed them mercilessly with bullets. In another incident on the same day, six labourers, hailing from Multan, were killed when unidentified armed men riding on two motorcycles opened fire on them in the Khilji Colony area of Quetta. Banned militant outfit known for having backing of India accepted the responsibility of the two massacres. The BLA is carrying out attacks against what it calls settlers, meaning those from Punjab. It looks ridiculous that people living in Balochistan for hundreds of years, other than Balochis, are being singled out as settlers and thus targeted.
At the outset, I would say that BLA in Balochistan is now operating like Mukti Bahini in the former East Pakistan in 1970 against West Pakistanis. The ‘settlers’ established their businesses in Balochistan decades ago and they have also been serving the Province in education, health and other sectors. I am privy to reports that many of these people are now selling their businesses and homes at throw-away prices to leave the Province. That was not all, as in some cases their kids were kidnapped for ransom by armed gangs and they were also forced to accept the price at which they had to sell their assets. So it is not only an insurgency but also an attempt to plunder the wealth of those who are all Pakistanis but are being called as settlers.
Earlier, during the spate of killings of ‘settlers’, professors, doctors and businessmen were the main target and Interior Minister Rehman Malik revealed on the floor of the Senate on July 27, 2010 that since January this year alone over 250 settlers were killed in militants attacks in Balochistan. According to him, the violence against settlers has forced one hundred thousand of them to leave the Province. This startling statement created more panic among the non-locals. Now that more and more people are being butchered, the figure of those leaving the Province must have crossed two hundred thousand. It is just an ethnic cleansing in Balochistan because these people i.e. the settlers are not armed to resist the attempts of foreign aided militant outfits like BLA. Pakhtoons who have large concentrations in about eleven out of 30 districts of the Province including Quetta, are well-knit and an armed community and the BLA has never attempted to challenge them because it knows the consequences.
I remember that in December 2006 when I was having a cup of tea with Major General Zamir Dar, then DG, FC in Quetta, a missile flew over his house and I was startled over such a daredevil show of strength by the militants. Seeing the shock in my eyes the General remarked “Mr Malik! It is a daily occurrence”. “These are indigenously made crude missiles which can drop anywhere and cause loss of life and property,” he added. These were the days when we, in Pakistan Observer, were launching the Quetta Edition of Pakistan Observer on December 25, 2006 and I had been meeting the leadership of the Province and senior officials in Quetta.
The then Corps Commander Quetta Lt General Hamid Rab Nawaz, who is an elegant and impressive personality, attended our launching dinner and confided to me during a sitting at his Corps Headquarters that they had definite information of Indian involvement in addition to confessional statements of those elements arrested by the law enforcement agencies. But when questioned as to why the Indian hand was not being exposed and the perpetrators not brought before the media, his response was: “The Foreign Office in Islamabad does not permit to do so!” I also know that in the recent past the Governmenthad a definite proof about the involvement of India and some agencies of other countries in the sabotage activities in Pakistan and had this been made public, it would have shown the real face of many but alas! What a pity that the incumbent Governor cannot even expose the saboteurs. I had also been meeting the Governor Balochistan, Mr Owais Ahmed Ghani quite regularly in those days. The Governor who was in touch with late Akbar Bugti, always sounded confident and in a comprehensive briefing given to me the Governor pointing out the locations of militants Farari Camps confidentially remarked: “Nothing is to be worried about. Everything is under control”.
But now everything is not under control. It was in this perspective that Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani availed the opportunity and for the first time boldly raised the issue of Indian interference in Balochistan with Dr Manmohan Singh in Sharm el Sheikh and the Indian leader agreed to its inclusion in the joint statement.
Coming back to the 14th August Independence Day incident, it is a clear signal of disassociation of the BLA with the establishment of Pakistan and that should be taken very seriously. Several moderate Baloch leaders have also been killed by the BLA and enemy agents and the entire blame was thrown on Pakistani Government to ignite the public reaction over their killings. The ground reality is that militant groups like BLA through acts of killings want to create an atmosphere of scare so that no one could dare speak against them and for the Federation.
If the developments in Balochistan are viewed in the perspective of the Interior Minister’s statement about private armies and Ferrari camps in Balochistan, kidnapping of UNHCR representative from Quetta and his subsequent release, it would become clear as to which forces are behind the disturbances. The Interior Minister had openly stated that the Indian hand was behind the insurgency in Balochistan. He identified four private armies as the Balochistan Liberation Army of Harbyar Marri, the Balochistan Republican Army, the Balochistan Liberation Front of Dr Allah Nazar and Lashkar-e-Balochistan run by Javed Mengal, and said they were active to break up the country.
Although the present Government did take some positive initiatives including President’s apology to the Balochs to pacify them over the past wrongs, announcement of Aghaz-e-Haqooq-e Balochistan, the NFC Award and 18th Amendment, but all this has not worked and no future accommodation by the Federal Government will win over those who have already gone in the hands of the enemy and it can categorically be said that now they cannot get out of their clutches. Some of their leaders are sitting in Afghanistan, others in India and still more in other countries and getting arms and money from our enemies.
Now that Balochistan has acquired the position of a soft belly and the masters of the BLA and other organizations have made huge investments in the planning and execution, these elements have no option but to implement the orders of their masters and no breakthrough appears to be possible with them.
The question, if I may ask, to the leadership is that though its attention is rightly focused on the flood-related unprecedented devastation, yet as Balochistan is gradually slipping through the fingers, what is being done to hold it firmly? I, 73, have never come across or heard of any Government on this planet so indifferent to issues of national integration. Why Balochs, who are almost 40% of the total 7 million population of Balochistan, can’t be brought in the main stream politics of Pakistan.
I propose the following two possible options: The process which the Prime Minister started for dialogue with estranged Balochistan political leadership should be stepped up to bring them back in the national mainstream. His meeting with Sardar Attaullah Mengal in Karachi on May 8, 2010 was well received. The Government should respond positively even if some of their demands are rather unacceptable. But there should be no compromise, in anyway, on Pakistan’s vital national and strategic interests.
The second point is that as no political party of Pakistan or a representative group of Balochistan is supporting the BLA and other militant outfits, therefore, those a few hundred rebellious people who are carrying out target killings and other acts of violence and sabotage, should be nabbed and dealt with firmly. The Government must not allow a few elements to challenge the writ of the State, trample the symbols of the Federation of Pakistan. Pakistan is not a banana republic and in it there should be no place for separatists, saboteurs and emerging warlords. We should not allow anyone to establish that this State of Quaid has failed.
I may also warn the incumbent Government that if it fell short of providing security to the hapless ‘settlers’ in Balochistan or people travelling from other provinces to Balochistan, then it will be held responsible, or if I may dare to say, as an accomplice in the court of public opinion of Pakistan.