We should begin by offering our thoughts and condolences to the loved ones of those who passed away in the horrific fires in Lahore and Karachi. I do not possess any expertise on the subject of fire safety to make an elaborate comment. However, someone has failed to do their job and we should insist on not only that investigation reports be made public and heads roll, but also a larger debate of worker safety and industrial regulation be conducted. It is said that when a fire breaks out, there is sometimes not enough panic at the beginning and people suffocate when they could have saved themselves because they are too calm. In the alternative, as is likely to be the case in the recent fires, the exit door/s is inadequate.
As the fires in Karachi and Lahore burnt, there was some expression of outrage on the arrival of the UN Mission on Enforced Disappearances in Balochistan. The lack of panic and the shrinking size of the exit door are useful, perhaps, unavoidable metaphors here. There is some panic now, but not on the murder and strangulation of human rights in Balochistan. No marks for guessing, it is for our favourite blanket objection to everything; the perceived breach of our “sovereignty”. It seems everyone important is refusing to talk to the UN Mission since we do not like them meddling in our domestic disputes. This talk of sovereignty and isolation sounds unpersuasive coming, immediately after the 9/11 anniversaries (both the tragedy in New York and martyrdom of Salvador Allende), the murder of an ambassador for a mediocre, insensitive movie made thousands of miles away, and a controversy about the veracity of a telephone interview allegedly conducted by a US channel with a prisoner in heavy security in Pakistan. To put it simply, isolation is not a choice or even possible.
When the Pakistan State and the Military establishment repeatedly and unconvincingly claim that all the mayhem and bloodshed in Balochistan is due to the involvement of a “foreign hand”, are they not admitting that “sovereignty” is already breached and being continually breached. Hence, according to them while the intelligence agency operatives of other countries can create trouble here, we find an official Mission of the UN coming with a publicly avowed mandate to be more of an affront. This does make the argument for sovereignty rather problematic, does it not? Furthermore, if this superficial and dishonest reasoning on sovereignty is accepted, it would disqualify us from demanding a probe into the murders in Gujarat, other places of India or Burma, since they are all domestic matters in view of this parochial definition
Of course, this analysis starts at the wrong foot since we give our State and Military establishment the benefit of doubt and good faith. They are no longer entitled to this presumption of innocence. The repression in Balochistan is deliberate and has to do with the Baloch having no representation in our civil or military establishment. The nationalism of the Baloch is equated with terrorism or treason. If one were to abandon euphemism, the Army and the FC consider the Baloch as the enemy and view them with suspicion of a hardened criminal or worse, a traitor. Yet, they consider themselves to be fit to resolve this dispute. They cannot; they are a party to this fight. Regarding Parliament, members, who found nothing remarkable about the bullet-riddled and mutilated bodies discovered on a daily basis, broke their peace only to condemn the UN Mission.
The panic should be on the reign of murder and terror in Balochistan and not on the fact that the world has noticed. We have forced the world to notice. One should not inflate expectations too much from the UN Mission’s visit partially because the Pakistan establishment would make sure — and it already is — that the Mission fails. However, if the trajectory does not change and change fast, this might not be the last mission from the international community sent to Balochistan, and the next one may not be as benign.
The UN Mission, if for nothing else, should serve to retire and discredit the term “missing persons”. The innocuous term seems to suggest that had someone been more careful, they would not have gone missing. “Abduction with intent to torture and murder” or “kidnapping” would have been preferable, although one would settle at the bureaucratically phrased, “enforced disappearances”. The missing persons are missing because the intelligence agencies and the armed forces have forcibly made them to disappear.
The patriotic Pakistani nationalists (i.e., Punjabis) unmoved on the martyrdom of Nawab Akbar Bugti still maintain their objectivity on the issue. Returning to fires, one may quote Dante Alighieri from “Inferno”, “the hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in times of great moral crises, maintain their neutrality”. Fires have to be put out not only for those unfortunate enough to be engulfed by them, but also because fires tend to burn the entire neighbourhood if not dealt with adequately and swiftly.
The present strategy in Balochistan seems to be increasing the use of force as the discontent rises, not pausing to reflect on the causal link. One logical outcome of this mindless strategy is that once the number of missing persons in Balochistan has crossed a certain threshold, one might have to contemplate the grim possibility of a “Missing Balochistan”. It is a cliché to mention Bangladesh, yet, it remains necessary. The Pakistan Army was so busy fighting and igniting the fire that it did not look back to see the exit door narrowing everyday and were only to turn back exhausted and defeated to confront a stone wall. Like Bangladesh, the military establishment believes that it can control the situation in Balochistan by varying the intensities of violence since they are the ones who have created this trouble. Sometime back someone beautifully quoted on Balochistan and the Pakistan State a verse of Sufi Tabassum, “Aisa na ho, yeh dard banay dard-e-ladawa, Aisa na ho kay tum bhi madawa na kar sako.” (‘Lest, this sore becomes incurable, that even you cannot heal it.’)
Published in The Express Tribune, September 16th, 2012.
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