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End of ceasefire raises many an eyebrow

http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=2009\01\07\story_7-1-2009_pg7_33

* BLA spokesman says government did not respond positively to truce 
* Armed groups say they see no justification to end their operations

By Malik Siraj Akbar


QUETTA: Three armed militant groups operating in Balochistan have finally ended their four-month ceasefire. The Baloch Liberation Army (BLA), the Baloch Republican Army (BRA) and the Baloch Liberation Front (BLF) had announced a swift, unconditional and unilateral ceasefire last September as part of their 'guerilla warfare tactic'. The decision raised many eyebrows among young Baloch nationalists. While some accused these outfits of 'compromising' with the government on the 'Baloch interest', the others ridiculed them for supposedly

running out of 'ample Indian assistance' to pursue their resistance movement.

The Baloch militants, on their part, repeatedly brushed aside such allegations, claiming they had now become so 'powerful' no one could dictate them any more. They could initiate a war whenever they wanted to and end it when it pleased them to do so. The main purpose of the ceasefire, as a BLA spokesman told Daily Times, was to avoid bloodshed that was causing the death of innocent women, children and elderly citizens. In addition, the ceasefire was intended to see if the government would also positively respond to the truce and pull out troops from the conflict zones of Balochistan as a confidence-building measure. That did not happen.

The biggest loser during the four-month lull is undeniably the Pakistan People's Party government in Balochistan and the Centre. This period of peace and tranquility could have been taken as a golden opportunity by the ruling party to address the Balochistan issue. Federal Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Senator Babar Awan believes there is still sufficient time to address the issue. Therefore, he believes the people of Balochistan should wait until "the government gives them good news in March 2009". This explicitly shows the government's lack of interest in Balochistan. The governments in Islamabad still tend to underestimate the power of the Baloch armed resistance, besides defiantly skirting the demands of genuine democratic forces. On the other hand, the expanding insurgency has become an unavoidable headache for everyone who tries to rule Balochistan. The PPP leadership seems to be missing the point that the year 2008 was the most violent year in the past decade. Target killings claimed 73 lives of mainly those working for the government the police, Frontier Corps (FC), army, intelligence agencies and other government institutions. It is for this reason that the conflict in Balochistan cannot afford to wait until March to be addressed by the government.

The government should have taken the ceasefire as a blessing in disguise. It substantially stopped the cycle of target killings in Quetta. In August 2008, the security situation went out of the control to the extent that Governor Nawab Zulfiqar Ali Magsi was obliged to announce on August 14 that he was planning to quit his office. The governor said he had promised to improve the state of law and order in the province soon after assuming charge. Later on, he realised that he had failed to meet the daunting challenge.

Furthermore, Magsi also recommended Balochistan Chief Minister Nawab Aslam Raisani to join him in tendering resignations because the latter had also promised to bring peace to Balochistan.

"Since both of us have failed to deliver and bring peace to Balochistan, we should quit," Nawab Magsi was quoted in the media as saying.

Such feelings were understandable given the fact that the Baloch armed groups had by that time frustrated the government law enforcement agencies, measures to overpower them. They were unwilling to negotiate with the government. The remaining moderate political parties, such as the Balochistan National Party (BNP), National Party and Jamhoori Watan

Party (JWP), were skeptical of the government for "not doing enough to restore the Baloch trust". But when the ceasefire was announced, it was the right moment for the PPP leadership to take the opportunity to bring the Baloch political parties to the negotiation table. Had it been done then, it would have remarkably helped the PPP government isolate the militants in Balochistan and pit the Baloch political parties against the hardliners.

The armed groups say they see no justification to end their operations given the 'indefinite timeframe' they had offered to the government to show by its actions that it wanted to drastically change its approach towards Balochistan. The moderate and secular parties complain that the PPP did not fulfil the promises it had made to them before the general elections. A number of controversial issues still remain unaddressed.

The future of security in Balochistan appears bleak after the conclusion of the ceasefire. The first week of 2009 has already proven violent. It witnessed deadly clashes between the FC and the militants. Three times in one week, the Baloch militants attacked passenger trains. BRA spokesman Sarbaz Baloch told Daily Times his party wanted the Baloch people to avoid travelling via train.

"In the past we used to attack the railway tracks and now we will attack the trains carrying passengers. Anyone who would travel on the trains despite this warning would be responsible for his own safety," he warned.






http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=2009\01\07\story_7-1-2009_pg7_22

Walking on fire to prove innocence continues in Balochistan

* Scholar says practice becoming urbanised is the biggest concern 
* Balochistan minister for human rights says practice a part of local traditions, government cannot eliminate it

By Malik Siraj Akbar


QUETTA: The gory practice of forcing alleged criminals to walk on burning coal to prove their innocence is frivolously disowned by many in Balochistan, yet it regularly draws hundreds of tribal spectators. 

The illegal phenomenon continues unchecked with increasing likelihood of the practice spreading to other parts of the country's least literate province.

Charbeli, as the practice of forcing alleged criminals to walk on burning coal is locally known, appears to supersede the criminal justice system and the state's writ.

A local veteran who is believed to have 'divine power to control the fire' is entrusted with the responsibility to monitor the practice. Firstly, a 12-feet long, two-feet wide and two-feet deep trench is dug which is filled with 480 kilogrammes of dry wood. The wood burns for around three to four hours. As the time to take the test of innocence approaches, the veteran walks close to the fire and chants religious prayers to bring the fire 'under control' so that it would, supposedly, not harm the innocent and only burn the guilty. 

Hundreds of people, including the friends and relatives of the accused stand around the burning coal when the accused walks on it. He is immediately taken by his relatives and put on a bed where his feet are put in a bucket filled with the blood of a freshly-slaughtered goat.

"If there are burn marks on his feet, the man is considered guilty and the jirga decides the further course of action against him. If his feet are not burnt, he is declared innocent and is delightedly received by friends and relatives," said Muhammad Ali, a local journalist who witnessed many such cases. 

Ali says sometimes three to four cases are adjudicated on a single day. The time to decide whether the accused is innocent or guilty is between four to 24 hours.

Last week, two such cases were reported from rural Balochistan. The incidents were witnessed by hundreds of people and widely reported in the media. There were widespread comments on the 'indigenous dispensation of speedy justice', except by the government and human rights organisations.

In the first case, reported last week, Muhammad Bakhsh alias Afghan - suspected of murdering a 12-year old boy Saddam Hussain Bohar - was ordered by a jirga headed by local tribal elder Ghulam Qadir Bugti, to walk on burning coal to prove his innocence. As Bakhsh's feet remained unhurt, he was declared 'white' by the jirga. 

In the second incident, two people, accused of murdering a boy and kidnapping three children, were asked by a joint jirga headed by tribal elder Ghulam Mustufa Rind and Dera Murad Jamali Tehsil Nazim Mir Zulfiqar Jamali, to walk on burning coal. 

Muhammad Darya was found 'guilty' as his feet showed burn marks afterward. However, the other accused skipped punishment because the fire did not burn his feet, purportedly proving his innocence.

Urbanised: "This is an inhuman practice in the name of 'tradition'. You punish a citizen by forcing him to walk on fire and then declare him 'innocent'," said renowned scholar and writer Professor Dr Shah Muhammad Marri. 

"My biggest concern is that this practice is becoming urbanised. In the past, it was merely a tradition started by the Bugti tribe but now it seems to be spreading to the Rind and other Baloch tribes. If the state does not ensure the provision of justice to its citizens, then I am afraid this practice would soon gain acceptance in more tribes of Balochistan," he said.

Marri, also a historian, said he could not trace the practice in Baloch history. In fact it was Akbar Bugti, the chief of Bugti tribe, who pioneered and encouraged this tradition. "This is an alien practice to the Marri, Mengal and other Baloch tribes. The latest incidents are shocking because they were carried out by tribes which were never influenced by the Bugtis in the past," he said.

Government: Balochistan Minister for Human Rights Basant Lal Gulshan told Daily Times that these practices were a part of the local tradition and no one, including the government, could eliminate them. 

He said all the government could do was condemn such incidents and 'hope' for an improvement in the situation. "What can we do with a practice that is 'acceptable' to the people themselves? If the government tries to interfere in their problems, the tribes would become hostile and resist the government," he remarked. 

A local tribal elder, Ghulam Nabi Umrani, said suspected criminals were forced to walk on burning coal to prove innocence for crimes ranging from larceny, rape, and abduction to murder.

"No one in the area objects to this practice because it provides speedy justice and is acceptable to everyone. You know the real condition of the courts. Who can afford to go there to waste money and time and get nothing in return?" he questioned. 

Balochistan Minister for Law and Parliamentary Affairs Rubina Irfan said the tradition did not have roots in Baloch or Islamic traditions. It was a man-made practice that was 'happily joined' by members of the community.