|Dr Allah Nazar|
The residents of Balochistan are in trouble again, and one of the leaders of the Baloch resistance, Dr Allah Nazar, is currently a hunted man. While systemic oppression by paramilitary forces, the Frontier Corps (FC) in particular, and disappearances and torture of citizens at the hands of intelligence agencies, has pretty much become the norm in Balochistan, Pakistan’s military has now initiated a direct ‘operation’ in many areas of the province. The direct target of state ire this time around is former BSO chairman Dr Allah Nazar, who, the military claims, is heading an armed resistance movement for the independence of Balochistan.
Ironically, this new-found belief comes only weeks after Dr Nazar publicly declared that he would ultimately prefer a book over a gun to achieve his ideals. The military, it appears, was not concerned back when the former BSO chairman used to claim that a gun was his second love. Now that he has decided to take the path of peaceful resistance, however, a military operation has been launched in his hometown – Mashkay in Awaran district – and the houses of dozens of political workers have been razed, Baloch nationalists say. According to a spokesman for the Balochistan Liberation Front (BLF), the militant organisation thought to be headed by Dr Nazar, troops have ransacked and set fire to the houses of people who are considered sympathetic to the Baloch cause. A number of people have also been picked up over the span of a week and have now gone ‘missing’. Dr Nazar’s relatives have been harassed by paramilitary personnel and their properties have been destroyed, according to reports appearing in local newspapers. Similar treatment has been meted out to Dr Nazar’s friend, Akhtar Nadeem, who is suspected [by the state] of being a ‘rebel’ who has accompanied Dr Nazar ‘to the mountains’ (in the Baloch national struggle, ‘taking to the mountains’ is an euphemism for joining the ranks of the freedom fighters or Sarmachar).
It is worth mentioning here that Pakistan’s federal interior minister Rehman Malik had said last month that his government would ‘use full force’ when dealing with those who had taken up arms to find a solution to the Balochistan problem. The military action in Mashkay, within a month of the interior minister’s rhetoric, perhaps indicates that the government has chosen Dr Nazar to be the first among Baloch leaders who have to be ‘removed’. Meanwhile, the federal government denies any military action in the province (as usual, one might add).
Unlike past military operations in Balochistan, however, the one in Mashkay seems to have attracted the attention of some ministers in the Balochistan government. Agriculture Minister Mir Asadullah Baloch, who is also the central secretary general of the Balochistan National Party (BNP)-Awami, insisted during a recent Balochistan Assembly session that the military operation was illegal and devoid of the provincial government’s approval. Ironically, this resistance from mainstream political parties in the province was only reported by The Baloch Hal, an online English language newspaper run by a group of Baloch journalists. According the website, Asadullah Baloch’s views were endorsed by provincial social welfare minister Mir Asghar Rind, who added that the centre of the military operation was not only confined to Mashkay, but had been expanded to some other parts of Mekran as well.
The ministers’ statements sparked protests in most parts of the troubled province, especially in the southwest Mekran division, a non-tribal belt which is considered Dr Nazar’s support base. BSO-Azad, a nationalist students’ organisation, condemned what its office-bearers referred to as an indiscriminate use of force by Pakistan’s paramilitary troops against Baloch political activists.
Boycott of ‘Pakistani media’
|Picture courtesy lensonbalochistan.blogspot.com|
A shutter-down strike was called, meanwhile, by the central BSO leadership; people were also asked to boycott the ‘Pakistani media’ – mainstream Urdu-language television channels and newspapers. Hence, the transmission of all local news channels, except the Balochi-language Vsh TV, has been interrupted by cable operators, according to The Baloch Hal. ‘Urdu news channels have already gone off air,’ said Asad Baloch, a journalist from Turbat, the divisional capital of Mekran district. ‘And now Urdu-language newspapers, except a few that are published locally, are snatched from hawkers in the morning and set on fire.’
Although Baloch nationalist organisations have always had reservation regarding the way the mainstream media organisations cover the political problems of Balochistan, this boycott is the result of the failure of these media organisations to report the military operation in Mashkay. ‘Media organisations that remain indifferent towards state brutalities in Balochistan have no place in the minds of the Baloch people,’ BSO Vice-Chairperson Karima Baloch said. She added that her organisation would not allow the transmission of Urdu news channels and the distribution of Urdu-language newspapers ‘on Baloch land’ until the issues being faced by the people of Balochistan are given non-partisan coverage.
The non-violent boycott, meanwhile, seems to be serving its purpose inasmuch as officials of the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) have taken notice of these events and are currently trying to contact cable operators in an effort to resume the transmission of mainstream news channels, Karima Baloch says. As to how far this boycott will go in ensuring non-partisan coverage of the issues of Balochistan, however, remains to be seen.
~ Naimat Haider is a Karachi-based journalist. He currently works with the Karachi bureau of The News International.
| Dr Allah Nazar Baloch: a background
Thirty-eight-year-old Dr Allah Nazar Baloch is a former chairman of the Baloch Students’ Organisation (BSO). He took up arms to fight for an independent Balochistan after, his supporters believe, the state security apparatus did not let him work as a peaceful nationalist political worker. Widely respected, loved and followed, Dr Nazar is currently believed to be the top leader of the Balochistan Liberation Front (BLF), an organisation that advocates the freedom of Balochistan.
In 2002, when Dr Nazar became the chairman of the BSO, he appealed to Baloch nationalist groups to stop participating in the electoral process which, he said, was damaging the Baloch cause. Going to the parliament, he believed, was equal to legitimising Pakistan’s rule over Balochistan. Soon after, he was arrested from Quetta, but released within a short period of time after he went on hunger strike in prison.
On 17 March 2005, years after he had left students politics, he was abducted, according to him and his family, by Pakistan’s intelligence agencies. Six other Baloch political activists, including the then-BSO chairman, Dr Imdad Baloch, were also picked up at the same time. Dr Nazar was produced before a court of law after going ‘missing’ for about four and a half months. He was eventually released on bail in June 2006 by an anti-terrorist court in Quetta. Amnesty International documented his case and reported that he was tortured physically – even given electric shocks – in prison.
While most of his opponents consider him a hardline ‘militant’, Dr Nazar sees himself as a political activist struggling with whatever means available to him for the Baloch cause. In his correspondence with media personnel, he has always expressed the belief that ‘militancy’ was just one of the many methods that he supported to achieve an independent Balochistan. In a recent interview with The News International, a mainstream English-newspaper in Pakistan, Dr Nazar said that while he believed both were necessary for him to reach his goal, he would prefer a book over a gun, for it was the former that guided the latter.
Presently, most Baloch nationalists, including Brahamdagh Bugti and Hairbyar Marri, consider Dr Nazar a symbol of the Baloch political struggle. Among the younger generation, meanwhile, he enjoys greater popularity than even Brahamdagh Bugti and Hairbyar Marri.
Apart from his middle-class background, the reason Dr Nazar rose to prominence is that he is the product of a political process. He joined the BSO while in college (intermediate) and became the organisation’s chairman after nearly a decade. Most Baloch leaders from the present generation were coached by him in politics and activism. His followers believe him to be a person of sharp intellect and firm beliefs, and maintain that he is a tireless political campaigner.
Other Balochistan-related pieces in Himal:
May 2007: Between tribe and country: The crisis of Balochistan by Massoud Ansari – Islamabad’s wilful inability to formulate a just and equitable relationship with Balochistan has led rising numbers of disaffected Baloch citizens to attempt a separation from Pakistan.
May 2007: A death foretold by Munizae Jahangir – For many Baloch, the turning point in the latest insurgency came on 26 August 2006, the day Nawab Akbar Bugti was assassinated.
June 2010: The question of Balochistan by Urooj Zia.