Baloch guns and gold: the gold — Surat Khan Marri

In Balochistan, all powers including the administrative rest with the army. Even in the so-called elections, clearance from the army is a precondition

The Supreme Court of Pakistan in the Asghar Khan case, where he challenged the army and the agencies distributing hundreds of million rupees (Rs 1.48 billion) among establishment-favoured politicians to win elections to serve their (the army’s) purposes, has observed that the army and the agencies had exceeded and overstepped their constitutional mandate. It is interesting and worthy of attention that an almost similar incident took place in India on India National Day at a seminar in Srinagar. A student union president, a principal of a college and a Kashmiri intellectual unanimously agreed that the Indian army and attached agencies were overstepping their constitutional mandate by distributing charities, awarding scholarships to students, opening schools and hospitals and overlooking a number of other welfare works that should have been the responsibility of the civilian government. The Srinagar seminar also raised the question as to why the army and attached agencies did not worry about shouldering the civilian government’s responsibilities of looking after welfare work like opening schools and hospitals in other Indian states.

Very surprisingly, if you visit Balochistan, every nook and corner you visit, you will come across some Frontier Corps (FC) store, bakery or shop selling everyday food items, replacing the government-owned utility stores. There are army and FC public schools, colleges and medical centres. Emotionally speaking, one may say sarcastically — do we not want public welfare projects, schools and colleges? However, the question is what is the constitutional mandate of the army and the FC?

The Kashmiri student, the college principal and the intellectual in India raised the question why the forces would not open schools and medical centres, etc, in other Indian states; we should be doing the same. The British army in counterinsurgency, especially in South Africa, with very limited forces, did welfare work along with war rehabilitation efforts.

In Balochistan, all powers including the administrative rest with the army. Even in the so-called elections, clearance from the army is a precondition. In the last general election, Mr Yasin Baloch had won the Kech Makran Provincial Assembly seat. It was taken away from him and the National Party of Dr Malik started protest rallies. Corps Commander General Qadir called and asked him to show restraint. “You will be adjusted,” he was told. It is on record that due to the so-called election boycott, the National Party did not have representation in the Balochistan assembly; yet Dr Malik the president of the party and his senior Vice President Mir Hasil Bizenjo, were made Senators. Very interestingly, it was perhaps the last day of filling nominations for the Senate elections when President General Musharaf came under rocket fire in Kohlu, Marri Area. Mir Mohbat Khan was the only Marri elder who rose on the occasion and condemned the attack and the militants. Immediately, the general announced a Senate seat for him.

In the Balochistan administration, all postings and transfers need to be cleared by the army. Under the army, the FC and agencies, perhaps approval of all posts from BPS I to the highest is ‘sold’. The lowest one, BPS I, costs in the range of Rs 150,000. Some Mirs, motabars (elders of a clan) and their zaids (sons), serving as police and levies personnel are provided at least a couple of police and levies men along with official guns and arms as their guards. There are instances where the chief collaborators and their lackeys are allowed up to 500 police and levies men. Perhaps half are merely on paper — ghost figures. The payment in millions goes to the lackey elders. On their visits to Quetta and the district headquarters, their boarding and lodging is arranged in ‘safe houses’, army messes and the FC rest houses. On special occasions, the chief collaborators are ‘honoured’ to travel and fly along with the army high-ups or the FC chiefs. It may be unbelievable that in more than 95 percent of the areas, concrete-walled houses and bungalows — three to eight bedroom private houses — are constructed for collaborators and government officials at government expense; in fact, some are in the name of schools, medical centres or other public buildings. There are instances that away from the district headquarter villages, three-four bedroom rest houses, equipped with several cooks, servants and guards are facilitated for collaborators. The salaries and other bonuses of school staff — schoolteachers, peons, security guards — are pocketed by the government patrons and elders. All government subsidies and aid are also meant for them. All public sector development schemes in the constituencies of provincial and national assemblies and the Senate, each about Rs 130 million and more, are sold to ‘private contractors’. These schemes are mainly completed on paper. The ‘generosity’ is not only limited to politicians — MPAs, MNAs, Senators or who ‘pretend’ to be the opposition, collaborators and henchmen, but some media personnel are also bestowed these favours. Some claim that running a newspaper and being a reporter are some of the most profitable ‘regular’ businesses in Balochistan. There are about 120 dailies; except for three or four, no daily or periodical has any stall value (we have with us a total bogus list of all dailies, ABC figures). There are dailies that publish merely a hundred or two hundred copies, that too not necessarily every day. It is according to the editors’ convenience; it may be go in print just once a week. On the other hand, surprisingly they get 30 and even more than 30 thousand circulation certification (ABC) and accordingly, the rates of advertisements are fixed. Moreover, if on the basis of the ABC circulation figures, just the news agents’ income tax liabilities run into hundreds of thousands of rupees. Each newspaper and periodical has its reporters and representatives across the province, in every town and village. None of them receives any pay and still meets the expenses of reporting, etc. They live a luxurious life. Mir Sabir Baloch when he was an MPA used to sing, Jam Sahib Lasbela/ Sab kuch kahe aakillah. There is another well known saying. Mulk Balochistan qanoon aazad gozaara karo — a person who was put behind bars without any charges was told. With the passage of time and the introduction of more development plans today, dead bodies of the disliked and the naaraz (alienated elements) are thrown in deserts instead of the old-time aazad qanoon punishment of putting them behind bars. What happens ahead…wallaho aalam bisawab (only God knows).

The writer is a freelance columnist

Courtesy: Daily Times

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