Reconciling with Balochistan

South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC’s) first hearings were held at Town Hall in the south eastern city of East London. In one of the hearings, the widows of three anti-apartheid activists of Port Elizabeth Black Civic Organisation (Pebco) affiliated with the United Democratic Front gave testimony. In March 1985, these activists, also known as the Pebco Three, had organised a three-day demonstration to demand an end to apartheid. The authorities thus held them responsible for making Port Elizabeth ‘ungovernable’. A special report on the TRC’s proceedings by journalist Max du Preez narrates, “During the early 1980s, Qaqawuli Godolozi, Sipho Hashe and Champion Galela became targets of the security forces and their families suffered continuous harassment. They last saw their husbands on the 8th of May, 1985, when the Pebco Three mysteriously disappeared. They now accept that their husbands must be dead.” In their testimonies, the widows implored the commission to investigate where their husbands were killed, how they were killed and who killed them. They wanted the commission to reveal the whole truth for them to make peace with their loss.

During the hearings of the TRC, Joe Mamasela, one of the police squad responsible for eliminating anti-apartheid activists in his area, volunteered detailed information of how he and his colleagues detained the three by luring them to come to the airport at Port Elizabeth to receive a fake British diplomat with some cash donations. After successfully apprehending them at the airport, the security police took them to an abandoned police station for interrogation. Mamasela confirmed the interrogation was “…brutal…it was terrible. They were tortured severely; they were savaged; they were brutalised.” When asked about his role in torture, Mamasela replied, “My role was to strangle them and stifle them so that they cannot [sic] make enough noise…” They were eventually killed. Mamasela describes, “Lieutenant Nieuwoudt beat them up with an iron pipe into their heads [sic] so severely that, that…they were kicked; they were punched; they were stomped; they were jumped over their heads [sic], and they were killed.”

Pakistan is not alien to such happenings. Every other day we hear news of disappearances or discovery of tortured, bullet-riddled bodies in different areas of Balochistan. Decades of discrimination, repression and denial of rights to the Baloch people has forced a section of the Baloch youth to take up arms against the highhanded policies of the state. However, those being abducted and killed are moderate, political voices, mostly students, who have nothing to do with the armed insurgency.

Recently, Mian Nawaz Sharif called for an end to the military operation in Balochistan and floated the idea of an All Parties Conference (APC) to hold consultations on the issue. At the outset, the prospects of these baby steps towards resolving an issue that has gone well beyond the realm of institutionalised means of conflict management appear doubtful. The utterly arrogant attitude of the military regime led by General Pervez Musharraf toward the Baloch that culminated in the killing of Nawab Akbar Bugti in August 2006 forced the Baloch to rethink their approach of waging the conflict of interests. Instead of relying on political means, a section of the Baloch youth has taken up arms against the state. The radicalisation of the Baloch movement due to the ill-advised policies of the Musharraf regime has made the prospects of peace very bleak. The Baloch insurgents are not fighting for their rights anymore; they want to separate from Pakistan.

In a recent interview to BBC Urdu, veteran Baloch politician and figurative head of his party, Sardar Ataullah Mengal, politely but candidly questioned the efficacy of Pakistna’s political leadership’s efforts for the resolution of Balochistan conflict when the real control is in the hands of the security establishment. The consistency and ferocity with which the military and its affiliates have been carrying out the kill and dump policy, independent of the incumbent government, bear witness to the veteran leader’s assertion.

In the interview, Sardar Ataullah Mengal also spoke of the deep hatred for Pakistan among the Baloch youth. His words reminded me of another interview by BBC Urdu relayed a few months back, in which two female Baloch student activists, whose relatives had been abducted and killed by security forces, spoke of their intense hatred for Pakistan. This sense of estrangement is the fruit of years of brutal repression and denial of rights to the Baloch by the arbiters of this country.

If he is sincere, Mian Nawaz Sharif must also think of how he and his party will deal with the resentment and sense of alienation among the Baloch. Pakistan chose amnesia in case of the excesses committed by the Pakistan Army in East Pakistan. It never felt the need to reconcile with the people of its erstwhile eastern wing. Not more than a few words are devoted to the secession of East Pakistan in school/college textbooks. Those responsible for the 1971 debacle led respectable lives and died honourably, setting no example for the future generations of generals and officers. Can amnesia work for Balochistan?

In South Africa, countless others were treated like the Pebco Three during those fateful years in South Africa’s history when the black majority was fighting for its legitimate political, economic and civil rights in the country. Some of the murdered activists’ disfigured bodies were found by their families; others simply disappeared, never to be found. It was only when the TRC, found in 1995 after the end of the apartheid regime, investigated these blind murders and disappearances that the families of the victims found a platform to speak of their trauma and many of the former security and intelligence officials finally confessed to their crimes. The TRC’s thrust was restorative, rather than punitive, laying emphasis on finding the truth and reconciling the former adversaries.

If, by a miracle, Punjab’s leadership is able to ‘rein in’ the military, as Sardar Attaullah Mengal suggested, and the military operation in Balochistan comes to an end, will the security establishment allow the truth to be found, even for the sake of reconciliation and restorative justice? Will the widows, parents, siblings and children of the killed Baloch ever get a chance to speak about the trauma they suffered to be able to reconcile with Pakistan? Will the officers of the Pakistan’s security agencies ever make a public confession like Joe Mamasela: “My role was to strangle them and choke them”?

The writer is a graduate fellow at the Maxwell School of Syracuse University and Contributing Editor at Journal of Public and International Affairs. She can be reached at isaleem@syr.edu

(Published in Daily Times on 11 January, 2011)

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