September Issue 2006

By | Editorial | Opinion | Published 13 years ago

It is a cover-up of ludicrous proportions — and there are no two opinions on that. Assorted government spokespersons still continue to give their own version on Bugti’s death, and no two versions converge.

Reporters and ordinary people are having a field day picking holes in the stories. If Bugti’s body was, indeed, crushed under the rubble of the cave, how were his spectacles and watch retrieved without a single scratch? The DCO Quetta displayed a worm crawling in the spectacle case — as if to prove his point. Why was the casket carrying Bugti’s body padlocked? “Because we didn’t want to seal it with nails in case the family wanted to see his body,” said the DG, ISPR. So why wasn’t the body simply handed over to the family for burial? “Because there were divisions within the family on where to bury him — in Dera Bugti or Quetta,” said the Balochistan governor.

The official explanations bordered on the bizarre. The government was unabashedly unrepentant. Rather it appeared defiant and determined in its mission to “sort out” (read murder?) some more “miscreants” (as it brands them).

Frankly speaking, the army needs to sort itself out in order to grasp the consequences of what is possibly about to hit them. For the young Baloch are livid and raring to go. For all his flaws, the “martyred” Bugti is now serving as a rallying cry for all those nationalists who have been lamenting the backwardness of their province, the lack of infrastructure, health and educational facilities, the people’s lack of control over their own resources and, more recently, the army’s attempts to dig their jackboots in through the construction of cantonments and the Gwadar port project. They complain that outsiders are taking over their assets, their land and their jobs — all in the name of development — and they are in danger of being converted into a minority in their own province.

There was obviously a lot of mistrust between the province and the centre, and Bugti’s killing has exacerbated the tension. If the government thinks it can continue work on the Gwadar and other projects without the inclusion of the Baloch as equal partners, they are living in a fool’s paradise.

To borrow yet another phrase from the General’s lingo, “This is not 1971.” Crushing the rebellion (as opposed to quelling the riots) will not be an easy task, as the Baloch are not alone in their struggle. Moral support within the country aside, they are acquiring material support from outside sources, allegedly Afghanistan and India who, in a tit-for-tat response to Pakistan’s erstwhile manoeuvres in Kashmir and Kabul, are now fishing in Pakistan’s troubled waters. And then there’s also that story in a US defence journal that not only mentions America’s desire to redraw the borders of the Middle East but also speaks of an independent Balochistan.

So the battle lines are drawn. Will the army seize the moment, step back and move forward on the recommendations on Balochistan made by the high profile parliamentary committee in 2005, or will it pull the trigger on a political initiative and set the country on a disastrous course that could spell the beginning of the end of the federation of Pakistan.

Rehana Hakim is one of the core team of journalists that helped start Newsline. She has been the editor-in-chief since 1996.