Archive | April, 2015

Balochistan: Another Perspective

28 Apr

The following article is a guest post authored by prominent Baloch nationalist Akhtar Mengal’s daughter. I am merely publishing it and cannot take credit for any of the writing. There have been no content cuts and the piece is presented in its entirety. The purpose behind posting this piece is to honour the lives and memories of those who have been silenced over Balochistan, from Sabeen to my brothers and sisters in Balochistan and my soldiers. It is time we talk and talk openly. 

Balochistan: Another Perspective

What concerns me is a word. It is a word that is not often heard on the lips of people in most parts of the world but for me it is a word that dearly needs to be spoken; it is a word that whenever I do hear it said, or say it myself, it stirs emotions that when I try to explain, I cannot do justice to the memories they evoke. That word is Balochistan.

I have grown up around politics and in politics. For a daughter of a Baloch tribal leader and activist, politics and life are irreversibly intertwined. The need to understand the ethnic and national tensions that have plagued Pakistani society for decades is integral to how I think, and as important as the lives—and deaths—of family to these struggles. To understand what drives individuals, tribes and nations to do what they do is a necessity. Although many people are unaware of this, there has been resistance from the Baloch people to Balochistan’s inclusion in the Pakistani state since its forced annexation in 1947, when Pakistan state separated from India at Partition. The Baloch people have always viewed Balochistan as a proudly independent nation, asserting their right to self-determination and the right to pursue their own wishes in their own way; to exploit their own huge mineral wealth without it being devoured by companies owned and run by the Pakistani elite that make up the Islamabad government and the military that underpins its pre-eminence. The tribal system in Balochistan has been strongly held culpable for Balochistan’s impoverishment. Ironically most of the Baloch tribal deities serve the government.

My grandfather, Sardar Attaullah Mengal joined politics as an activist member of the Baloch movement. When my grandfather was chosen as a Sardar by the Mengal tribe, the government nominated his uncle to create a dispute within the family over the throne. The Mengal tribe did not accept the government’s decision and ended up killing my grandfather’s uncle. Subsequently, my grandfather was arrested along with his brother, father and 300 tribal people for five years. He served as the first Chief minister of Balochistan and it was during his rule when the first university in Balochistan opened. Years have passed, governments have changed but the number of universities has not. He spent years in jail only because he stood up against the tyranny that prevailed in Balochistan. It was during his revolt when his family was made a target.

My uncle, Shaheed Asadullah Mengal was the first case of a missing person in Balochistan in 1974 during Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s regime. His death was never believed amongst our family members as no evidence, associated to his death, was found. There was always a ray of hope of his return; a hope which died the day my grandfather named my cousin after him. That’s when everyone knew Shaheed Asadullah Mengal, who was only 19 years old at that time of his disappearance, was gone.

My maternal grandfather, Shaheed Aslam Jan Gichki, another advocate of freedom for the Baloch people, was murdered in 2002. Following his death, politics assumed new and frightening proportions. Our family was not only divided but hatred amongst us elevated for one another. A tactic (‘divide and rule’) I strong believe the British left for our agencies to adapt. Even though his murder is assumed to be the cause of tribal enmity, the ones who are aware of deceitful Pakistan politics know who is responsible for his death. The torment imposed on my family and the Baloch people, initially created a feeling of vulnerability, however, as the atrocities within Pakistani society increased, my desire to find out why these things were happening, and to do something to combat them, increased.  Our wounds had still not been healed when my uncle Shaheed Hasan Gichki was brutally murdered in Central Jail Karachi in 2006. Not only was he a father figure to us but a man with utmost dignity.

During Pervez Musharaf’s establishment, my father had become extremely vocal in Balochistan and instigated a wake up call for the Baloch people. To begin a hindrance to his cause, the agencies’ new targets were Akhtar Mengal’s children. My siblings and I were constantly being followed to school. This was the reason why he left everything behind, only to be trapped in a game he did not know was being played. He was arrested as a consequence of “harassing” intelligence militia. Agencies and police surrounded our house in Karachi, as if the leading terrorist resided there. My father was released after the PPP came into power. Luckily he was not killed or tortured in jail but was kept in solitary confinement. Unluckily, his food poisoned to such an extent where that he suffers to this day.

After moving to Dubai in self-exile, we thought things might get better but they never did. Countless from the Balochistan National Party’s central workers were openly murdered on the streets. Shaheed Hassan Gichki’s father, Shaheed Nadir Gichki was murdered in Tump by government authorities. My cousins, Shaheed Murad Gichki and Shaheed Zubair Gichki, were brutally murdered in Turbat. Many young Baloch brothers have gone missing. Many bullet-riddled bodies found. Yet no one hears our cry. We pleaded, knocked every door there is in the name of justice. What have we got from the people of Pakistan except neglect and torment?

The ones who are brave enough to stand beside us and support our cause are made a target. Sabeen Mahmud was a fearless activist who not only stood up for what she believed but left a message most of the intellectuals should make use of. If we, the Baloch were ever considered a part of Pakistan, Sabeen would not be the only one debating. The issue of missing persons has become a forbidden topic of discussion in Pakistan. If scrutinised closely one can question what information is being hidden from the mainstream media? A question when people like Sabeen and Hamid Mir tried to challenge received bullets as an answer.

There is a growing and pressing need to come to terms with the issues of Balochistan so that we can calmly and peacefully address what really matters: the well-being of all people and how to make sure that repression and reprisal is turned into liberation, mutual dependence and cooperation. It is only through the means of political discourse and agreement between willing partners that this can be achieved The state, with its immense resources (many of which are, ironically, from Baloch sources) and institutions is encouraging disorder, disunity and fragmentation in Baloch society. They use all possible resources to discourage any political and social opposition in the province—even those that are illegal and are opposed by western governments and human rights bodies. Both ‘Pro-government’ and nationalist tribal leaders blame each other as the cause of the problem, and as ultimately taking advantage of their power base for their own selfish ends. This, rather than working together for the betterment of Balochistan and its people.

Fragmentation and disorder in Balochistan has badly affected the political and social process. Disunity among both tribal chiefs and moderate political elements has encouraged the authorities to increase the ferocity of the promotion of their agenda with support garnered by military and the intelligence agencies. Baloch society, with its low literacy rate, minimal communication resources and worsening social indicators, ironically is awash with natural resources and has a vital strategic importance as it borders the conflict hotspots of Iran and Afghanistan. What Balochistan requires is a change of perspective, away from self-interest and to aspire to a visionary political approach to tribal leadership; to shun their minor differences and to work together to achieve lasting peace and bring prosperity to the traumatised Baloch population.

There are many reasons why the current situation is as bleak as it is now, but the major cause of failure to achieve political progress is a lack of understanding and a lack of clear strategy to respond to the Pakistani establishment’s malicious and hurtful policies that are put in place to subjugate the Baloch people in place of real negotiation. Each political party and group is responding merely to their own agenda, and Islamabad is using this to its own advantage. Baloch political groups need to come up with a plan to respond to Islamabad and create a win-win situation that benefits everyone. Whether this is feasible is arguable: the real sentiments that individual players in this scenario possess, is truly, anyone’s guess. Nationalists on the one hand proudly assert their support of the oppressed Baloch, yet may only wish to keep hold of their powerbase and wealth that their feudal status confers. They accuse pro-government leaders of collaboration, yet they could be said to be as corrupt as their opponents given their refusal to step back from the tribal system that makes them who they are. Equally, those taking money from government contracts could be said to be the mirror image of their opponents. Indeed, the dividing line is often less than clear: many tribal leaders take advantage of the benefits offered by pro-government leaders despite their apparent disdain. Corruption in the Pakistani enterprise could be said to be endemic to the point where it cannot be avoided at some point without a resignation from power that both parties refuse to sanction. It will take something more than heated words from positions of privilege to effect change. What is needed in Pakistan and Balochistan is a real need to open up government to true democratic change that cannot happen under the current tribal and federal system, as selfishness is integral to running both the state and the opposition. Deeply entrenched as they are, it may be possible if the will to achieve real political change can take place. At present, this is a very remote possibility. The struggles of my people is why I wish to dedicate my life to the same goals as my family. To support our province, our people and achieve some degree of justice. But the status quo means I cannot do this alone. Not until people as courageous as Sabeen Mahmud stand with us. The lesson of East Pakistan should have been enough for most Pakistanis to stand up against injustice but I do not blame most of you, most of you are not aware of our despair. I write this, not with contempt but because I implore you to open your eyes, to heed our suffering and help build a better future.