News Analysis: Cellular Curfew in Balochistan By Malik Siraj Akbar

In an absolutely outrageous exercise of Pakistanization, the army, the Frontier Corps (FC) and the Interior Ministry compelled the the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) on Friday to shut down all cellular services in Balochistan. For fourteen consecutive hours, citizens were officially denied access to their cell phones. People’s rights to freedom of expression, access to information and movement were brazenly infringed as the the ban hampered access to mobile news and public communication.

Officials had imposed this bizarre restriction to celebrate the Pakistan Day. In Balochistan, where the military has subjected thousands of political activists to enforced disappearance and killed hundreds of the ‘missing persons’, the native Baloch majority refuses to mark the Pakistan Day as a symbol of disillusionment.

For many years, it has become impossible to play Pakistan’s national anthem or hoist the national flag in the restive province owing to increasing anti-Pakistan sentiments caused by massive human rights violations which security forces have committed for almost a decade now. School students and parents avoid playing the national anthem fearing retaliation from nationalists.

Hence, Balochistan is left only with the Pakistan army and the Frontier Corps (FC) to organize the unenthusiastic national day events. These receptions are organized inside highly-guarded military cantonments and are attended mainly by the families of military officers or government employees who are forced by the military to participate or face termination from government service.

The government has jammed cellular connections because educated Baloch youths excessively use cell phones to spread their message. Pakistan celebrates March 23 as its national day in commemoration of the Lahore Resolution of 1940 which firstly envisaged the idea of a separate homeland for the Muslims of subcontinent which eventually culminated in 1947 in form of Pakistan. On March 27th, Balochs observe another black day to express displeasure over Balochistan’s “occupation” in 1948 by Pakistan.

Conversely, March 27, just like August 14th, when Pakistan marks its independence day, attracts heavy traffic on the cellular networks where young Balochs disseminate text messages to denounce Islamabad’s day of national jubilation. They heavily rely on cell phones for online activism through Facebook, Twitter and Youtube. On its part, the Pakistan government bills most of these political opponents as ‘terrorists’ and goes to the extent of depriving the entire population of access to phone service in an effort to weed out political dissent.

Pakistan says its government system is parliamentary democracy. The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has ranked Pakistan as the deadliest place for reporters for the past two years while the BBC recently quoted officials confirming a ban on at least four thousand web sites inside the nuclear armed country. Most blocked websites report on Balochistan.

Islamabad does not secretly or apologetically curtail public access to cell phones. The Karachi-based Express Tribune asked PTA Chairman Dr Mohammad Yasin if the services were suspended as a part of an official policy. Responding affirmatively, he said, “Cellular services were suspended from 8am to 12am in Balochistan in an order to implement national security policy.”

As usual, the unaccountable military sanctioned and encouraged this undemocratic idea. As indicated in the Tribune report, a federal minister from the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) (Balochistan chapter) remained ignorant to such an extent that he thought people had no access to phone services because officials were “replacing the old system with new communication transfer.”

Regardless the motivation behind this dark and disgraceful episode,  it was an absurd and uncalled for move. Pakistan has been treating Balochistan as a colony since 1947 but day-by-day it is resorting to more oppressive tactics to terrorize the Baloch population. Such practices are unacceptable in the 21st century. “National security” is too weak a pretext to justify this anti-citizen practice.

We have not seen such widespread denial of access to public service in Islamabad under the excuse of national security even during worst terrorist attacks such as the bombing at the Marriott Hotel which killed at least 50 people. Such measures were not taken in Rawalpindi where former prime minister Benazir Bhutto was assassinated in 2007 or in Karachi where former military dictator Pervez Musharraf escaped an assassination attempt. What, after all, is Islamabad’s philosophy behind this overly-protective attitude?

This colonial approach toward Balochistan will convince the larger section of the society that the federal government is not only at war with the nationalists but it treats the entire province as a conquered territory. As a result, every citizen in Balochistan is becoming a victim of this suffocating policy of repression.

Source : The Baloch Hal


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