Let us not forget Baluchistan

The New Pakistan team has been observing that all things are quite on the Baluchistan whereas our Baluch brothers and sisters continue to suffer and bear the brunt of human right violations and atrocities.

To give things some perspective, Noordin Mengal, a Baloch representative who highlights human rights issues at international forums, spoke at the UN Human Rights Council last month and stated that the Baloch people continue to face the brunt of the Pakistan military. According to UNPO.org website, Mengal pointed out that people of Baluchistan continue to face the brunt of a full-fledged military campaign by the Pakistan military while the international community seemed unmoved by the atrocities.

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The ‘burnt Malalas’ of Balochistan — Yousaf Ajab Baloch

Following is a cross post of an opinion piece published in The Daily Times on June 26th 2013. The writer is a Baloch author and human rights activist. Currently, he is a sub-editor at monthly Bolan Voice Quetta, a staff writer at The Baloch Hal and a freelance online columnist.

The question is raised why national and international human rights organisations are silent on the incident in Quetta while the outrage for Malala’s case was extraordinarily tremendous.

June 16, 2013 was a day of severe suffering for the parents in Balochistan when they received the burnt dead bodies of their daughters, whilst the rest of the world was gifting flowers to their fathers on Fathers’ Day. In Balochistan. fathers, with immeasurable pain, were trying to identify their daughters’ dead bodies that had been burnt in the June 15 suicide-bomber attack on a student bus of the Sardar Bahadur Khan Women’s University, the only women’s university in the city of Quetta with 3,000 female students, established in March 2004.

The bloody incident occurred on June 15 when about 40 students and teachers from English, Mathematics and other departments were in the bus going home after classes. It was the last day of their examinations and thus it was a regular day, although usually the university remains closed on Saturdays. A woman bomber got on the bus and detonated the bomb she was carrying, causing extensive damage, killing several students; 22 students were injured by the powerful blast. After the attack when the injured were shifted to the Bolan Medical Complex, a male suicide bomber and other heavily armed militants struck the building and fired indiscriminately.

As a result of multiple strikes the death toll rose to 26. The students who were killed in the bus were identified as Shagufta Jamali, Rehana Aurangzaib, Sayeda Noor-ul-Hain, Sajila Shahjahan, Mehvish Asif Bangulzai, Seydtahia Bibi, Sadaf Murad Baloch, Abida Baloch, Soman Magsi, Zehra Ahmed Kakar, Nadia Durrani and Hirah Javaid Rajput. At least 12 people including four militants, four nurses and the deputy commissioner of Quetta were killed in the nearly four-hour siege of the complex where the injured students were brought for treatment.

The banned sectarian militant organisation Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) claimed responsibility for the June 15 attacks on the bus and at the Bolan Medical Complex, claiming revenge for a raid against the group by security forces.

The attack on the students is a clear message for the people of Balochistan that this already backward province in all spheres of life is clearly occupied by religious extremists, allegedly given a free hand by the secret agencies of the state. More than 1,000 people from the Hazara community have been killed and thousands injured in the suicide attacks in Balochistan, mainly in Quetta. Prior to this some attacks were carried out against the Hazara community, whereas this time the victims were students of a women university and were Sunni Muslims. The attacks on the Hazara community and students are most strongly condemnable.

The question rises on the control of religious extremists in Quetta city, and it proves the allegations by the victims of this religious extremism that they are encouraged by the state-patronised elements. It is debatable whether the state has failed, it is blackmailed by extremists, or it has deliberately planned to now start killing Baloch female students to frighten others to give up their education plans.

According to a lecturer and some students of the institution, the students belonged to middle class families, and some of them are daughters of daily-wage workers, who are now unable to bear their medical expenses. Balochistan, with the smallest population with a poor literacy rate is marked for backwardness; educating females is not less than a dream. Educational backwardness or poor development is because of unequal opportunities and deficient interest of the federation. Though it is claimed that the tribal system is the biggest hurdle in the way of development of the Baloch people, yet the tribal Sardars (chieftains) have always been part of government and are the pampered babies of the establishment. On the other hand, the religious groups have been creating obstacles for the development of not only female education but also boys education. The female students who were attacked belonged to far flung areas of Balochistan. The courage of their parents must be eulogised who sent their daughters to get an education, and their daughters are also role models for other girls in Balochistan. In fact, students who are getting education in Balochistan are the Malalas of this land. Malala Yousafzai is famous for her struggle for female education in backward areas, On October 9, 2012, Yousafzai was shot in the head and neck in a murder attempt by the Taliban gunmen, while returning home on a school bus. Her story received international attention .But the question is raised why national and international human rights organisations are silent on the incident in Quetta while the outrage for Malala’s case was extraordinarily tremendous. International human rights organisations and media groups are to be censured here as they claim to be human rights defenders. But their silence on the burnt Malalas in Balochistan becomes questionable. Even the UN Secretary General just issued a simple statement against this ugly attack.

It becomes the responsibility of the state to ensure protection of common people. Apparently, we witness the failure of the state when it comes to protecting common people, notably female, whereas development of the state is contingent on the progress of women. This horrible extremism must come to an end now. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Asian Human Rights and the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan should not consider the reporting of the violence sufficient; they must also pressurise the state to bring the perpetrators to book.

I conclude my write up with a poem by Nausheen Qambrani, a well-known Baloch poetess and an English language lecturer at the Sardar Bahadur Khan Women’s University in Quetta. She has written this poem after being in the process of identifying the burnt dead bodies and losing her students.

History dried, religions melted/Wisdom burnt, civilisations buried/Lord of darkness dances around/Spaces tremble on the evil’s sound/O’ killer of innocence, you turn to existence/Look at your face in the blood of the mirror/You find yourself just a pagan/Maybe a Shia, maybe a Christian/Follower of wit or follower of love/Follower of dove/Had you felt the touch of earth/You’d have known the pain of birth.

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The Rocky Road Ahead

Following is an article published in Daily Dawn by columnist Abbas Nasir who is also former editor of Dawn.

A WEEK after a majority of the registered voters exercised their democratic right it is time for some reflection and to assess how the scenario will pan out.

What’s sticking like a sty in my eye right now is how the caretakers, the Election Commission and even the army are congratulating each other on the conduct of ‘peaceful’ elections and how they haven’t even said a word about those who weren’t allowed to campaign.

The election day bombing of an ANP office in Karachi which killed nearly a dozen people was just one among a spate of incidents which claimed over 100 lives in a matter of weeks and should have served as a sobering thought for key state functionaries patting each other on the back.

Of course, this isn’t to brush under the carpet misgovernance, corruption or a lackadaisical attitude towards lawlessness which would have weighed heavily against the incumbents anyway. But equally valid is the argument that the three secular parties were unable to take their case to the electorate.

This isn’t to suggest this would have changed the outcome of the election but would have at least ensured a level playing field. Perhaps, even belatedly, those in positions of authority should say a prayer for all those who were killed by the Taliban for merely campaigning, for asserting their democratic right.

Ironically, the critical state of the country and the mountains of challenges that lie across its path dictate that there isn’t much point in pondering the past, and to move on. Even those affected by the Taliban’s bloody ban on electioneering have accepted the result for, they say, democracy’s sake.

So, what does the future look like? One indication came in a statement by PML-N MNA and negotiator Sardar Ayaz Sadiq, yes, the one who slew the change dragon in Lahore. “I can confirm we have a majority now but can’t give you exact numbers as people are joining every hour.”

The results have yet to be notified but the PML-N’s stunning victory has led to a deluge of independent elected members joining the party — even small parties such as the National People’s Party whose leader has announced a merger with the Raiwind Royalty’s party.

It is becoming clear that, short of constitutional amendments, the PML-N will have complete control to do as it pleases at the federal and Punjab level. This can only be good as success or failure will be clearly attributable to the policies and implementation of a single party and not a coalition muddle.

Everyone lauded the maturity of Mian Nawaz Sharif in publicly stating that since the PTI emerged as the largest single party in KP its mandate should be respected. As a result, the conservative government there is likely to be stable, that is, till it falls foul of the PML-N.

Balochistan is a different story. The PML-N’s contrived numerical superiority as elected members from the pool of independents and even the PML-Q rush to join it will give its chief minister’s candidate, Sanaullah Zehri, no more moral authority than his predecessor Aslam Raisani.

If the PML-N leadership has really come of age it should ponder whether offering the chief minister’s slot to one of the Baloch nationalist parties will be in greater national interest. Admittedly, none of these nationalist parties would have secured a majority on its own given the political landscape.

However, that these parties defied not only threats of retribution from armed separatists but also in some cases had to face up to the nastiness of those running election campaigns with as much impunity as they have allegedly run death squads, should amount to something.

What greater demonstration to seeking a resolution of Balochistan’s issues within the confines of Pakistan’s Constitution and on the floor of the assemblies could there be? Surely, the state can reward their gesture better than by delaying, withholding and allegedly changing their results.

So, a real test of statesmanship awaits the Sharifs but I doubt they’ll rise to the occasion on this one. If prominent nationalists are not in government, the PML-N chief minister will have to proactively control state excesses or Balochistan would be pushed further into the separatists’ lap.

The Balochistan government formation story is yet to unfold fully. One can talk more definitively of Sindh. Whether Qaim Ali Shah is reinstalled as chief minister or it is Hazar Khan Bijarani or Nisar Khuhro or even Owais Tappi they all face the same challenge.

Roads, infrastructure, development more generally and even provision of jobs (on merit and without seeking kickbacks from the poor unemployed) can all come later. The first and foremost priority for the Sindh government ought to be law and order particularly in Karachi.

This must be the most dramatic failing of the last coalition; even more than the unending tales of corruption and price-tagged decisions. If the MQM is part of the new set-up as well, it is even more incumbent on the two to deliver a safe environment to their devoted voter.

This is in their self-interest. As the statistics show, voter loyalty patterns are shifting at least in urban Sindh. And if a viable alternative appeared in the rural parts of the province, the current rulers can rest assured they’ll rapidly lose their traditional support in the absence of delivery.

Also, the elected provincial government will ignore law and order at its own peril. With a central government belonging to a party which isn’t exactly enamoured of the warlord-like attitude of the Sindh coalition particularly in Karachi it can only speed to its sacking by repeating its past mistakes.

For all the political parties, the electorate and the media the euphoria generated by an election campaign (even if all parties couldn’t participate equally or at all) will soon be a thing of the past — such is the daunting agenda that lies ahead.

The writer is a former editor of Dawn.