The six-point plan submitted by Sardar Akhtar Mengal to the Supreme Court is under discussion in the media. Immediately, the plan was described akin to Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s six-points, which had led to the bloody civil war and creation of Bangladesh. Some allege that this similarity has been drawn by the Baloch sardar himself. Though Sardar Mengal has given a tacitly veiled warning of “a soft or hard divorce”, he understands that the circumstances and environments are vastly different than those prevailing in 1970s. Sheikh Mujib through his six-points had demanded separate currency, independent tax collection and an independent status for the federating units of Pakistan. Sardar Mengal’s six-points appear down-to-earth and touch upon points of actions that relate to reality.

These six-points need an analysis on their face value and in the prevailing political environments existing in the province. Sardar Mengal’s points as reported in the media are:

(1) All overt and covert military operations against the Baloch should end;

(2)All missing persons should be produced;

(3) All proxy death squads created by the ISI and MI should be disbanded;

(4) Baloch political parties should be allowed free political play without interference from the ISI and MI;

(5) Those responsible for killings and disappearances should be brought to book;

(6) Thousands of Baloch displaced by conflict should be rehabilitated.

These points do not appear politically as lethal as those that were put forward by the Bengali leader. One should keep in mind that these points were submitted to the apex court, which is already conducting the proceedings of the missing persons’ case. Thus, the Baloch leader has rightly knocked on the doors of the highest authority that dispenses justice; he has not announced these in a political rally.

Against this backdrop, the establishment denies any military covert or overt operation is going on in the province. There is a deep mistrust that exists between the Baloch people and the government. There have been a series of military operations against the Balochis during the Ayub, Yahya, Butto, Zia and Musharraf periods; the Bugti’s sardar was killed during the military operations under Musharraf’s rule. Keeping this in view, no one can say with confidence that the objectives, which the government and the military wanted to achieve, have been achieved. In fact, we have created a deep gulf of mistrust as a result of sustained military operations. It should be kept in mind that political problems are best solved by political processes; there has to be an environment of mutual trust to initiate a political dialogue. Sardar Mengal’s assertion about overt and covert military operations is an outcome of this long experience. Since military operations usually do not get exposure in the media unless the establishment wants, the FC deployment gets exposed occasionally and this provides credence to Sardar Mengal’s observation. Now it is up to the civilian and military leaders to decide how they will approach this problem. To make political parleys meaningful, Baloch fears have to be alleviated!

The points at serial 2, 3 and 5 are interconnected. Disappearances in the province are almost routine happenings. The Supreme Court is already ceased with this problem and the hearings are in progress. Mengal has said the same thing that the judiciary has been saying for quite some time: those who have been taken away should be produced before the court and proceeded against under the law, if there is evidence against them. Indeed, illegal confinements do not solve problems; it aggravates them.

Our Interior Minister has declared that he will show the evidence to Sardar Mengal; so if there is some evidence, it should be produced in the court so that the judiciary can give its verdict. Also, the government may establish special courts as long as the proceedings are transparent, so that the Baloch know that they will get justice. And if it is proved that the missing people were held illegally, those who are responsible for it should be proceeded against. And since our security agencies disclaim these disappearances, they should help in identifying and locating the culprits engaged in the kidnapping of people. They have the resources and expertise for it. This will build mutual trust. Asking for the rehabilitation of displaced persons is a perfectly genuine demand. This does not concern ethnic Balochs only; the non-Baloch settlers, who have been living and working in Balochistan also fall in this category. All those who have been uprooted from their homes are Pakistanis and deserve due care and assistance for their rehabilitation.

In addition, there is no visible harm in asking for free political play for the Baloch parties. Their political designs and ambitions will become publically clear when they are allowed to project their objectives. Pakistan claims to be a parliamentary democracy; it should provide level political playing field to all its citizens. Unless the Baloch leaders openly and visibly display anti-national ambitions, they should be given the opportunities to advance politically and become part of the national political process. Pre-conceived assumptions and resultant actions breed discontent, mistrust and antagonism. Unfortunately, our past political experience shows that our intelligence agencies have been meddling with elections and political bargaining; it is not a secret anymore. When Sardar Mengal says that the ISI and MI should not interfere in Baloch politics, he is speaking this in the light of past experience. It is up to the national leadership to guide the Baloch parties and educate them that their future lies with Pakistan and also help them in evolving domestic policies, which are socio-economically beneficial for the masses. Side by side, they should be convinced that anti-national agendas will not be accepted or tolerated.

Political turmoil in Balochistan stems from its social environments. Baloch tribal society is divided into elite and commoner factions; tribal sardars are the elite and their subjects are commoners. The commoners lead a primitive pastoral life, even in this modern age. They have no access to schools, healthcare and other social amenities. The sardars enjoy every facility and use their people for political leverage and benefits; these benefits do get down to a common man in their tribes. The resultant discontentment and unrest is then exploited by the sardars to obtain more favours. Successive governments have been reluctant and unwilling to approach the masses directly and have dealt with the problems through the sardars. However, the solution lies in approaching the common man and solving his social and economic problems directly. The gas royalties being paid to the sardars should be directly spent for the establishment of schools, hospitals, vocational facilities and economic uplift. Our establishment played the game through the experience of British colonials. In national environments, the approach should have changed, but we failed to do that!

Equating Sardar Mengal’s six-points to Sheikh Mujib’s agenda is unfair; those who do that are serving the vested interest with preconceived ideas and objectives. The Baloch problem has acquired dimensions that need unconventional handling and a direct approach to the people. It requires socio-economic activity in the region that promises to take the masses out of their primitive pastoral existence and integrate them with the other developed regions of Pakistan. It will take time, but a beginning has to be initiated and with haste. If that does not happen, the sardars will initiate the process of a “divorce” and there are many who will come to their help. Our East Pakistan experience should have taught us that political maturity.

The writer is a retired brigadier. Email: arjerral639@hotmail.com