The army and the Punjabi political parties have not learnt any lessons from the past, including the separation of East Pakistan, to find a constructive way to engage with the Baloch people. The army, and the civilian rulers, have taken the Baloch for granted. It could turn out to be Pakistan’s biggest and fatal flaw in the years ahead. The way elections are held in Balochistan and how people participate in the process will indicate the trajectory of Pakistan’s disintegration … writes Dr Sakariya Kareem
One of the biggest questions which no one is asking in Pakistan is how are the Baloch going to vote.
A large number of Baloch are on the streets, in Turbat, in Islamabad, wherever they can find a place to camp, seeking the return of their loved ones who have been taken away by the security forces on trumped-up charges. A young woman, Mahrang Baloch, has walked with hundreds of women, men and children to Islamabad where she is patiently waiting for the rulers to listen to their pleas for justice.
Many of the walking protesters are young and they are voters. As per the Election Commission of Pakistan, about 2.3 million voters in Balochistan are young, social media savvy and have been deeply influenced by Baloch dissent over the decades. They are acutely aware of the role of security forces in suppressing their community. Many of their friends and colleagues have suddenly `disappeared`. They know who took them and why. So if they vote, what will be their choice? Will they vote at all? An electoral boycott could be the biggest slap on the face of their tormentors.
But the Pak army and their proxies will not allow such a boycott. The elections have been managed and manipulated through powerful proxies over the decades. Since the last elections in 2018, the army’s key interlocutor has been the Balochistan Awami Party (BAP), one of whose founders is the interim Prime Minister of the country. Other top leaders of the party hold key positions in the federal government. Well-known commentator, Raza Rumi, called the party a “proxy of the country’s powerful security establishment” that wielded considerable power and influence in the political space.
The party claims to work for the people of Balochistan but the reaction, or lack of it, and remarks made by Interim Prime Minister Anwar Kakar against the Mahrang Baloch-led agitation, calling the Baloch protesters acting as proxies to Western influences, has left the people angry and confused. The army is using BAP to gather support for a `free` election.
But BAP alone cannot manage the heavily contested political space in Balochistan. It needs to be managed by fear and threat. The Baloch protesters have to be undermined by rival factions. One such faction is already sitting in protest alongside the people led by the young doctor, Mahrang Baloch. Mahrang has been threatened, accused of being a `foreign` agent and a case of sedition has been slapped on her. Young Baloch is being driven away in black, un-numbered SUVs to secret prisons. The people of Balochistan are being pummelled into submission.
This is not new to the Baloch. They have been facing `disappearances` and `kill and dump policy` orchestrated by the army in collusion with civilian governments since 1947. According to a 2016 report, the United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances put the total number of people missing in Balochistan to be over 14,000 people while the government figures were way below 100. Several of them were found killed, and dumped in anonymous graves in the province. Activists claim that more than 500 people have been killed by the security forces extrajudicially only last year. The government termed the killed persons as “suspected rebels“. The number of people who have disappeared and killed could easily cross over a lakh since 1947. The province has witnessed at least five rebellion movements since the formation of Pakistan, the latest wave rising in the early 2000s, with people demanding a larger share in the province’s resources and more political and economic autonomy.
The army and the Punjabi political parties have not learnt any lessons from the past, including the separation of East Pakistan, to find a constructive way to engage with the Baloch people. The army, and the civilian rulers, have taken the Baloch for granted. It could turn out to be Pakistan’s biggest and fatal flaw in the years ahead. The way elections are held in Balochistan and how people participate in the process will indicate the trajectory of Pakistan’s disintegration.
Last but not least, the selection of Anwar Kakar as the interim PM of Pakistan can be seen as the means to meet the desired objective of the Pak Establishment to control the Baloch populace for peaceful elections.