Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur

Who is to blame?

Augusts do not augur well for Baloch people. Not that other months are any less gory and less punishing for them but somehow this month becomes painful for a reason of its own. To mention just a few; on August 26 falls the martyrdom of Nawab Akbar Bugti who was unlawfully killed in the Marri area of Balochistan in 2006 where he had gone because his bombarded ancestral hometown of Dera Bugti was under Pakistani army siege. Noteworthily, he who had advocated and practised the parliamentary approach most of his life was forced to realize that this approach was not only thankless but also fruitless for anyone wanting to secure Baloch rights in Pakistan.  

On August 14, 2013, my friend Raza Jahangir, and Imdad Bojair, were killed by the army. The former was the Secretary General of the BSO (Azad) and the latter a member of the Baloch National Movement (BNM), both avowedly peaceful organizations. On August 13, 2016, Salman Qambarani and Gazzain Qambarani were killed after being kept in dungeons for a year. Salman’s brother Hassan and cousin Hizbullah have been missing since February 13, 2020.

This year, on August 13, Hayat Baloch was murdered. He had been working with his parents on a date farm when a passing Frontier Corps (FC) vehicle was targeted by an IED. The FC personnel barged into the farm, trussed him up with his mother’s scarf, dragged him to the road and, ignoring his distraught parents’ pleas, fired eight bullets into him, thus destroying the hopes of his family who had sacrificed their needs to get him educated in Karachi University so that he could usher in better days for them. This was senseless brutality against an unarmed innocent Baloch. This atrocity was and could be perpetrated because the perpetrators are assured of a culture of impunity whereby their previous, and countless, acts of brutality have gone unpunished.

They first wanted to absolve themselves with the connivance of the police claiming that Hayat died in the IED blast but the presence of witnesses forced them to admit that one soldier committed the murder. Remember the May 17, 2011, Kharotabad incident where three Chechen women and two men were killed and it was claimed that they died in a suicide jacket explosion but the surgeon Dr Baqir Shah, in his post mortem report, said they died of bullet wounds, some 56 in all; and because he stood by his report he was first beaten up and later killed on December 29, 2011, by, you guessed correctly, unknown assassins.

There has been widespread outrage and condemnation after Hayat’s horrendous murder by the FC. As expected, ministers and government supporters tried to deflect criticism by claiming it was a mistake of an individual and the institution should not be blamed; mind you a mistake where eight bullets are fired and a cover-up is set in motion. 

Their brazen support for their mentors, though deplorable, is understandable. What surprised me is that there are people claiming to be supporters of a ‘peaceful resistance’ who, while trying to be balanced and fair, say that the blame lies on those too who are resisting the injustices and struggling for Baloch rights. They forget that pacifism works with those who do not believe that bullets can solve all their problems.

Not long ago, during the Vietnam War, the US, hoping to force the Vietnamese into submission, indiscriminately bombed Hanoi and Haiphong. Whenever their planes were downed, they intensified the bombings causing more casualties and damage but that did not deter the Vietnamese from continuing to down the US planes because that was the only way of countering this illegal bombing. This downing of planes was never termed as a betrayal by the people, who knew without a robust defence the US would certainly kill and destroy more. They eventually defeated the US.

Violence should never be the preferred option but one is forced to ask: Were the Vietnamese and Algerians wrong to resist the French and US colonialism or was Allende wrong when he died fighting and came to symbolize Chilean peoples’ resistance to Pinochet’s dictatorship? Are the Kashmiris fighting for their independence from India wrong? I also wonder what Spartacus and his companions would have thought if they had been told that by resisting the Romans they were betraying the slaves.

So, who is to blame?

The blame, of course, lies squarely on the shoulders of the so-called law enforcement agencies that have been directed not to bother about the human cost but anyhow suppress the resistance movement which strives for the rights of the Baloch people and opposes the exploitation and the loot of resources in the name of development. The forces have been granted impunity and given immunity from any consequences that would naturally follow the crimes they commit against humanity. But, wait a moment, aren’t the federal government and the politicians of Balochistan who have been in power and are in power now — the ones who have given this immunity — equally guilty, nay more, than those who pull the trigger and shed the blood of the likes of Hayat?

The Pakistan Peoples’ Party coalition under Sardar Aslam Raisani ruled from 2008 to 2013 and this period saw the creation, promotion and protection of the ‘death squads’ which were let loose to terrorize the Baloch people into submission. Thousands went missing and are still missing. The politicians then in power actively connived by remaining silent on the crimes against humanity perpetrated in the name of maintaining law and order. They also maintained a criminal silence on the exploitation and loot of Baloch resources. Ustad Saba Dashtyari was martyred on June 1, 2011. The worst carnages against the Hazaras also took place during this period. These atrocities and the blatant loot of the resources were possible because these politicians, and the so-called ‘nationalists’ too, were so obsessed with becoming future Chief Ministers, ministers and senators that they spoke not a word at the injustice which went on right under their noses.

In the 2013 elections charade — which saw Dr Abdul Malik elected with only 4,000 votes and Qudoos Bizenjo with about only 500 — culminated in the Murree Deal whereby Dr Malik was Chief Minister Balochistan for half the tenure and Sanaullah Zehri for the remaining, though the latter was ousted before completion of his tenure because Rawalpindi rehashed its old loyalists to ensure increased compliance to their desires in Balochistan.

Anyway, Dr Malik was elected Chief Minister on June 08, 2013, and late Hasil Bizenjo was the President of the National Party. Hasil himself was sworn in as the Minister for Port and Shipping on May 20, 2016. I do not in any way mean to be disrespectful to late Hasil Bizenjo. He was a decent and polite person and, although our politics were poles apart, we met each other with respect because my elders Mir Ali Ahmed Talpur Sahib and Mir Rasool Bakhsh Talpur Sahib were friends with his father, Ghaus Bakhsh Bizenjo Sahib, and held one another in esteem.

The National Party could not renegotiate the unjust terms with the Chinese company which has looted Saindak dry. The terms state that the Metallurgical Construction Company of China (MCC) will run it in return for 50 per cent of the total revenue from mineral sales and also pay $500,000 monthly to Pakistan over the next 10 years (the lease was given in 2002). Balochistan was to receive only $0.7 million per year as royalty. They could not change the terms and this deal was first extended to 2017 and then again till 2022. The losers all the way have been the Baloch people. Moreover, in June 2014, Dr Malik appointed Arsalan Iftikhar, son of former chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, as vice-chairman of Board of Investment in Balochistan and even stoutly defended his decision.

It was under the watch of these gentlemen, Hasil and Dr Malik, and their party, that thousands of Baloch, including Chairman BSO (Azad) Zahid Baloch, Salman Qambarani, Gazzain Qambarani and others were abducted. They could do nothing about these disappearances nor anything about the practice of killing and dumping of abducted persons; they were silent spectators to atrocities committed in Balochistan. I say silent for if they had objections they could have resigned.

On January 26, 2014, six months into their rule, the Tootak mass graves were discovered and despite all their promises and hand wringing nothing came out even from the judicial commission they formed as no one was found guilty. No one has ever been even charged leave alone being prosecuted for the crimes against humanity. So, what were they doing while ruling Balochistan?

On November 9, 2015, under their watch the entire Balochistan Assembly took five minutes, that’s right just five minutes, to hand over 9,000 acres of the Hingol National Park land to Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission (SUPARCO) in a move that not only endangered the sparse forest cover in the region but also subverted rules of the provincial legislature. Provincial Minister Abdul Raheem Ziaratwal exempted it from rule 84 which allowed it to be passed without any discussion. Surprisingly, none of the MPAs, ‘nationalists’ or loyalists demanded a debate on the bill thereby forsaking a huge chunk of land.

In April 2019, after awakening from a long deep slumber, Dr Malik demanded of the Federal Government to hand over operations of the Gwadar Port to the provincial government, saying it is the right of the people. He seemingly had forgotten that demand when he was the Chief Minister and when late Hasil Bizenjo was the Ports minister. Actions and rhetoric need to coincide to garner credibility.

In November 2017, on a trip to London, Dr Malik said that ‘nationalist Baloch want to get their rights within the framework of Pakistan’. His is an attempt to have the cake and eat it as well; an attempt to wear two caps at the same time — one of a nationalist and the other of a federalist. These two caps cannot be worn simultaneously for they are politically incompatible. Moreover, it is not just the rhetoric that changes peoples’ lives but the deeds are what truly matter. The National Party and other federalist parties, if we for even a moment for the sake of argument, say that they are Baloch nationalists, their actions reject any consideration for that lofty title.

So, one has to conclude that the atrocities, carnages, mass graves et al would not take place if those, who claim to be nationalists and somehow manage to get elected and claim to be representatives of the people and the land, had some spine in their backs and a tongue in their mouth. The impunity with which the rights and lives of the people that are trampled upon by the FC would at least be checked and deterred to a certain extent. They chose not to object because they eye concessions and want their future prospects to be bright. They speak not a word and those trigger-happy agencies have been given the license to break the will of the people without worry about consequences. I will say they all are guilty of the murder of Hayat.

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Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur is a regular commenter on Balochistan. He has been associated with Baloch politics since 1970s.

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