There was an apparition in court on Thursday.
In a gripping hearing on the law and order situation in Balochistan, disgruntled Baloch leader and former chief minister of the province Sardar Akhtar Mengal made his first appearance in the Supreme Court – a fiery one that left the entire courtroom rapt.
Representing the first semblance of representation of the aggrieved party, Balochistan, a flood of heartache and anger was unleashed as an undeterred Mengal let loose a barrage of startling accusations before a three-member-bench, headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry.
But, for perhaps the first time since the matter has been in court, there was more than just rhetoric. Mengal presented before the court six recommendations – recommendations that he termed the bare minimum preconditions for the beginning of talks between disgruntled Baloch militants and leaders and the government.
Mengal has stayed out of the country after remaining in jail for an extended period – and is one of the few, if not only, leaders that enjoys cordial relations with Baloch guerillas and their leadership.
He said that mere pardons and packages would not solve the Balochistan crisis.
“Before initiating a meaningful process of conflict resolution it is imperative that the Government of Pakistan should take and practically implement some measures which are must to build a conducive atmosphere for the Baloch reconciliation process,” the Baloch leader said before reading out the following recommendations:
1. All covert and overt military operations against the Baloch should immediately be suspended.
2. All missing persons should be procured before a court of law.
3. All proxy death squads operating under the supervision of Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) and Military Intelligence (MI) should be disbanded.
4. Baloch political parties should be allowed to function and resume their political activities without any interference from intelligence agencies.
5. Persons responsible for inhuman torture, killing and dumping of dead bodies of the Baloch political leaders and activists should be brought to justice.
6. Measures should be taken for the rehabilitation of thousands of displaced Baloch living in appalling condition.
In case these preconditions were not met, the worst was already around the corner.
Mengal’s appearance comes on the request of the court to the Baloch leader to lend a helping hand to judges in a case that, though of great consequence, has gone in circles – due chiefly to uncooperative officials.
Mengal said Balochistan had undergone five military operations, with no justification to the people of the province. Censuring the Pakistan Army’s strategy in the province, the Baloch leader argued that the role of the intelligence agencies in the province today was similar to its role in 1971 when Pakistan disintegrated into two parts.
Mengal decried the “death squads” being run by the intelligence agencies, saying attempts were being made to eliminate the genuine leadership of the Baloch people, replacing them with “artificial leadership”. He went on to add that the members of death squads were residing in official guesthouses and travelled in ministries’ vehicles.
“Chief Justice sahib, it is said that hopelessness is a sin but now for us to pin any hopes on our institutions is an unforgiveable sin,” Mengal said, adding that during military rule every attempt was made to suppress the political voice of the Baloch people.
The nationalist leader praised the top court of the country, saying it was the first time in the history of the country that the Baloch people had found a ray of hope. “It is for the first time in history that I am appearing before the court not as an accused,” said the former minister.
The former chief minister told the court that the root cause to the problems in the province began in 1976 when his younger brother, Assadullah Khan Mengal, was abducted, tortured and dumped in an unknown location. Mengal said that a resolution to the issue of missing persons was a precondition for any dialogue process to succeed in province.
He also proposed a bitter option before the establishment and government if the precondition could not be met: “divorce peacefully, rather than a bloody divorce.”
He criticised the government for its limitations, military operations and recovery of mutilated bodies in the province, adding that no provincial minister had ever visited the rural areas in Balochistan, being confined to the CM House, Governor House or Zarghoon Road.
The former chief minister said that those responsible for Nawab Akbar Bugti’s murder should be punished, adding that the heirs of the late assassinated leader were not even allowed to attend his funeral.
After 40 minutes, the former chief minister, it seemed, had succeeded in getting his points across to the judges, who, without naming the army chief, warned that, if the courts orders were not complied with, an injunctive order would ultimately be passed against the responsible person.
The chief justice further told the Balochistan chief secretary to discuss the issue with the president, Director General (DG) of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and DG Military Intelligence (MI) and to inform the court in writing as to what steps are being taken to resolve the issue by today (Friday).
“We will not hear this case at the low level. We are not political people but we are bound to adhere to Article 9 of the Constitution,” the chief justice remarked while appreciating Mengal for appearing before the court.
In his closing remarks, the chief justice said that the ISI and MI “death squads” should be abolished while subsequently adjourning the next hearing of the case until Sept 28.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 28th, 2012.
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