Taimur Rahman Political Archive

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Thoughts on the civil war in Balochistan

Posted by Taimur Rahman on April 14, 2006

Published in The Post 14/04/2006

Taimur Rahman

I am aware that many people will balk at the title of this column since, aside from the fact that life in the city centres of Pakistan continues in its usual uneventful state, no less a person than the governor of Balochistan Awais Ghani in an interview with the Voice of America has assured us that there is no civil war in the province. However, those who have been following events in Balochistan are daily bombarded with images and headlines that scream about a crisis of enormous proportions that is brewing exponentially in an area that the Pakistan army has treated as the “backyard” of Pakistan; just as Latin America is considered the backyard of the US Empire. Indymedia, an independent internet based news service, has running coverage and video clips on its website that clearly show hundreds of people being killed by helicopter gunships and other instruments of death. One merely has to open up a simple webpage such as

http://radio.indymedia.org/news/2006/02/8426.php to know that the situation in Balochistan is extremely serious. It is time for the Pakistani public in other provinces to wake up and take cognisance of the situation that threatens to become a catastrophe.

Once more the government has broken off all talks with Baloch leaders and gone on the military offensive against what they call “backward Sardars”. The recent declaration of the Balochistan Liberation Army as a ‘terrorist” group no doubt implies an upgrade in the eyes of the military about the potentiality of this group – when last heard of, the BLA were mere “miscreants”. If, courtesy of the US “War on Terror”, the word “terrorist” is enjoying enormous currency these days and signifies a further attempt by our establishment to cosy up to the big boss in dealing with the Baloch issue, it simultaneously has become a kind of badge of honour that is greatly sought by various resistance groups – not all of whom are as crazy as Zarqawi. The confidence of the Information Minister Sheikh Rashid in dealing with the Baloch issue notwithstanding, the facts are that the only way to end this state of civil war is by redressing the economic, political, social, and cultural imbalance in the relationship between the Baloch people and the central government. And this is precisely the approach that has completely evaded our rulers, deliberately I might add, because while our rulers may admittedly lack a bit in the upper-story, they can nonetheless be credited with enough intelligence to know what is in their own vested interest.

Many intellectuals are reaching the conclusion that the very structure of this neo-colonial multi-national state, especially the manner in which state-society relations have come to be structured in favour of the military in the last six decades and the completely lopsided relation between the central government and the various nationalities of Pakistan, strongly imply that this country is destined for nothing other than self-destruction. When the otherwise cautious Ayesha Siddiqa begins to write that, “Pakistan will break into pieces,” then I think alarm bells should begin to ring. Far from such a conclusion being premature, as some might say, one is at pains to point out that the majority of the country created in 1947 already seceded in a manner that both our public and our rulers care not to remember. Musharraf made the accusation in an interview with the TV channel CNN-INN that India was providing the Baloch nationalist forces ‘financial support and support in kind’ and the interior minister Aftab Sherpao was quick to follow that up with his own statements to the same effect. While on the one hand, the public is still waiting for concrete evidence to support this accusation, on the other hand, deeper questions are also being raised about the manner in which the national question has historically been treated by the Pakistani establishment and how this mistreatment leads to not only providing an opening for India to intervene but also leaves people with no alternative but to redress their grievances by relying on foreign powers – as occurred in 1971. Former Army Chief Aslam Beg and former chief of ISI, General Hamid Gul (retd) want to add the United States of America to the list of foreign powers helping the Baloch nationalists but frankly that makes little sense given that Pakistan is a key ally in the “war against terror” that the US is principally interested in conducting at the moment. In this atmosphere of warmongering, even the voice of the otherwise extremely compliant former Prime Minister Mir Zafarullah Jamali, when heard saying, “We need to talk to resolve the conflict by peaceful political means,” sounds like a breath of fresh air. A dialogue of equals, and not phosphorous bombs, can solve the six-decade old problem of Balochistan. All that can be said with any degree of certainty, in this uncertain situation, is that if the current government continues down the path of antagonism, instead of redressing the genuine grievances of the Baloch, the outcome could be not too dissimilar from what occurred in 1971.

There is, however, one and only one hope: The people of Pakistan. If they could be made to see that the propaganda of fighting the “sardari system” is merely a smokescreen for an aggressive usurpation of the natural resources of Balochistan and that they ought to raise their voices to stop the military operation, force the authorities to negotiate a just solution, redress the historic imbalances, and in future take the Baloch people and their elected representatives into confidence on all questions pertaining to the province, then and only then can we begin to construct a relationship based on mutual trust between the various nationalities that exist within Pakistan. The precondition for such an initiative is not merely the ability to see beyond the myopic lens of the paradigm, if I can call it that given the poverty of its intellect, peddled to us every hour from various outlets of the establishment, but also to understand that we have a stake in the outcome of this civil war and must act in order to lay claim to that stake.

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