Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Unending Crisis in Baluchistan

Is Pakistan Heading for Disaster in Baluchistan?
Pakistan must end its policy of killings and kidnappings of Baloch people and recognise the importance of the region
Akbar Ahmed,

Washington, DC - The behaviour of the powerful elite of Islamabad reminds me of the captain and crew of the RMS Titanic sailing into the night, heading straight towards an iceberg. The civilian, military and judicial authorities are locked up in a tussle coloured by political positions and personal egos. And there is a dangerous disconnect between Islamabad and the enormous problems that loom on the Pakistani horizon.

Law and order appears to have collapsed in many parts of the country. In the north-east, the former Frontier Province, there are daily killings as suicide bombers and the army continuously fight each other. Unemployment is widespread and inflation is sky-high. And there is still a desperate shortage of electricity and gas in much of the country.

But perhaps none of these problems is more pressing than the situation in Balochistan. If the simmering, but widespread movement for independence spins out of control, Pakistan will find it almost impossible to maintain nationhood.

I was reminded of Balochistan by the recent visit of Malik Siraj Akbar to my office. It made me happy to think back to my associations with its people and places, but I also became distressed as I thought of the current situation: a climate of killings and so-called "disappearances".

In his late twenties, Malik comes from Makran and was born in its northern town, Panjgur. His sharp intelligence, awareness of the world and passionate arguments for his people reminded me of all the people I met in Makran as Commissioner when I was posted there in the mid-1980s.

On arrival, what struck me was the resilience and faith of the Baloch, in spite of the widespread poverty and lack of economic development. Even after decades of the country's existence, Pakistan - it seemed - had done very little for the Baloch. There were only five miles of paved road in Makran - from the Commissioner's house, in Turbat, to the tiny airport. Flights were irregular and the telephone lines to the rest of the country were frequently out of order.
A land of honour

But I found it a fascinating experience: the people were welcoming and the area was redolent of history. Makran was, after all, where Alexander the Great got lost on his way to Persia after his battles in India. Over time, I had the privilege of meeting and getting to know legendary Baloch leaders such as Nawab Akbar Bugti, Mir Ghaus Bukh Bizenjo, Jam Ghulam Qadir and Mir Jafar Khan Jamali. From them, I learned that there was a time when a woman wearing gold ornaments could travel from the north of Balochistan to the south and not be molested.
"There was honour," they said, "in the land."

For complete article, click here

For regular updates & analysis on Baluchistan, see The Baloch Hal, edited by Malik Siraj Akbar
The Balochistan conundrum - Dawn Editorial
Reconciling with Balochistan -  Ishrat Saleem, Daily Times
India and the Baloch insurgency - Hamid Mir, The Hindu (2009)

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