“Daughters of Turbat” leads the protestors back to Baluchistan to initiate 5th Phase of Baluch uprising

60 days of women-led Baloch protest returns home with heavy hearts and sordid tales

PFA Special

Islamabad: “The atrocities meted out to the peaceful women-led protestors in Islamabad will remain embedded in our memories and will be passed onto future generations in the forms of folklores and lullabies,£ said Dr Mahrang while announcing to wrap up the 4th phase of her protest and head back to Quetta to launch the 5th phase and continue the struggle for basic social, political and economic freedoms for people of Baluchistan.

This 60-days long women-led protest by Baloch people seems to have raised more questions on the ability of the state institutions like judiciary, army, bureaucracy and media in the country at a time when many nationalists and political parties have already been posing questions to the real kingmakers, whom former secretary of State Hilary Clinton terms as “Deep State of Pakistan”.

These women, youngsters and elderly carrying even children (without any big political names) have endured brutal baton charge by police, water cannons to add to the December chilly weather to their woes and were even detained on top of the non-stop harassment and eventually an isolatory protest environment (in front of National Press Club, Islamabad) with a complete blackout on mainstream media. Just imagine that Islamabad is undergoing perhaps one of the coldest dry winter spell (near freezing point) in its history and these protestors have been allowed to sit in the cold without any access to blankets, food and even visitors.

What worries most is the fact that despite all this none of the caretaker government ministers or authorities managed to find time to at least come and talk to these protestors and neither any of the mainstream political parties have even uttered a single word expressing concern let alone solidarity with these protestors or their cause. The federal and provincial ministers though have been (perhaps forced) made to appear regularly throughout these 60 days to deplore these “handful foreign-funded women” as troublemakers while accusing them of tarnishing the image of the state by reiterating the 1970s script that “government is committed to welfare of the people of Baluchistan” or post Akbar Bugti script that “few misguided youth are being heralded back into the mainstream through general amnesty by state institutions and Army is committed to safeguard the ideological and physical frontiers of the country”.

Amazingly, the very vocal judiciary of Pakistan, who seems to be on top of the list in taking suo-moto actions on even a roadside hoarding (Billboards) in Karachi has remained oblivious to the plight of these women-led protestors from Baluchistan, and some even denied them the protection against police (etc) high-handedness while exercising their constitutional right to assembly and peaceful protest.

Whether these Baloch protestors are “Right” or “Wrong” is something we can discuss at a later stage but what worries many thinking heads is that if the state shows such high-handed and black-out tactics then the question arises that which way state of Pakistan is heading? What befits the current situation is not the narrative of Dr Mahrang or many other protestors aired only through social media but are few sentences written by respected human rights activists Hussain Naqi who wrote under one of the live coverages of the protesters conference on Facebook about Dr Mahrang that she might not be the “last leader” from Baluchistan by terming her a “brave girl”.

Certainly for Maneeza Jehangir, the daughter of legendary Asam Jehangir, it is very easy to stand up and utter words against the powerful Khakis or judiciary or political bigwigs, but for these ladies who come from literally middle of nowhere (Turbat, Khuzdar, Kech, etc) and from a system where like Sindhi Waderas and Jagirdars of Punjab, Baloch Tumans and Sardars can subjugate or submerge any rising son of daughter of the locals with the support of Khakis, such a bravery from the “daughters of Turbat” should ring nothing but an alarm for the kingmakers and elite of the country alike.

I would like to shed some light on what respected Hussain Naqi has said that “not the last” from Baluchistan. No matter from which side of the divide you look at it, one thing is crystal clear that Baluch people have been given the worst hand since independence especially when it comes to social development. Despite being the “Golden Sparrow” of the state with gold, natural gas and even oil reserves, the province has remained under developed. The convenience of the federation to use the Sardars of Baluchistan vanished after Gen. Musharraf decided to use the land first for American-led War on Terror and then for Chinese-led CPEC. While Khakis enjoyed the benevolence of the Americans with over US $ 16 billion (direct disbursements only) to help Khakis do some “facilitation” (which later Americans termed as double-game of Kahkis) while Chinese announced US $45 billion projects to take over the Gawadar port, local Baloch people struggled for even clean drinking water. Many see Sardar Bugti’s rebellion in this context because Gen Musharraff due to the American backing awarded sweeping powers to Army and State institutions to crackdown on dissidents in the name of “terrorism” and in the process also cut down the big booty meant for Sardars because the Army had learned the art of controlling not only the dissidents but also the lucrative border trading through porous Iranian and Afghan border.

I still remember when Peoples Party, riding on Asif Zardari’s power-fest, made Yusuf Raza Gillani the Prime Minister of this beleaguered land of the pure, first “deal” by Mr Gillani came from a construction company (Hussnain) whereby the Prime Minister ordered to release the whole contract amount of PKR 8 billion in advances to the construction company (meant for construction of Turbat-Khuzdar highway in Baluchistan in lieu of two lavish bunglows in Lahore’s DHA.

Later, the same Peoples Party government and the same prime minister trumpeted the revision of national finance commission award under which Baluchistan was entitled to received billions more than the usual few billions. The result was that every MNA and MPA from Baluchistan received at least one billion each in the name of development work. These floating funds ended up in the coffers of these MNAs and MPAs while bureaucracy also grabbed as much as they could. If anyone remembers that how very few (only estranged) members of the political and bureaucracy were exposed before the media (soon after Zardari was sent packing home and kingmakers were busy nourishing Imran Khan for the big office) by showing bundles of currency being recovered from water tanks of those handful.

The crux of the matter remains, while we can continue to list down many such political, religious, Sardars and bureaucratic symbols of corruption and Khakis-favourites, that Baluchistan has remained under developed because of al of these people and they are still not ready to listen to any of the “Lone Rangers” without realising that these lone rangers have now started to turn into a mob which might swell over the years. Education has crept into the youth of Baluchistan and the world has just seen Dr Mahrang and likes but there are scores of them now in federal and provincial bureaucracy, colleges and universities across the country and they are bringing a change of mindset in locals.

The issues needs much more than just setting up flimsy commissions and inquiries, otherwise the commitment of this ring of youth protestors seems much larger than the handful of Sardars of the past years. If the country’s top brass, especially the kingmakers have not sensed this yet, then they should come out with a listening ear not an “iron fist” like Zulfiqar Bhutto or Gen Musharraf. We need not forget that though ceremonially or even for the cameras only, some odd judges of the higher and provincial judiciary have observed in number of cases and petitions filed by the family members of the victims that the government and security forces committed arbitrary or unlawful and extrajudicial killings and hinted at lack of accountability for such abuses. National bodies like Human Rights Commission of Pakistan or US State Department’s Country Report on Human Rights Practices in Pakistan, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the UN Working Group on Enforced Disappearances, have confirmed that the security forces are the primary suspects behind these disappearances. But continued denial of fair public trial, with judiciary subject to external influences and extensive case backlogs, Illegal detention and disappearance of Baloch citizens, economic coercion, and censorships, things are likely to go further south. Whether its an ostrich-like approach or overconfidence, Khaki establishment in Pakistan should open the history books of 1970s and let the democratic and legal courses flow uninterruptedly.


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