Is a rollback possible?
reposted from Dawn - Opinion, Mar 24, 2008
By Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur
ALL apologies whether personal,
political or national have to be followed up and backed
by concrete and substantial steps to end or ease the
grievances, violations and confrontations which were
the reason for apology in the first place.
If these measures do not materialise quickly enough then the apology is not
worth the paper it is written on and moreover it is counterproductive. In short,
to back up the apology there has to be a rollback of the policies that have
angered individuals, communities or nations.
Apologies are not a trivial or frivolous matter and need to be tendered in
a considered, formal and decorous manner to carry weight and be acceptable
to those addressed. If the intent is to hoodwink and gain support and sympathy
on a sensitive issue, such apologies do more harm than good because they ultimately
increase disenchantment and disillusionment.The PPP, leader of the coalition
that will shortly take up the reins of governance, offered an apology last
month to the people of Balochistan for “the atrocities and injustices committed” in
the province in the past. It also called for an immediate halt to the ongoing
military operation there and release of all political prisoners, including
former chief minister Akhtar Mengal.
This apology has been taken with a pinch of salt by nationalist leaders including
Sardar Ataullah Mengal. He termed the apology a positive but insufficient step,
and doubted that the PPP would be able to solve the problems facing Balochistan.
He said “the civil-military bureaucracy has always called the shots here” and
added that the situation in the troubled province would remain the same until
the “colonial perception of the rulers” changed and basic issues such as provincial
autonomy were addressed.
I feel I too am entitled to a response to the apology because, like scores
of others, I was on the receiving end of the massive military operations (1973-77)
carried out in Balochistan after the illegal dismissal of the Mengal government
during the PPP's first tenure at the centre. It was in 1978 that I, along with
many Marri families, went to Afghanistan as a refugee fleeing the repression
and ravages of the state against unarmed people and stayed there for 13 long
years in what was a singularly turbulent period in that country's history.
I didn't live in luxury in Kabul but with the people in refugee camps. I am
not a closet nationalist as I have frequently aired my political views in the
press. The stark terror that military operations generate among the populace
is beyond the comprehension of those who have not suffered it. Women and children
naturally suffer the most. Fear haunts you constantly and the slightest hint
of approaching danger is terrifying. Those men unlucky enough to fall into
the clutches of the security forces carry scars for life — if they survive
the ordeal. I know of numerous disappearances during that time of people personally
known to me. Military operations against unarmed civilians are as abominable
as they are inexcusable and the present operations in Balochistan should stop
forthwith if a response is expected from the nationalists.
The life of refugees isn't easy either, especially when the refugee status
is not internationally recognised and the host country is itself in turmoil.
Deaths due to preventable diseases and attacks by enemies of the host leave
indelible scars on the psyche and are neither easily forgotten nor forgiven.
The pain and suffering I witnessed in the Marri area, and that of the Marri
population that was forced to migrate to Afghanistan, was the microcosm of
the torment and anguish that has been the fate of the Baloch people since Partition
and which continues unabated with increasing ferocity with every new chapter
of confrontation. The suffering multiplies many times over as each conflict
is upgraded from the previous one.The grievous wounds inflicted over 60 years
cannot be healed with an apology from a party that will head the next government.
Wounds are not soothed by words alone. Mindsets and ground realities do not
change with words. This apology will not change the ground reality an iota
because only institutionalised change can make a difference. But that requires
patience, time and effort, qualities which have always been in scarce supply
in governance here.
The military operations in Balochistan will certainly not be curtailed any
time soon regardless of the party that is in power because the distrust with
which the establishment views the nationalists, and vice versa, is too deep-rooted
to be overcome in the near future. The continued illegal incarceration of Akhtar
Mengal on flimsy grounds and the disappearance of people in the province are
not an aberration but the norm. They are part of a deliberate, calculated and
organised policy aimed at subduing and taming all those who dare to raise their
voice against the injustices that are rampant and relentless in Balochistan.
Sardar Akhtar Mengal's release was the first test for Governor Magsi and he
failed miserably. This alone proves the hollowness of the new appointment.
The PPP-led government there will prove to be even more of a charade in practical
terms than the wording of its apology.
The apology could well be tested shortly after the new government is formed.
Will military operations in Balochistan be halted? Will the building and expansion
of cantonments be stopped? Will the new government be willing and, moreover,
able to remove the fears and grievances that the Baloch people have regarding
Gwadar and other mega projects? Will the fear of being turned into a minority
by the influx of people from other provinces be fully addressed?
Will the new airport in Gwadar be handed over to the CAA to ensure that a military
base is not established there? Will Saindak's unjust income-sharing formula
be reversed to give Balochistan 48 per cent and the centre two per cent? Will
they refrain from using Hingol National Park as a testing ground for the air
I don't think there is the remotest possibility of any of this happening — and
unless corrective measures are undertaken there will be no one among the nationalists
who will come forward to talk.
Those who have been calling the shots will not accede to even the most justified
of demands as their financial, commercial and imaginary strategic interests
will be sorely hurt by any such rollback in Balochistan. The party that forms
the government would have to take decisions which could imperil its own existence
and no one goes to that extreme for the children of lesser gods.
The Balochistan policy is too entrenched and too consolidated a policy of the
establishment to see change at the bidding of pliable political parties that
have always been more concerned with catchy slogans and opportunism than with
concrete measures. To expect the PPP and other parties to sacrifice power for
principles is asking for miracles.
Apology to Balochistan
re-posted from dawn.com
WITH reference to Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur's article (March 24), I agree with
the writer that the PPP's apology from people of Balochistan on behalf of the
people of Pakistan must be tendered in a very formal and decorous manner, like
Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd formally moved a resolution in Australian
parliament, and on behalf of parliament and people of Australia apologised for
the injustices being done against the indigenous aborigines.
Balochistan is still bleeding, it has the highest number of paramilitary checkposts — 900 — the
richest districts of Dera Bugti and Kolu are almost a battleground, more than
200,000 people have been displaced, 4,000 persons have disappeared, there is
no access to the media and civil society, useless construction of cantonments
are in progress, there is systematic discrimination against Baloch people in
employment opportunities in Coast Guard, Frontier Corps and the police force.
Even Balochistan's gold-producing Chaghi district has no electricity or a polytechnic
institute. Labour for unloading wheat from the recently-docked ship in Gwadar
was transported from Karachi. Still people in Islamabad expect that we should
celebrate and not complain.
Baloch plight is appalling and the establishment policy seems unmoved towards