“The Pakistani government continues to allege Indian and Afghan involvement in fuelling separatist tensions inside Balochistan which BRA’s chief Brahmdagh Bugti denies. At the same time, the province’s Dera Bugti region is still practically a “no-go area” where journalists and human rights activists have been trying (so far unsuccessfully) to lead a fact-finding mission.”
By Qurat ul ain Siddiqui
EXCLUSIVE FROM PAKISTAN
(November 10, Karachi, Sri Lanka Guardian) As the military operation continues in Pakistan’s South Waziristan tribal region and terror attacks take their toll across the country’s northwest, there appears to be an eerie calm inside the troubled southwestern province of Balochistan. The relative silence, as it prevails from both sides -- the government and the separatists -- is not the most ideal of its kind and some fear tensions may quietly be brewing inside the region.
The recent killing of the province’s education minister Shafique Ahmed Khan, which was later claimed by the Balochistan Liberation United Front (BLUF), is a stark reminder that separatist factions are active inside the province. Baloch separatists have, of more recently, increasingly resorted to target killings as an operational tactic, in order to “draw attention to the sufferings of the Baloch at the hands of the Pakistani (Punjabi) establishment,” the separatist movement’s leading voice, Brahmdagh Bugti, chief of the Baloch Republican Party (BRP), told this scribe in an interview.
In a broader context, while target-killing is not amongst the most ideal tactics used by separatist movements, the militants see the method as legitimate. “When Baloch people are attacked and kidnapped by the government’s forces, no one cares to condemn and discuss that…then why so much sympathy for the non-Baloch?” a Baloch militant affiliated with a separatist group argued.
Meanwhile, Frontier Corps personnel operating inside the province have repeatedly denied allegations of harassment and heavy-handedness on part of the security forces.
The incident of Tump (in Balochistan), which led to the death of Mukhtiar Baloch, an activist of the Baloch National Front (BNF), is one such occurrence in which Baloch activists and the Frontier Corps have their own varying versions of what really happened. Regardless of that, the incident was, some Baloch believe, played down by mainstream national media. “The international media seems more interested in what happened in Tump than the national media. If an incident like this had happened somewhere in Punjab or Sindh, it would have made front-page headlines! It is as if we are being forced to think that we are not a part of Pakistan,” a Baloch professional based in Karachi complained.
Baloch anger and distrust is fuelled by the “increasing number of missing persons” and an “ongoing” military operation inside the country’s most resource-rich and most under-developed province. According to the Karachi-based Social Policy and Development Centre, Balochistan’s poverty levels are the highest in Pakistan, where “every second person” lives below the poverty line.
“Little can change in the region for the people, if they have no basic facilities, and if they have no education,” a Khuzdar-based school teacher says. “It is immaterial, whether Balochistan stays with Pakistan or becomes independent…without a good education, the youth will have no direction.”
While the teacher’s advice rings true, activists allege that the federal government is “not interested in the province’s educational development”. “It isn’t difficult to build a school when the government can build and maintain so many cantonments inside the province,” a pro-federation Baloch activist, requesting anonymity, said.
Meanwhile, the Pakistani government continues to allege Indian and Afghan involvement in fuelling separatist tensions inside Balochistan which BRA’s chief Brahmdagh Bugti denies. At the same time, the province’s Dera Bugti region is still practically a “no-go area” where journalists and human rights activists have been trying (so far unsuccessfully) to lead a fact-finding mission.
However, with the tense calm in the province, what many in Pakistan hope for is that the grievances of Balochistan are taken note of and approached justly and politically. Taking concrete steps to win the confidence of the citizens of this region is, as experience tells us, the only way forward.
(Qurat ul ain Siddiqui is a journalist based in Pakistan. Her work focuses on terrorism and separatist movements inside Pakistan. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org )
-Sri Lanka Guardian