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.

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