Pakistan: Religious Parties Out to Resolve Balochistan Imbroglio
Written by: Aamir Latif.. Islamabad: Amid a hectic debate on the issue of southwestern Balochistan province following a resolution moved by two US Congressmen in favor of a simmering separatist movement in the minerals-rich province, Pakistan’s religious parties have taken an initiative to woo the angry Baloch youths to come to the table talk.
Balochistan, which touches southern Afghanistan, has been in grip of violence and ambushes for last five years following the killing of Nawab Akbar Bugti, a nationalist leader and former provincial governor and chief minister in an army operation ordered by former military dictator General Pervez Musharraf.
The issue, although, was being highlighted by the national print and electronic media, however the US Congressmen’s resolution, which supports the Baloch separatists’ demand for right of self determination, has brought the issue into limelight forcing the Pakistan People’s Party(PPP)-led government to withdraw cases against self-exiled nationalist leaders, and invite them for talks.
Contrary to the past, Pakistan’s religious forces, which by and large, have been pro-army and establishment, have stunned the observers by taking a U-turn in their traditional politics and supporting the nationalists’ demands.
“Balochistan is the heart of Pakistan, which has been shattered by non-fulfillment of promises, a deep sense of deprivation, and unjust distribution of national resources”, Liaquat Baloch, the secretary General of Jammat-e-Islami (JI) , the country’s one of the largest and annexed religious parties, told Islam Online.
“Therefore, it is the responsibility of the entire nation, especially the religious forces, which enjoy the confidence of Balochis”, Baloch maintained.
Pakistan Defense Council (PDC), a conglomerate of various religious and political parties, including the JI, and Jammat-ud-Dawa’h (JuD), held an all parties conference in Quetta, the capital of Balochistan, on Monday, February 27, 2012 announcing March 10, as a countrywide Solidarity Day with Balochistan.
The conference, however, was not attended by the major separatist leaders or parties, including the exiled leaders Sardar Akhtar Mengal, Barahamdagh Bugti, and Harbiyar Marri dubbing the PDC’s move as an attempt by the establishment to “hoodwink “ the Baloch people.
The Jamiat Ulema Islam, which represents the powerful Dubendi school of thought in the country, too, is at its feet to persuade the rebels to come to the table. The JUI, which is the strongest religious party in the province, particularly in Pashtun-dominated northern p[arts, is part of the Balochistan province, which is equally blamed by separatists for ongoing military operation.
Militancy has been no stranger to Balochistan. The province, which makes up 42-per cent of the total area of Pakistan, has witnessed four insurgencies during 60 year-plus history of this South Asian Muslim nuclear nation.
The History of Baloch Insurgency
The first insurgency hit the province in 1948, when Khan of Qallat ( at that time Balochistan was divided into two states, Qallat and Makran), refused to accept the inclusion of his state into the newly carved out country.
The second insurgency took place in lat3 1950s, and last till mid 1960s during the era of former military dictator General Ayub Khan.
The 1970s insurgency was the only one, which took place during a democratic regime. The then prime minister, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who later was hanged by his hand-picked army chief General Zia-ul-Haq in a murder case, had dissolved the Balochistan assembly, and arrested the governor and chief minister triggering attacks on security forces and gas installations, and ultimately leading to a full-fledged military onslaught.
The rebel leaders were convinced by another military dictator General Zia, who after hanging Bhutto, withdrew treason cases against separatist leaders, and invited them to the country to take part in mainstream politics.
General Zia was the only military dictator whose relations had been pleasant with Baloch nationalists, thus avoiding any insurgency in the province during his 11-year long stint.
However, his successor, General Musharraf instead of resolving the issue politically, used military to subdue the Baloch nationalists prompting them to once again raise the guns.
Hundreds of security forces personnel, and equal number of separatists have been killed in ambushes and fierce fighting between the two sides in southern and western parts of Balochistan during last five years.
Observers believe that the issue that propelled US Congressmen to move the much-criticized resolution, is the disappearance of hundreds of political and rebel activists from different parts of the province. The families of the missing persons heap the blame for disappearance on intelligence agencies.
Political observers see fifty-fifty chances for success of the religious parties’ move.
“Religion no doubt is a powerful factor in Pakistan, but this factor would not work in Balochistan, especially with respect to coaxing the angry youths”, Aziz Sanghur, a Karachi-based political analyst told Islam Online.
According to Aziz, the separatist leaders do not trust the PDC move.
“They believe that the PDC parties are allies to army and establishment. They are not ready to trust them”, Sanghur opined.
“The question is not that how much sincerity is behind this move, but the trust deficit between the secular separatists and religious forces”, he maintained.
Abdul Khalique Ali, another Karachi-based political analyst says that the religious forces’ bid is a symbolic step, which can force the government and the army to accelerate their efforts to resolve the crisis.
“Of course, neither religious parties nor secular parties can do anything practically in this regard. They can just pressurize the ruling forces to create an environment where the two sides (government and separatists) could sit together and negotiate”, Ali told Islam Online.
But the good message, Ali opines, has been conveyed to the people of Balochistan by religious forces that they are not alone at this testing time, whereby they have to face the dual brunt of militancy and military operation simultaneously.
Sanghur believes that the trust between the two sides cannot be restored through all parties conferences or other cosmetic steps.
“Trust deficit can only be eliminated through some concrete steps, like withdrawal of forces from Balochistan, release of missing persons, and general amnesty for Baloch youths who have raised arms against injustices”, he maintained.
“Otherwise, angry Balochs will neither trust religious parties nor the secular forces”.
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