COMMENT: Baloch nationalism —Shahid Saeed - Wednesday, November 24, 2010

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The solution to the question of Baloch nationalism requires extending an olive branch to the rebels, engaging the Baloch public, meeting their demands of reducing the omnipresence of the FC and not making decisions arbitrarily about their fate in Islamabad without consulting them

Every once in a while, journalists and columnists flown to Quetta and given a briefing in the fortified garrison try to tell us how to deal with Balochistan. More than often, these are establishment apologist narratives that forget the injustices committed towards the people of the most underdeveloped yet resource-rich province of the country, absolve the state of all crimes in Balochistan and carve monsters out of Baloch tribal sardars as they are blamed for all that was and is wrong in the province. Misguided narratives that are obsessed with the feudalism/sardari system and try to blame them for all ills are criminal as they altogether ignore and deliberately forget the historical treatment of the Baloch people, both economic and political.

The voice of the people of Balochistan has largely been muted by the media when it comes to addressing the various problems that afflict the province. The lack of availability of a forum that can address all issues is troubling since parliament has negligible say when it comes to the issue of military operations in Balochistan. Since 1947, waves of resistance in the province have been answered solely by using military might and alienating the people of the province.

A case that epitomises the tyranny of military governance and has become an often told tale of oppression is that of Hameed Baloch, a native of Kunchiti, Kech District, who was arrested on December 9, 1979 on charges of attempted murder of one Colonel Khulfah Nasir, a recruiting officer of the Royal Oman Army (they recruited from the Makranis in large numbers). Later on, it was alleged that although the shots missed, they had accidentally killed one Ghulam Rasool. Although the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) covered these crimes, Hameed was tried by a military court headed by a Lietenant Colonel Ikram Nabi. The prosecution alleged that he was a member of the left wing BSO (Baloch Students Organisation) and he had tried to murder the Omani Colonel in order to show his and BSO’s support for the Dhofari rebels that the Omani army was fighting in a civil war. The defence maintained that Hameed was in Turbat for prospective recruitment but never tried to kill Colonel Nasir. Seven government witnesses testified corroborating the prosecution’s case and then suddenly the name of the alleged victim in the charge sheet was changed from Ghulam Rasool to Abdur Razzaq. The defence rightly argued that this procedure was completely unacceptable and did not amount to a fair trial. The military tribunal rejected the plea for dismissal of charges and also rejected the defence plea to recall the seven witnesses who had earlier testified that Hameed had killed Ghulam Rasool. Somehow the defence produced the father of the allegedly dead Abdul Razzaq, who testified that his son was alive. Colonel Nabi changed the charge sheet again to state that the victim was Ghulam Rasool, not Abdul Razzaq. Arguing that the charge sheet was being changed time and again and since the identity of the deceased could not be established, the defence pleaded for the case to be dismissed. The military tribunal did not budge, proceeded with the sham trial, convicted Hameed Baloch of murder and sentenced him to death. In Abdul Hamid vs President Special Military Court 4 (Const Petition 304/1980), it was petitioned that since the defence had never permitted the charge sheet to be amended, Hameed had been convicted of murdering a person who was alive and that since half of the prosecution witnesses had testified that Hameed had murdered Ghulam Rasool and another half had testified that he had murdered Abdul Razzaq, procedural violations of this order necessitated quashing of the sentence.

Meanwhile, President’s Order No 21 of 1979 added Article 212-A to the Constitution barring the High Courts from granting any injunction or passing any order related to the jurisdiction or proceedings of a military tribunal. The military governor of the province, Lieutenant General Rahimuddin Khan, on October 24, 1979 said that punishments, including death sentences, handed out by military courts would be carried out. The next day, lawyers of the condemned prisoners appealed before the Balochistan High Court and a stay order issued by Chief Justice Mir Khuda Baksh Marri prohibited prison authorities from carrying out sentences until the issue had been resolved in the court. The jail officials, realising that any actions against the stay order would be illegal and in contempt of court, and executions would amount to pre-meditated murder, notified the martial law authorities that they would not carry out the executions. The Balochistan High Court was meanwhile dealing with matters of constitutional importance and the case lingered on, without any provision of justice to Hameed. PCO 1981 was introduced and things started to settle down in a military government. On June 11, 1981, Hameed Baloch was hanged in Mach Jail by the military authorities. A famous “last testament and will” written by him a day before his hanging has become a famous part of Baloch nationalist literature.

The use of force to quell secessionist movements and the blood of the departed unites the people and unity was what Hameed Baloch wrote about as well. Case in point being Nawab Akbar Bugti, who even though vilified by many a Baloch nationalist and seen as an oppressive tribal chief earlier, hunting him down in a cave, killing him and then burying him in a bolted coffin created a martyr out of him. The hundreds, if not thousands, of Baloch who are “missing” are testament to the way the state is dealing with the question of Baloch nationalism. On Eid, another six of these ‘missing persons’ were found executed. Baloch nationalism has moved on beyond the sardars now. Many of the chieftains are labelled as establishment stooges by rebels and people like Allah Nazar Baloch have emerged. Step-brotherly treatment continues with the people of Balochistan. Political problems require well thought out political solutions. A federal party like the PPP should not relinquish its role in seeking reconciliation with estranged Baloch leaders and extend a hand to all Baloch rebels too.

Baloch nationalists need to understand that an independent Balochistan is geo-politically impossible. A hostile Iran has maintained an iron grip over its Baloch population and in this international scenario, independence is an unimaginable dream. It is time that Baloch nationalists deal with issues rationally, come back to the negotiating table and settle all issues peacefully. The government needs to realise the historical mistakes and injustices and what is at stake here too. Military might and force have failed more than once in Balochistan and it is not going to work this time either.

The solution to the question of Baloch nationalism necessitates thinking outside the box of elite politicking and making one group/tribe fight against another. It requires extending an olive branch to the rebels, engaging the Baloch public, meeting their demands of reducing the omnipresence of the FC and not making decisions arbitrarily about their fate in Islamabad without consulting them. The disregard for the will of the people of Balochistan must end.

Tailpiece: The independent online Baloch newspaper, The Baloch Hal, has been banned by the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) much like other Baloch newspapers whose offices were earlier closed by the state. Muting any rational voice that sought reconciliation between nationalists and the state is senseless. While Baloch websites are constantly banned, the ones maintained by terrorist organisations are open for the people of Pakistan to see. Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) continues to spread anti-Shia literature online too.

The writer is interested in history and public policy. He can be reached at

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