Tuesday, June 4, 2013

A conversation between a girl and a soldier in a Balochistan village

“I ran out of my house when I heard children and women crying. I saw four military trucks approaching,” recalled 22-year old Bibi Gul. Then a jeep stopped at the front gate and soldiers laid siege to the house of Mohammed Hussain, a schoolteacher and Bibi Gul’s father. “It was around 11am.”

Bibi Gul had been expecting them since early morning when FC personnel besieged their village on May 24 for a door-to-door search operation. Her house stood at the other edge of Gomazi, a small village, some 70 kilometers from Turbat city. It took soldiers four hours to reach this last abode after they searched rest of the houses in the village. Bibi Gul had seen smoke billowing out from several houses since the morning.

“Where is (The) Master,” one of the soldiers asked Bibi Gul with an authoritative voice, referring to her father by his nickname. Bibi Gul had now been joined by her two sisters and mother. “He has gone outside for some work,” Gul replied, before his sisters or mother could say anything. She was the only one among them who could speak Urdu fluently.  “Where?,” the authoritative voice asked with even more authority. “I don’t know,” she replied, trying to look as truthful as she could.

“I know where he is. He is there in the mountains planning to kill our brothers,” the soldier said. (To be in the mountains is a euphemism in Balochistan for joining Baloch separatist militants.)

“He is just a teacher. Didn’t you just call him (The) Master?” the belligerent girl responded.  “Search the house,” the soldier hastily ordered, seeming unwilling to indulge into a debate with her.

Bibi Gul, her sisters and mother stood still as the soldiers searched every nook and corner of the house. And then they came out, albeit with some of their suspect belongings.

“I have never seen such fury on a man’s face. Their eyes were filled with rage and disgust. It sent shivers  through my body,” recounted Bibi Gul.

“Why do you people do this? Why do you plant bombs on our way? What is your problem with Pakistan?,” the soldier shouted with a choked voice, pointing a book they had retrieved from the house. The title of the book was ‘Jangi Hikmat Amali’ (War Strategies). It was among several other suspicious items they had discovered in the house, including a television, a radio, another book on Dr Che Guevara’s life and the latest edition of the monthly magazine of the Baloch National Movement, a political party which Bibi Gul’s father once led in Gomazi.

“What do you want from Pakistan? Why don’t you tell us your demands?” said the soldier, so overwhelmed by emotion that he almost seemed to be crying.

“We don’t have any demands. Just leave us alone,” the girl replied with a straight face, holding her breath for fear of retribution. However, luckily, the soldier managed to defuse his anger by shouting some “dirty words” into the air.

“Who reads these books?” he asked, after calming himself down. Bibi Gul, not wanting to provoke the soldiers any further, ignored the question. “Your father?” he guessed.

“We all do. Is reading books a crime too?” Bibi Gul quipped. She knew she shouldn’t have said that. She should have controlled her emotions. “Burn the house,” the soldier shouted at his comrades.

“You know what surprised me? They didn’t use a matchstick or a lighter to set the house on fire. They just poured some yellow liquid from a bottle and the fire started on its own,” she wondered.

As they – Bibi Gul, her sisters, mother and the soldiers -- watched flames leaping from the house, the authoritative voice spoke again, this time addressing Bibi Gul’s mother. “If Master doesn’t stop, next time we will set this daughter of yours on fire instead of your house,” he warned, pointing towards Bibi Gul. They left after ensuring that the house had been reduced into ashes.

Gomazi was the first, not the last, village searched in this way in a massive operation initiated by the FC personnel immediately after the elections. The soldiers, after leaving Bibi Gul alone, marched on towards Turbat city, searching other villages that fell in their way.

An outsider's view of Nepal

A tall and heavily-built European tourist, standing at an altitude of 2175 masl on the verdant hilltop of Nagarkot, closes his eyes and takes in a deep breath, as if he had finally achieved nirvana. “You have everything, yet you say you’re unhappy,” he tells my young Nepali guide, Ram, as he reopens his eyes.
Saru, accompanied by her younger sister Sharmila, talks to the author.
Many awestruck foreign tourists, mesmerized by Nepal’s scenic beauty and quaint temples, fail to understand the growing discontent among locals who often scramble to avail of an opportunity to get out of their homeland in search for better jobs. Around an average of 1,500 youths leave Nepal every day in the pursuit of a better life abroad.

Ram labours day and night to strengthen his bank statement to be able to get a visa to Japan. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t love his country. He is annoyingly nationalistic. During my 10-day tour to the South Asian country, he would ask me almost every five minutes to admit that I loved Nepal. “Nepal acha hai na bhayya ji? (You love Nepal, brother, don’t you?). I never responded.

Nepal is one of the poorest countries in the world with 31 percentage of its total population living below national poverty line. It does not help that this Himalayan land is one of the most tempting destinations for tourists throughout the world mainly because of its eight out of world’s 10 tallest peaks, thousands of years old Buddhist temples and rivers feeding on water from Himalaya’s melting glaciers.

Around 800,000 tourists visited the country last year and tourism consultants believe the tourism industry alone has the potential to lift the country out of poverty. “Around 22 million tourists visited Thailand last year and only 0.8 million came to Nepal because we lack the basic infrastructure and facilities. If we manage to attract as many tourists as Thailand does, we will no longer be as poor,” said Bijay, who runs a tourism firm in Kathmandu.

Although Nepal’s centuries-old monarchy was replaced by a shaky democracy in 2008 following a decade-long civil war by Maoists that claimed around 15,000 lives, political parties have so far failed to draft a constitution for the country, let alone alleviating poverty. “We have gathered here on Democracy Day to remind the politicians that nothing has really changed,” said Bidushi Dhungel, who was leading a demonstration of youngsters at Martyr’s Gate, a monument built in the memory of the martyrs of democracy, in Kathmandu. She and other youngsters had been campaigning for the last 50 days against rapes and robberies.

“I wish he had performed better. He didn’t live up to our hopes,” says Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s younger sister, Tara Devi Bhandari. She runs a small restaurant along with her husband, Manahari Bhandari, at their modest house in Khaski while their teenage children work at their fields. “We earn not more than 10,000 rupees per month, both from the fields and the restaurant. Still Maoists want their share (chanda) from it,” claimed Manahari. When asked why they didn’t seek Dahal’s help, the couple said he was practically out of their reach. “Isn’t it ironic? If he doesn’t have time for his family, how the hell is he going to be of any assistance to others?” interrupted a friend, who was accompanying me on the trip.

Better known to rest of the world as Prachanda, Dahal’s Maoist slogans were a ray of hope for many until he became prime minister in 2008. “His term in office proved he isn’t much different from others,” said Manahari.

Saru, Manahari’s 15-year-old daughter, has never seen her uncle in her entire life. He was in the jungle leading a Maoist insurgency when she was a child and now he seems too busy in the affairs of the state to remember his niece. “I’ve only seen him on TV,” she smiles. She shook her head when asked what she knew of Maoists. “Wait,” she said a few seconds later, as if she had realized she knew something of them. “Aren’t they the people who live on others’ income,” she said in a triumphant tone, as if she had just resolved the mystery behind the universe’s creation.

Economic problems are not the only cause of discontent among Nepalis. A country of diverse ethnicities and religions where more than 125 languages are spoken, a number of ethnic communities complain of discrimination based on race, ethnicity, religion and caste. While the national incidence of poverty is 31 percent, hill Janajatis have 43 percent incidence of poverty and low-caste Dalits 46 percent. “The basic problem of Nepal is the 3-Bs – Bad Brahmin Boys. The three ruling parties are being led by three Brahmins and they don’t treat the indigenous people as equal citizens,” said Dr Krishina Bhuttachan, a professor of anthropology at the Tribhvan University in Kathmandu.

He is an ideologue for the Nepal Federation of Indigenous Nationalities, a group fighting for a federal Nepal where all ethnic groups enjoy total autonomy. “Look at this young man,” he pointed to a youngster with Mongloid features sitting next to him. “He can never make a hero in Nepali films because of his narrow eyes and flat nose. He’ll be a good villain though,” he laughed. “Do you know why? Because even the concept of beauty has been defined by the ruling elite.”

He blames Indian support for the continuing hegemony of Brahmins over indigenous Nepali people. “Brahmins comprise 12 percent of the whole population, but they rule the country because they’re being supported by India,” he added.

Landlocked Nepal is highly dependent on neighbouring India, for import and export of goods through sea, making it vulnerable to Indian dictation on key issues. The country’s trade with India accounts for two-thirds of its total trade volume. To maintain this dependence, India has blocked a transit treaty between Nepal and Bangladesh since 1976, which would allow Nepal to use Mongla port for trade, a move that would lessen Nepal’s dependence on India. However, India has rejected Nepal’s requests to allow it to use a patch of Indian territory as a transit route to Bangladesh.

However, despite the country’s political, economic and social problems, Nepali people take pride in the fact that they are relatively more secular, liberal and tolerant than most other South Asian nations, like India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Followers of different religions have learnt to co-exist in harmony and Nepali women aren’t burnt alive for mingling with men. Even in the most rural areas, young women brandish Western clothes and work alongside men. Minority Muslims or Buddhist monks aren’t a source of resentment for the majority Hindus, and vice versa.“That’s where hope comes from. If I can transform from an underworld street fighter into an entrepreneur, why can’t Nepal?” asked a former mafia man, Ram Chandra Khadka, who now owns his own guesthouse and restaurant in Pokhara, the country’s third largest city and the most attractive tourist location.

On February 19, the day I was supposed to fly out of Nepal, Prachanda’s Communist Party of Nepal (Maoists) was observing a countrywide strike, locally known as bandh, to protest the formation of an interim government led by the Supreme Court’s chief justice ahead of general elections. No taxis were plying on the road to take me to the airport, as the protesters had vandalized two tourist vehicles and an ambulance van early in the morning for violating their call. As usual, Ram came to my rescue. He took me to the airport on his motorbike. After thanking him and bidding him farewell when I turned to enter the departure lounge, he called out: “Nepal acha hai na, bhayya ji?” Irritated at the frequency of this question, I could only manage to force a fake smile. Now I’m planning to give him an answer during my next trip, before he leaves for Japan.

Mengal stands alone

Akhtar Mengal finds himself caught between the devil and the deep blue sea after his return to Pakistan to contest the coming elections. Both the military and the Baloch separatists – the two key stakeholders in the current conflict in the province – seem out to prevent the former chief minister and son of veteran nationalist leader Ataullah Mengal from participating in the electoral process.

Baloch militant groups have threatened all parties in Balochistan against participating in the elections as they see that such a move could jeopardise their cause for an “independent state.” They have attacked Election Commission officials as well as gatherings of political parties, including the National Party, PPP, PML-N and BNP-A, to discourage election campaigns. These militant groups believe that Mengal’s participation – more than anyone else’s – will cause more harm to their cause because of his reputation as a respected nationalist in and outside Balochistan.

As Mengal still enjoys some support among the cadres of radical nationalist groups, the militants have yet to openly target BNP-M’s men. However, tensions are escalating between the BNP-M and separatist groups, which may lead to an open confrontation soon. In an interview with an English-language daily last month, the Balochistan Liberation Front’s commander acknowledged that the Baloch have a soft spot for Akhtar Mengal, but he accused him of playing into the hands of the military.

On the other hand, the military too considers Mengal a threat to its counterinsurgency strategy and does not relish the prospect of seeing him as the next chief minister. Unlike Aslam Raisani and Jam Yousuf, as chief minister, Mengal would face severe pressure from his party cadre to take concrete steps to stop the alleged ‘kill-and-dump’ operations in Balochistan.

Many expect Shafiq Mengal, a shadowy figure accused by his opponents of running a “death squad” against Baloch nationalists, will be Akhtar Mengal’s first target if the latter comes to power. In Mengal’s absence for the past few years, his tribal and political rival Shafiq not only encroached upon Mengal’s strongholds of Khuzdar and Wadh – with the military’s support – but Shafiq’s Mussalah Difai Tanzeem also claimed responsibility for killing several BNP-M workers in the past. Akhtar Mengal has reportedly claimed in private gatherings that he is still not personally convinced about participating in the elections when ‘his people’ are being abducted and killed by security forces, but he is contesting only to contain Shafiq Mengal.

Meanwhile, Shafiq’s brother, Attaur Rahman Mengal, is pitted against Akhtar Mengal on a provincial assembly seat from Khuzdar in the coming elections. Therefore, if elected, Akhtar Mengal will go for a direct confrontation with Shafiq to regain control over his strongholds. In such a situation, however, analysts fear that the security establishment may not play the role of silent onlooker: as things stand, the nationalists accuse the establishment of having allied with Shafiq in the fight against the separatists. (Incidentally, one of the men arrested for trying to attack a recent BNP-M rally was a close aide of Shafiq.)

To compound these pressures, Akhtar Mengal also proved short of options in forming an electoral alliance with other forces. National Party leaders, especially Senator Malik Baloch, played a key role in persuading Akhtar to return and participate in the elections. The National Party believed that without BNP-M’s participation it could not stand alone against the militants. However, after Akhtar’s return, the National Party has formed an alliance with the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam instead of the BNP-M. Thus Mengal has been left with no choice but to form an alliance with his father’s old friend Mahmood Khan Achakzai’s Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party.

The PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif, who holds Akhtar Mengal in high esteem, may support him in his bid for the chief minister’s slot. However, one of the OML-N’s top leaders in Balochistan, Sanaullah Zehri, remains Mengal’s fiercest tribal and political rival. Zehri, who is unlikely to serve under the BNP-M chief, demonstrated his willingness to sabotage any alliance between the PML-N and BNP-M by naming Mengal and his father in the FIR he registered against the attack on his convoy last month. The BLA had claimed responsibility of the attack. Therefore, PML-N-Mengal agreement is unlikely, given that Nawaz would have to ditch one of his party’s influential leaders in Balochistan to do so. Meanwhile, the rift between Mengal and Zehri has widened as a consequence of the latter’s decision to support Attaur Rehman Mengal.

So while Akhtar Mengal remains the only surviving leader of his stature in Balochistan, ironically, he stands virtually alone.

This article was originally published in The News on May 9, 2013.

From Quetta to Turbat

I was all packed and ready when PIA suddenly decided to cancel its flight from Quetta to Turbat, which I was supposed to take to attend a family wedding the very next day. I panicked and called my uncle in Turbat to inform him that I couldn’t make it. But he was persistent and insisted that I had to come. So I decided to take a bus for Turbat the same evening.

As the bus left the station, I realised that I was wearing black clothes and that my surname was Hussain – enough reason to get killed on my journey to simply see two cousins tie the knot. Details of massacres of bus passengers who had taken similar bus journeys were quite vivid in my mind.

According to reports, passengers had been offloaded from the buses, their identity cards checked, and those with names that sounded ‘Shia’ – lined up and executed by a firing squad on the very road I was travelling on.

During September 2011, 26 Shias with names resembling mine were murdered in Mastung – 30 kilometres from Quetta. Mastung is the stronghold of the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ); this is probably the most dangerous 30 kilometres for Shias and Sunnis with ‘Shia’ names.

I quickly scanned the other passengers to assess the number of potential Shias aboard because the more Shias a bus carried the more likely it would be targeted. I could spot just one person whose Mongoloid features made him a suitable Hazara suspect. He was restless, constantly looking out the front and side windows. Poor man, I thought.

I could at least argue with the LeJ guys, if given a chance, that since I was a Baloch, and the majority of Baloch are Sunnis, I should not be simply murdered for my parents’ short-sightedness for not foreseeing that 30 years later this name could get their child killed. But what argument could this man, with ‘Shia’ written all over his face, have at his disposal to change the mind of his assassins?

However both of us, me and the Hazara suspect, eventually passed those longest of 30 kilometres without our identity cards being checked. Hours later, I got off the bus at zero-point near Vinder to catch another bus for Turbat. But this journey was going to be as anxious for me as the one before it. And it didn’t help that my overzealous journalistic memory came into action and the details of Declan Walsh’s report for The Guardian, titled ‘Pakistan’s dirty secret war’ surfaced in my mind. Walsh had mentioned how the Baloch youth are routinely offloaded from buses on this particular route and their mutilated bodies found dumped somewhere days later.

I was once again counting my chances of getting killed on this lap of the journey – a Baloch, a journalist, nephew of a Baloch nationalist leader murdered much in the same fashion described by Walsh. All these identities had the potential to get me killed.

I recalled quoting a human rights group’s report in one of my articles that said 230 Baloch had been killed and dumped since June 2010 and how Balochistan was the most dangerous region for journalists. I had personally known three who were killed in recent months. Then I remembered a cousin my age being whisked away, tortured, killed and dumped just for being the nephew of a Baloch nationalist leader.

But Lady Luck was on my side that day, and I made it to Turbat safe and sound. I didn’t question my parents on choosing a Shia-sounding name for me. I realised that whatever your identity is, there could be something in your name, your identity card, your past or simply on your face that could get you killed in Balochistan.

This article was originally published in The News on January 13, 2013.

Balochistan's flood victims await relief

QUETTA: In what appears to be a tug of war of interests between the provincial government and non-government organisations (NGOs) over the collection and distribution of relief supplies, around 0.1 million victims of the recent floods in Balochistan are still awaiting assistance ten days after disaster struck.

On September 9, the floods that hit the region washed away 90 percent of the areas in the Naseerabad and Jafferabad districts of Balochistan.Despite the scale of the disaster, the provincial government has restricted NGOs from intervening in the emergency flood response, but has provided only Rs2, 000,000 and 200 tents to the district administration of Naseerabad to help the desperate flood victims. “I don’t understand why they are not allowing the NGOs. I mean the number of those affected is huge and it’s beyond the government’s capacity to cope with it. What will I do with Rs2 million and 200 tents? Just look at the number of victims,” said Ayaz Mandokhel, the top district official in Naseerabad.

Sitting in Mandokhel’s office was an NGO official with a request letter to the deputy commissioner to grant his organisation permission to provide relief supplies to the victims. “This request letter is from the Poverty Alleviation Organisation, Balochistan. What justification have I got not to give them permission? They just want to help the people, after all. But I can’t because I have to follow the PDMA’s orders,” said Mandokhel, showing me the NGO’s request letter.

Many suspect that the provincial government’s insistence on executing the relief work is an attempt to get hold of the funds and supplies to be provided by the international and national aid agencies. “They want the funds for their own”, said another district official on condition of anonymity. “The government doesn’t even have the resources to distribute the supplies to so many flood victims.” Sheltering under their charpoys to escape the scorching heat, the flood victims have been taking refuge on the banks of the Rabi and Pat Feeder canals, which overflowed on September 9 submerging the populated and agricultural parts of the district. According to Assistant Commissioner Naseerabad Abdul Jabbar, some 100 people have died, most of them swept away by the floodwaters.

The victims approach every new face that reaches their makeshift camp with the hope that someone has finally come to their rescue. “What will you give us, “a man with a twirling moustache desperately asked me as I approached him to inquire about their situation.

In a province riven with massive corruption, sectarian violence, a separatist insurgency, enforced disappearances, discoveries of mutilated bodies, Talibanisation and kidnappings for ransom, the inability to mobilise an effective response to the floods epitomises the failure of the provincial government. Displaced by the nationalist insurgency from Dera Bugti in 2005, thousands of Bugtis had taken refuge on the outskirts of Naseerabad, near the Rabi and Pat Feeder canals. Since then, they get dislocated every year after the floods. “I don’t know where this trail of misery is going to lead. I’m uncertain of our final destination,” said Shamsher Bugti, who talked to this scribe from under his charpoy.

Despite the top district official’s claim that 90 percent of the area has been washed away by floods, the Provincial Disaster Management Authority took 11 days to declare an emergency in Naseerabad on the ground that they had not received the assessment report from the district government. “I just assumed charge of office. I’ll get the assessment report prepared as soon as possible,” was Mandokhel’s response.

There is a general perception in the area that the poor and NGOs pray for floods to come every year. The poor will get enough to eat after the floods, thanks to NGOs that spend no more than half of the relief funds provided by international aid agencies.

Both, the NGOs and the poor flood affectees, seem disappointed this year. “After last year’s flood, we had to force them (the flood victims) out of the camps. They had refused to go back to their homes months after the floodwater had receded because they were getting ration at the camp,” said Jabbar, Assistant Commissioner Naseerabad.

However, NGOs, while admitting corruption within their own ranks, claim they do provide some relief, because they say they are accountable to their donors. “We were the first to contact the district administration to get an NOC (No-Objection Certificate). We have told them we have enough supplies in stock to help at least 5,000 victims. We just want to use our own stocks to help. What’s wrong with that?” said Sharaf-ud-Din Zehri, head of a local NGO.

This article was originally published in The News on September 21, 2012.

The Godfather among us

In June 2009, members of MNA Yaqoob Bizenjo’s family received a gift parcel at their residence in Karachi’s upmarket Defence area from someone in Turbat. As they opened the parcel, it exploded. The MNA’s five-year-old daughter, brother and mother were injured. Hours later, reporters in Balochistan were contacted by the Balochistan Liberation Front’s (BLF) spokesman to claim responsibility, saying they deliberately did not make the bomb deadly because they merely wanted to warn the MNA and his father against “sabotaging the nationalist movement”.

As no one had died in the attack, it failed to attract much media attention. And the MNA’s father managed to remain anonymous. It was not until March 6 – when the police accused the MNA’s father of killing his close friend, Deputy Commissioner Gwadar Abdul Rahman Dashti, at his Defence residence – that the people of Karachi realised that a man more internationally notorious than the fictitious Godfather was quietly living in their midst. He is Imam Bheel, one of the world’s top drug kingpins, according to the Obama administration.

Dashti might be the man’s first hit in Karachi, but Bheel is a household name in the Makran region mainly because of the number of people he has allegedly killed or hired to run his underworld drug network. He is considered more influential than any political party and mightier than any intelligence agency. In 2009, US President Barack Obama identified him as one of the four ‘significant narcotics traffickers’ in the world. The man is perhaps one of the top beneficiaries of Balochistan’s strategic location, as he controls the 700 km coastline that plays a pivotal part in the drug trade from Afghanistan and other Central Asian countries to the Gulf and Europe via Iran and Turkey.

Balochistan is a transit point in the international drug trade route. Narcotics are brought from Helmand, a Baloch-dominated province in Afghanistan, to Balochistan from where they are transported to Iran, Turkey and Europe.

Makran’s ports are also the main points used to ship drugs to the Gulf countries, East Africa and Europe. A UN report titled ‘The global Afghan opium trade: A threat assessment’, released in July last year, stated that the ports along the Makran coast – Gwadar, Ormara, Talar, Hingol, Sur Bander, Peeshukan and Jiwani – were being increasingly used for narcotics trafficking. Apart from these ports, the Dalbandin area in Chaghai district and the Mand area in Turbat district, both bordering Iran, are transit points for drug trafficking through the land route.

Bheel controls these transit points single-handedly. He has no open rivals, because they do not live long. In the late 1990s, Keenagi, his main adversary in the whole region, was killed in Turbat city in broad daylight. Keenagi’s cousin and enforcer, Hasan, pledged revenge. But he and at least four of his family members and associates were blown up in his car. The remnants of the family, now left without much muscle power, filed several cases against Bheel for ordering the murders. As always, the orders were reportedly executed by his hotheaded and unruly brother Ishaq Bheel. A soft-spoken man, Imam Bheel’s image is that of a man of compromise. The Gwadar DC murder is perhaps the first case in which he has been accused of personally carrying out a murder.

However, despite his soft image, there had been no dearth of cases against him, but all of them were withdrawn during the government of General Musharraf, the man who ordered the fifth military operation in Balochistan. Media reports suggest Makran’s Zobeda Jalal, Musharraf’s handpicked federal education minister, lent Bheel a helping hand.

Once Bheel was declared clear, he ventured into politics. Initially, he joined the Balochistan National Party-Awami but then switched to the National Party whose leaders had previously been Bheel’s fierce critics. Ironically, in the 2008 elections, his son, Yaqoob Bizenjo, defeated Zobeda Jalal to become an MNA.

While Bheel was focusing on rebranding his image through politics, his formidable power was challenged by the heavily-armed separatist militants, locally known as Sarmachars. The militants blame him for collaborating with the military to counter the nationalist cause. The BLF, the militant group active in the Makran and Awaran regions of Balochistan, has constantly targeted Bheel’s men and installations. In June last year, a ‘caporegime’ in Bheel’s drug business, Haji Lal Mohammad, was gunned down in Mand. The BLF claimed responsibility.

As the power of separatist militants grew in Makran, Bheel’s influence withered. He has now been living in Karachi’s posh Defence area for the past couple of years, seldom visiting his hometown where his business is based. Two days before he allegedly killed the Gwadar DC, top BLF commander Dr Allah Nazar, in an interview with a Balochi television channel, mentioned Bheel’s name more than once among those ‘who deserved death’.

In Bheel’s absence from the area, Keenagi’s crime family has reorganised itself. The late drug lord’s brother, Abdul Rasool, staged a successful jailbreak in Turbat in November 2006 and since then has managed to revive his family’s influence in the drug business. There are rumours that Rasool has declared war against Bheel after the Gwadar DC murder. “Imam Bheel has not killed Dashti, he has killed Keenagi again,” he has reportedly said.

However, despite the diatribes of his rivals and the insurgents against him, Bheel has never publicly threatened his adversaries or criticised the separatist movement. In fact, he seldom says anything publicly, and that is the secret of why he has managed to live in Karachi for so long as a normal resident without being noticed. Bheel has always preferred to operate in silence and in return, everyone else has obediently remained silent about his operations.

This article was originally published in The News on March 13, 2012.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Missing Balochistan

Sajid Hussain

Even if we buy the government’s claim that the number of missing persons in Balochistan has declined, it is only because many of them have lately been found dead. Since June 2010, more than 230 bodies of the previously missing persons have been dumped at abandoned places in the largest but the least populated province. According to the Balochistan Union of Journalists (BUJ), 10 journalists have been killed so far this year.

The missing persons issue and the so-called kill-and-dump spree in the province are as disturbing as the fact that Balochistan’s problem is almost altogether missing from the mainstream discourse. Any mention of Balochistan appears in speeches of politicians and the ranting of anchorpersons only when they intend to be politically correct.

The political parties have yet to include the Balochistan problem in their main agenda. The Jamaat-e- Islami (JI) has shown more concern for an individual, Dr Aafia Siddiqui, than a whole province. At a time when people in Balochistan are talking of separation from Pakistan, the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) has concentrated its efforts on keeping the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) a part of the government. Imran Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf has no time for Balochistan, or for any other thing, as it is out to save Pakistan. The MQM would desperately wait for another opportunity to flaunt its street power in defence of a Musharraf or a Zardari. Nawaz Sharif? Balochistan’s inconsequential electoral value does not guarantee premiership.

Ironically, our news-hungry media seems least impressed by Balochistan’s immense news value. Last month, Turbat city, the cultural hub of the province, remained shut for more than a week without a call for a strike from any of the political parties. Not important enough? OK. Only in Balochistan, the security forces take out rallies and sometimes, especially when their convoys meet roadside blasts, force the closure of shops. Of course, apart from these ‘human-interest stories’, Balochistan is home to more alarming news items, but who would want to become the 11th journalist to be killed this year? Is it not news itself that none of our mainstream newspapers and news channels has a full-fledged correspondent outside Quetta?

Unfortunately, only the security establishment has taken Balochistan seriously. In fact, too seriously. And that is where the real problem lies. In the absence of any check, as the rest of the country largely remains unmoved, the security forces have dealt single-handedly with the political unrest in the province. And that is the only way they deal with any issue. That is the army way. For a political solution, the political forces need to intervene and take the matter in their hands.

If they keep ignoring Balochistan, they may be missing it later.