Mengal’s six-point agenda
By: Najam Sethi
Sardar Akhtar Mengal has returned to Pakistan after three years of self-imposed exile in London to depose on the state of Balochistan before the Supreme Court. He has submitted a six-point plan in order to create an environment of truth and reconciliation for resolving the conflict in the province. His six-points, he says pointedly, are akin to the six-points presented in 1966 by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the leader of the Bengali nationalist movement who later became the founder of the new state of Bangladesh. A comparison of the two plans is instructive.
Sardar Mengal’s six points 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 nationalist parties should be allowed free political play without interference from ISI and MI; (5) Those responsible for the killings and disappearances should be brought to book; (6) Thousands of Baloch displaced by the conflict should be rehabilitated.
Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s six points were: (1) Pakistan should be a federation with four independent states; (2) The federal government should have only defense and foreign affairs; (3) There should be two separate currencies; (4) The federating states should collect all taxes; (5) Export earnings of each province should be separately accounted for; (6) East Pakistan should have its own paramilitary or militia force.
A comparison of the two plans reveals some interesting similarities of context and differences of substance: (1) Sheikh Mujib’s plan all but demanded independence from Pakistan. But for Akhtar Mengal, “a soft or hard divorce” is still dependent on the outcome of the dialogue and reconciliation process. (2) Sheikh Mujib’s plan, like Akhtar Mengal’s, was articulated in a period of ferment and discontent before an impending election. In the event, the Awami League’s sweeping victory in the 1970 elections provided him a perfect platform to implement his plan. Akhtar Mengal’s plan is still open-ended in the sense that it seeks to create the conditions in which a dialogue for reconciliation can take place. But there is no doubt that if the demands of the nationalists are accepted for a level playing field in the next elections, they are sure to form the next government in Balochistan. Whether they will subsequently reconcile or insist on divorce depends on many factors, not least the attitude of the armed state and non-state actors on both sides. (3) In both cases, the military establishment was accused of being responsible for the injustices to the province. Gen Ayub Khan’s “one unit” West Pakistan formula centralised all power in Islamabad no less than Gen Musharraf’s Chief Executive-ship.
It is significant that the government and military establishment have jointly and swiftly responded to Akhtar Mengal’s charge sheet by denying any culpability. There are no death squads, no covert or overt military operations, no missing persons in the custody of the military in Balochistan, they insist. Indeed, the government claims that maximum provincial autonomy has already been devolved to the provinces by the 18th Amendment and revised 7th NFC award and Aghaz-e-Haqooq package for Balochistan.
If the attitude and response of the military establishment is distressing, Akhtar Mengal’s silence on the targeting of Punjabis in the province is disappointing. Clearly, the political leaders of the PPP and the Baloch nationalist movement are veritable prisoners in the hands of their respective armies.
Akhtar Mengal’s unexpected arrival in Islamabad has led to speculation that some headway on reconciliation before the elections may have been made behind the scenes. One proposal is to guarantee a sympathetic caretaker government in Balochistan with the approval of the nationalists, give them a level playing field, and provide assurances that if they win a majority they can have Akhtar Mengal as chief minister.
But there are three problems with this “solution”. First, there is no assurance that military action by both sides will end forthwith. Indeed, the Pak military may require a formal renouncement of armed struggle for secession as a pre-condition to withdrawing from the province. Second, the leaders of the armed resistance in exile, and not Akhtar Mengal, hold all the cards. The fact that they belong to the powerful Marri and Bugti tribes and have spurned political overtures in the past is a big complication. Third, there are no guarantees of how the military establishment and nationalists will act in the post-election period. If, as in the aftermath of the 1970s elections and formation of a National Awami Party (NAP) government in Quetta in 1972, Islamabad thinks that the nationalists are using the political platform to promote their separatist agenda, then there will be more rather than less upheaval and recrimination.
The “problem” of Balochistan is symptomatic of the problem of Pakistan. The ideology of a national security state in which the military calls the shots has alienated people and provinces at home and provoked countries in the region to fish in our troubled waters. Unfortunately, the civilians – judges, media, government and opposition – are still squabbling among themselves and the military is still in a state of denial of hard new realities.
Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar has articulated a controversial twist to the debate on the use of drones in Fata. She recently said that Pakistan does not disapprove the use of drones to kill terrorists in Fata – it only wants them to operate in a legal context. This is a reiteration of an old Pakistani demand. The issue for Pakistan is one of ownership of the drone program, rather than the nature of casualties inflicted by drones.
This is interesting because it comes in the middle of a debate in America that is focused on three points: the international legality of the drone program, the extent of civilian versus terrorist casualties and the psychological trauma of the population being targeted.
The Americans have formulated a doctrine to offset the issue of legality. They argue that a fax is sent to the Pakistani military establishment routinely outlining planned drone strikes in Fata, and an acknowledgement of the fax is implicit permission by Pakistan. The problem is that the Pakistanis have lately not been acknowledging the faxes and openly saying that the drones violate their sovereignty.
The second issue of casualties has now become equally controversial. Until recently, American military, media and academics were united in claiming that the ratio of civilian to terrorist targets was lower in the case of drone attacks than in any other form of warfare. They also insisted that the drone strikes were very useful in degrading terrorist networks. But both contentions have now been challenged in a new report from Stanford University and New York University. Apparently, a change of attack tactics under the Obama regime has led to greater killings of both foot soldiers and civilians than in the past, without significantly degrading the military capability of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda.
The third issue touches on the trauma of a population that is constantly in dread of silent drone strikes. Since the guerillas live in a sea of civilians, whole populations are terrorised by the possibility of a drone strike at any time. So even if the civilians hate the militants who have brought death and destruction in their wake, they hate the drones more because they are silent merciless killers of civilians and militants alike.
Ms Khar doesn’t have any problems defending the use of Pakistani F-16s against terrorist targets in the tribal areas, regardless of the extent and nature of civilian casualties. If she could own and use the drones too, she wouldn’t much care for the mass trauma of local populations from this fearful weapon of war.