Sunday, 25 July 2010

Special Report from Balochistan-1

Watching Balochistan slipping through our fingers; Quetta residents in grip of fear; CM spends 15 days in a month in Islamabad or Dubai; middle class leaders who oppose separatists and support Baloch cause being eliminated

By Amir Mateen

QUETTA: Anybody who has not been to Quetta for some time will be aghast to see the ghost town that it has become. Half of the once-bustling and lively town goes to sleep as soon as the sun sets. The other half trembles even to the sound of a cracker while locked inside their overly guarded houses.

The British garrison city that was known for its cultural diversity and for its laidback evenings stands divided into quarters based on ethnicity and religion. And, more important, whether you are a “uniformed person” or not. A quarter of the city is a no-go-area worse than Karachi’s killing alleys in the 1990s. A non-Baloch would not venture into areas around Saryab Road and Arbab Karam Road even during daytime.

The localities of Spiny Road and Smungli Road are no less dangerous as the marauding gangs of armed youth are found witch-hunting for anybody wearing trousers or matching the profile of a “non-local.” Local police enter the localities at considerable risk. Even the paramilitary Frontier Corps pickets get attacked occasionally. The picket leading to Bolan Medical College, meaningfully named as “Golimaar,” has been targeted more than once by grenade attacks. In suburbs, 16 kilometres off Quetta city on the western bypass, the Hazar Ganj bus stand was ambushed by rockets. The situation on the east side is equally scary. Life in the Quetta Cantonment is stable, thanks to the 24-hour armed-to-the-teeth vigilance. But the ordinary citizenry has been left to the butchery of a lethal mix of extremist nationalists, political separatists, religious fanatics, smugglers, drug dealers and the land mafia hand in glove with criminals, not to forget international terrorists and foreign intelligence agencies. The locals are shifting to the relatively safer Pashtun localities of, say, Nawankali and Sraghurdhi. The so-called Punjabi settlers, who may have lived in Quetta for generations, are being forced to leave for other provinces, sometime after selling their assets for pennies.

“The country seems to have given up on Balochistan,” says social activist Dr Faiz Rehman. He believes doctors are being discouraged to attend clinics in trouble areas so that such incidents do not get reported. Dr Yousaf Nasir, a top surgeon who was a cousin of former federal Minister Yaqoob Nasir, was ambushed in a target killing on Thursday. Another senior surgeon Chiragh Hassan is also receiving threats to move out. “Everybody wants to get out of here,” he added.

Security officials are on top of the hit lists. Around 1,600 government officials have applied for long leave and for transfer to other provinces.

Under such trying times, one hardly finds a notable politician in Quetta or even in Balochistan. The doyen of Baloch nationalism, Sardar Khair Bux Marri is in Karachi, Sardar Attaullah Mengal in Wadh, his son Akhtar Mengal in Dubai and MNA Hasil Bizenjo in Karachi. Equally important among Pashtun nationalists, Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party chief Mehmood Khan Achakzai is believed to be in London. His family said he was out of the country but they would not share where or when he might return home. Most Balochistan politicians who pour their grievous heart out regularly on television talk shows reside either in Islamabad, Karachi, London or the US.

While half of the province is inundated because of floods, killing scores of people, Chief Minister Aslam Raisani is languishing in Dubai. His staff said he was in Dubai for many days and they could not confirm when he would return. In any case, he is known to be a part-time CM as he lives in Dubai or Islamabad nearly 15 days a month and is never available, intelligibly that is, after 8:00pm come crash floods or cyclone. The only exception was when, military sources confirm, his son was caught by the Frontier Constabulary in a vehicle name-plated “Sarawan 2.” The chief of Sarawan tribes that he is, Aslam had to seek the intervention of military and political leadership at the highest level to bail out his son.

In the meantime, on average two persons die every day in target killings. The official figure for target killings in the last 10 months is 370 but others say the actual number should be around 600.

The country, particularly Islamabad, wakes up to the Balochistan tragedy only when a high-profile politician like Habib Jalib gets killed. That he was murdered in the wake of other Baloch Nationalist leaders like Maula Bux Dasti and Liaquat Mengal makes it all the more tragic and mysterious. Theories abound about these killings depending on whose side you are on.

Many like Jamhoori Wattan Party Secretary General, Rauf Khan Sasoli, believe that the commonality among these killings was that they were middle class leaders who opposed separatists and supported the Baloch cause while remaining with the framework of the Pakistani federation. “It’s the extremist separatists who have killed Jalib,” Sasoli said emphatically. Others think that Sardar Khair Bux Marri has issued the decree for the Baloch youth to choose violence as the only way for the independence of Balochistan. Political sources say on the condition of anonymity that the ‘lumpen’ groups are targeting the moderate Baloch. Still others blame it on the intelligence agencies like the CIA, KGB and, interestingly, those of India and Pakistan.

Military sources at the highest level confirm that they have proof of the involvement of the exiled Brahmadagh Bugti, the grandson of the Nawab Akbal Bugti, who allegedly runs the Baloch Republican Army from Afghanistan, in these killings. They say they have a copy of Brahmadagh’s Indian passport which the Pakistan Army has also furnished to the Indians as a proof.

The Pakistani security agencies are equally blamed. “The target killings of Baloch nationalists are being carried by those who think they can control us by eliminating our political brains,” says former Senator Manzoor Gichki. Many in Quetta believe that Baloch Massallah Daffah Army (BMDA), the outfit that has claimed all three recent killings, is a front for Pakistani agencies.

Most people in Quetta have stories to share that they believe proves the involvement of Pakistani security agencies. Chairman of Balochistan’s Peace Committee, Sardar Hameed Khilji names many people who were caught with evidence on close circuit cameras but later released. “I have helped catch many culprits but they always come out to threaten you,” said Khilji.

Military sources explain that the biggest problem was the lack of prosecution and investigation, sometimes out of negligence or incompetence but mostly because of fear. They say it is very hard to prosecute criminals. In some cases, judges refuse to take up cases and in nine cases out of 10 witnesses fail to give evidence. Investigators operate under tough environment. In many cases senior police officials wear scarves to hide faces from the accused terrorists. “There are serious flaws in the legal and administrative systems to handle the situation,” said one military source. “Once these people get out they become more confident while those who help us get punished, even killed,” he said.

The Balochistan issue may not be as simple as the policy makers and pundits in Islamabad think. It’s not just about politics and terrorism. It is also about the crisis of governance, capacity, the feelings of deprivation and exploitation. Most important, it’s a psychological issue that exists in the hearts and minds of the people of Balochistan. It will take much more than the so-called the Aghaz-e-Hqooq-e-Balochistan. We shall focus on that in the coming days.

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