Fight for freedom

Kunwar Khuldune Shahid warns against the perils of ignoring the other ‘azadi march’

Fight for freedom
At the time of writing there are two political parties participating in ‘revolutionary’ sit-ins, encouraging the masses to snatch their ‘freedom’ from the government. By the time you read this, the respective ‘revolutions’ could have resulted in a wide array of outcomes, none of which would have any bearing on the issue being addressed here.

While Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri’s movements to grant modern day Pakistanis their freedom coincided with Pakistan’s Independence Day, the same day witnessed another event which wasn’t quite as relevant for TRPs, but is imperative as far as the ideas of freedom and independence are concerned. As egotistical proxy marches are being dubbed freedom movements, a veritable fight for recognition – if not freedom – is being nipped in the bud.

On August 14, as the political ‘freedom fighters’ began their march towards the capital, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif inaugurated the restored Ziarat Residency, which being our founding father Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s residence in Balochistan, is a national monument. A few hours later a bomb blast in Quetta killed a Frontier Corps man and injured 20 others. The connection between the two events becomes obvious when one figures out why the Ziarat Residency had to be restored in the first place.

[quote]Decisions on these operations take significantly less time than any military action against the TTP[/quote]

On June 15 last year, the residency was attacked by the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) reducing the national monument to ashes. BLA, which is fighting for Balochistan’s independence from Pakistan, perceives Jinnah’s residence as an emblem of colonialism that the British Empire passed on to the Pakistani state. According to the BLA that considers itself the representative of the average Baloch, the people of Balochistan never truly got independence. For them the British colonials just passed on the reins to Pakistani ‘colonialists’.

The blast in Quetta came from an improvised device which was placed near a shop on Prince Road. And just like the ‘terrorist attack’ on Jinnah’s residence last year, the Prince Road blast is just another manifestation of the growing discontent among the Baloch. That the blast was scheduled for August 14, and targeted a shop that was selling Pakistan’s national flags, further adds fuel to separatism and symbolism.

Ziarat Residency
Ziarat Residency

Following Pakistan’s creation in 1947, the military had to counter Baloch insurgents who did not support the King of Kalat’s decision to join the newly formed state of Pakistan. The military operation was given the green signal by Jinnah, Pakistan’s first Governor General, for obvious reasons.

Following Pakistan’s recreation in 1971, another military operation was ordered by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in 1973 to ensure that the relentless volatility in Balochistan would not result in another chunk of the national territory getting away from the centre.

Sandwiched between two large-scale operations is the Nawab Nowroz Khan-orchestrated armed movement that began in 1958 and the Sher Muhammad Birjani-led insurgency starting in 1963. The former was a protest against the dreaded One Unit Policy and resulted in Nowroz Khan being tried for treason along with his followers, with five of his family members being hanged and the man himself dying in jail. The latter was a six-year guerilla warfare that eyed a better share for Balochistan from the revenue that was generated through the province’s Sui gasfields. Getting a fairer deal for national resource royalties and a bigger share from the provincial revenue pool has always been the first clause of Baloch discontent that also gives impetus to the current freedom movement.

In April this year, the hitherto unknown United Baloch Army (UBA) allegedly orchestrated back-to-back blasts in Sibi and Rawalpindi, the immediate causes behind which were the military operations in Turbat, Panjgur, Kalat and Mastung. What aggrieves the Baloch nationalists is that decisions on these operations take significantly less time than any military action against the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which has killed over 50,000 citizens in Pakistan and manifested its unambiguous intent of taking over the country.

Since Akbar Bugti’s killing eight years ago, the Pakistani military has upped the ante against anti-state militants. Mutilated bodies are found regularly from Balochistan, with anyone suspected of any kind of involvement in ‘terrorist’ activities lifted and tortured. As things stand, thousands of Baloch men have been registered as ‘missing persons’, spawning protests from within Balochistan. This resulted in the Voice of Baloch Missing Persons (VBMP) long march to the capital.

And while two long marches that are designed to muster political power seem to hog the limelight as things stand, the 72-year-old Mama Qadeer Baloch’s 2000-kilometre long march on foot that made history seems to be conveniently forgotten.

Mama Qadeer didn’t ask for the resignation of the prime minister, or sold the word freedom on a wholesale rate. All his long march wanted was the implementation of Article 10 of Pakistan’s Constitution that clearly says that law enforcement agencies need to produce suspects in the court within 24 hours of their arrest.

It is ignoring constitutional demands like Mama Qadeer’s and taking away Balochistan’s right over the revenue that the province’s fields generate that has resulted in provincial discontent metamorphosing into a freedom movement in Balochistan. And while on every August 14, the country celebrates the creation of a homeland after a minority launched a separatist movement owing to a patched nationalistic identity and touted economic downfall, the blast on Prince Road was a symbolic reminder of the same.

If the province’s grievances continue to be shelved, and the centre continues to sell the expired glue of Pakistani ideology as reason enough for the Baloch to stick to toeing the line of Pakistani nationalism, the juxtaposition between the Muslim nationalism movement in 1947 and Baloch nationalist movement in 2014 will become all the more ominous.