By: Hashim bin Rashid
The ‘clink, clink’ reverberate
Who are these benevolent youth
The gold coins of their blood
Clink clink, clink clink –Faiz Ahmed Faiz
Salima Hashmi, Faiz sahib’s daughter, dug out this gem of a poem and dedicated it to the Baloch martyrs at the Faiz Aman Mela in Lahore last Sunday. The very next day, Monday, three bodies of Baloch missing persons, including former BSO-Azad Chairman Sangat Sana Baloch were found. The day after, Tuesday, Baloch-dominated areas in Balochistan observed a shutter down strike.
‘Chhan chhan, chhan chhan,’ Faiz’s words reverberated across the province.
The body of Sangat Sana was found only two weeks after the Domki murders, murders that had sent the entire Balochistan Assembly, generally the most complicit of the Baloch, up in a furore. Three Baloch ministers stood up to narrate a gruesome incident in which two Baloch youth were bound up and shot by FC troops on the Quetta-Turbat road.
The trouble was that the consequences of the murder of Brahamdagh Bugti’s sister were not fully contemplated by the most likely murderers, although they should have. The lesson of Balochistan always was: blood spilt is thicker than blood flowing. This was indeed why Nawab Akbar Bugti’s killing in an army operation bestowed the legacy of a martyr on him and spurred insurgency.
Balochistan has been under siege since 1947, with the current insurgency that started in 2005 being the fifth: the last four were brutally suppressed through similar military action. It is only this one which is spiralling out of control.
The almost abandon with which intelligence agencies operate in the Baloch province is matchless. Barely anyone is left in doubt as to who picked up whom for allegedly ‘anti-nationalistic’ sentiment and the message is delivered forcefully with every punctured, dumped body of a Baloch missing person.
While the same matters went unnoticed in the last four operations, what changed on the ground was that the Baloch intellectuals and leadership, fearing for their lives, began to take up outposts in exile and developed lobbies to relay the situation in Balochistan to international organisations. In Balochistan, the BLA, the BLF and the BRA continued to fight from the mountains while Baloch political parties and the various factions of the BSO continue to develop the space on the ground to unite the Baloch community and speak to the few in the Pakistani media that still want to hear a Baloch speak about Balochistan.
Coverage has been selective. When the BLA killed 15 FC troops in the army-operated Chamalang coal mines area in response the Domki killings, media splashed the event. But when a counter-military operation was launched in Chamalang, there was complete silence by the media on it.
The reason: journalists based in Balochistan were instructed not to – at the risk of their lives. 20 journalists had been killed in the last decade. However, Baloch resistance websites, forced to operate from outside Pakistan, and still banned in Pakistani cyberspace, began to carry gruesome accounts of unchecked brutalities. However, Pakistani airwaves and cyberspace remained clear of any such ‘anti-state’ accounts.
Baloch blood was being spilled with no one brave enough to speak of it. Amidst this re-launched operation, exiled Baloch leaders were able to play the card they had wished to play much earlier: the US Congress took up a debate on Balochistan and tabled a bill to acknowledge the Baloch ‘right to self-determination’. The same ‘right to self determination’ was, of course, something Pakistan itself had been campaigning foreign powers for in the similarly gruesome 64-year old Indian-occupation of Kashmir. The US is telling Pakistan: what about the suppression in Balochistan?
Balochistan is the thaw no one in Pakistan wishes to admit as much as discuss – or solve. The late politics over it by Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan has come to naught, so clear is Baloch nationalist sentiment. Imran Khan’s pseudo-rally in Quetta, announced for 23 March, seemed to be an attempt to engineer and announce a new Pakistan resolution from the Baloch capital amidst a flailing nationalist project. Nawaz Sharif’s All-Parties Conference on Balochistan fell apart because Baloch parties refused to join in, making the attempt look silly.
No Baloch takes the more than 270 ‘killed-and-dumped’ bodies as a joke. No Baloch believes the army high command when it says, “No military operations are being carried out in Balochistan and no security forces have been involved in human rights abuses.”
And this is the worst part: all political actors and intellectuals in Pakistan, including this writer, are speaking about the Baloch but not to the Baloch. Journalists from Balochistan are able to relay how the army views the mere act of putting up a Pakistani flag as a victory. To the Baloch, the rising flag means being conquered. And it is being conquered that the Baloch resist when they are whisked away and they return as tortured, bullet-ridden bodies.
The price of Baloch blood is not that Pakistan might split again – it is that we will fool ourselves again, as we do now, when the Foreign Office issues condemnations of the US Congress debate on Balochistan, on why we split. To condemn the military operation, to condemn the killing-and-dumping and to return the missing Baloch, that is what should have been the government’s response. In its absence, it will be sure to learn the price of Baloch blood the hard way.