Is Pakistan heading for disaster in Balochistan?

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Pakistan must end its policy of killings and kidnappings of Baloch people and recognise the importance of the region.
Washington, DC – The behaviour of the powerful elite of Islamabad reminds me of the captain and crew of the RMS Titanic sailing into the night, heading straight towards an iceberg. The civilian, military and judicial authorities are locked up in a tussle coloured by political positions and personal egos. And there is a dangerous disconnect between Islamabad and the enormous problems that loom on the Pakistani horizon.

Law and order appears to have collapsed in many parts of the country. In the north-east, the former Frontier Province, there are daily killings as suicide bombers and the army continuously fight each other. Unemployment is widespread and inflation is sky-high. And there is still a desperate shortage of electricity and gas in much of the country.

But perhaps none of these problems is more pressing than the situation in Balochistan. If the simmering, but widespread movement for independence spins out of control, Pakistan will find it almost impossible to maintain nationhood.

I was reminded of Balochistan by the recent visit of Malik Siraj Akbar to my office. It made me happy to think back to my associations with its people and places, but I also became distressed as I thought of the current situation: a climate of killings and so-called “disappearances”.
In his late twenties, Malik comes from Makran and was born in its northern town, Panjgur. His sharp intelligence, awareness of the world and passionate arguments for his people reminded me of all the people I met in Makran as Commissioner when I was posted there in the mid-1980s.

On arrival, what struck me was the resilience and faith of the Baloch, in spite of the widespread poverty and lack of economic development. Even after decades of the country’s existence, Pakistan – it seemed – had done very little for the Baloch. There were only five miles of paved road in Makran – from the Commissioner’s house, in Turbat, to the tiny airport. Flights were irregular and the telephone lines to the rest of the country were frequently out of order.

A land of honour

But I found it a fascinating experience: the people were welcoming and the area was redolent of history. Makran was, after all, where Alexander the Great got lost on his way to Persia after his battles in India. Over time, I had the privilege of meeting and getting to know legendary Baloch leaders such as Nawab Akbar Bugti, Mir Ghaus Bukh Bizenjo, Jam Ghulam Qadir and Mir Jafar Khan Jamali. From them, I learned that there was a time when a woman wearing gold ornaments could travel from the north of Balochistan to the south and not be molested.

“There was honour,” they said, “in the land.”
But I found it a fascinating experience: the people were welcoming and the area was redolent of history. Makran was, after all, where Alexander the Great got lost on his way to Persia after his battles in India. Over time, I had the privilege of meeting and getting to know legendary Baloch leaders such as Nawab Akbar Bugti, Mir Ghaus Bukh Bizenjo, Jam Ghulam Qadir and Mir Jafar Khan Jamali. From them, I learned that there was a time when a woman wearing gold ornaments could travel from the north of Balochistan to the south and not be molested.

“There was honour,” they said, “in the land.”

Nawab Bugti discussed Ibn Khaldun and the cyclical patterns of tribal society with me over dinner in his ancestral home in the Bugti Agency. He told me that Ibn Khaldun had kept him company when he was jailed by Pakistani authorities in Sahiwal. I often wondered how many Pakistanis belonging to the power elite had even heard of the Arab historian.

I grew to appreciate and admire the Baloch. I knew it was most important to deal with them on the basis of honour. In turn, they reciprocated my sentiments and I was posted as Commissioner of three divisions consecutively. Even the imperial British acknowledged that the key to dealing with the Baloch was honour. Not surprisingly, the Baloch complain that Pakistani officials treat them worse than the imperial British.

Malik, who has been a professional journalist all his life, has recently been given political asylum in the United States. Various threats and messages convinced him his life was in danger. He talks passionately and movingly of the hundreds of Baloch who have been brutally killed by the security agencies.

The policy of “kill and dump” is causing fear and terror among the Baloch.

http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2012/01/2012114154421536866.html

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