Tribal system to be strengthened


Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur

A headline in a national daily with the byline of Ghalani (Mohmand Agency) April 23, left me wondering what had prompted such a radical shift in the government’s avowed policy of ‘no compromise’. The headline said: “Tribal system in Fata to be strengthened.” Interestingly the headline itself was within quotation marks. The news item below said, “The traditional tribal system in Federally Administered Tribal Areas is being strengthened and the status of Maliks is being restored.”

The NWFP governor, Khalilur Rahman, who was on a visit to Mohmand Agency, had said these words. The news item further read: “The governor said development was linked to peace and maintenance of peace (and was) dependent on strengthening the tribal system.” This statement is certainly a very interesting development because they seem to be making different ‘social’ experiments in different regions in hope of solving the numerous problems they themselves have created by their shortsightedness and arrogance.

The million dollar question is why, in the first place, had the Maliks been deprived of their status and what has changed in their attitudes to prompt this sudden change of heart? Second, will this change of heart also apply to Balochistan, or will the Sardars demanding the rights of the Baloch people over their natural resources and their political and cultural rights, still be considered traitors who need to be crushed? 

A change of heart towards the Baloch people and Balochistan seems improbable, and yet again they are going to be measured by a different yardstick, and will continue to be punished for their history .This is obvious from ‘The Big General’s speech (reported in a national daily) to the Students’ Convention. He has made his intentions abundantly clear. To quote a relevant part verbatim, “The president said that the situation in Balochistan was quite different to that of East Pakistan in 1971. Only a few tribal chiefs, whom he called “opponents of development”, were involved in sabotage activities, he said. “I know military strategy well. The East Pakistan situation was different where there was a mass uprising of 80 million people. The representatives of these Sardars in parliament are misleading the people,” Musharraf said.

He has unequivocally expressed his views about the Baloch leaders and people — as unequivocally as Yahya had about the leaders and people of Bangladesh then. He who ‘knows military strategy well’, shot down the official version of the separation of Bangladesh, by stating that that it was a mass uprising by 80 million people, while in Balochistan the “opponents of development” were involved in sabotage activities. That is exactly what was being said about the Awami League and Mujibur Rehman 35 years ago.

The ‘military strategist’ accused Sardar Khair Baksh Marri and Sardar Akbar Bugti of having ‘feasted on’ gas royalties. It seems he had not done his homework well as he was quite off the mark as far as Sardar Khair Baksh Marri is concerned, because he has never received any royalties as neither gas nor oil has ever been taken out from Marri area so far. Moreover this money, the so-called royalty, is not a favour to anyone because anyone who rents out the land is entitled to a return. What Akbar Bugti had been getting was rent for the use of land. Those who are in fact ‘feasting on’ unearned income abound in the corridors of power and are easily identifiable by their power and pelf, rather power of pelf.

I wonder on what basis the state can deny the centuries’ old Baloch rights of ownership over the land while considering it perfectly legitimate for the Army to continue with its rights over the Cantonment areas designated by the British as such. Not to mention the land they have kept on acquiring since as Defence Housing Societies for themselves. Perhaps I forget that it is eventually the ‘barrel of the gun’ which is the source of all rights (and wrongs) and that is exactly the reason for the double-standards employed when deciding the ownership of land by the Baloch people and the Army. Little wonder that the people of Balochistan too have grasped this truth and started considering those fighting for their rights as their leaders and saviours, regardless of the fact that they were very recently declared terrorists.

The General also said, “The representatives of these Sardars in Parliament are misleading the people.” He said none of the sub-tribes of the rebel Baloch Sardars were with them. He said the rebel tribes were getting foreign funding and had a strong force of 5,000 men, each getting a Rs. 6,000 per month salary.

If true, then that makes those 5,000 men fighting, mercenaries who would present their services to the highest bidder. Wouldn’t it be cheaper for the government and good ‘military strategy’ to lure them away with a higher sum? It is here that the ‘High Command’, in spite of its claim to know military strategy well, fails to comprehend the resentment and revulsion that the people feel at the violation of their historical and cultural rights. This resentment has recruited many people to the folds of the struggle for rights and those fighting are certainly not mercenaries who can be bought, bribed or bludgeoned into submission.

I wonder when a ban will be imposed on the representatives in Parliament, because they too seem to be a cause of concern for General Musharraf. Telling the truth is considered “misleading the people”, while whatever nonsense the official mouthpieces spew out daily is considered as informing and leading the people. The ruling elite has increasingly become sensitive to criticism and consequently has lost touch with reality, thereby floundering and flailing, trying to salvage irredeemable situations on all fronts with meaningless cabinet reshuffles and gobbledygook.

The Centre’s biased and discriminatory policies and attitudes compounded with the midnight knock, have led to the open resentment and resistance by the people of Balochistan, leading to the cycle of ever increasing violence there. The people have begun opposing every move with all the resources available to them in hope of changing their destiny.

The people of Balochistan consider this latest round of hostilities and repression as a frontal assault on their historical, cultural, economic and fundamental rights. The Baloch people have decided to resist the same despite the overwhelming force of the government and its institutions and are optimistic about their chances of success.

The government is free to choose from the options that are before it, but in my view the best course for it is in accepting the historical rights of the people of Balochistan and allowing them to develop and prosper according to their culture and history. The use of force and repression may delay the inevitable, but certainly cannot hold it off indefinitely because when the people set out to take their destiny in their own hands, force is not a factor that can stem the tide.

Tailpiece: “Khalil calls for strengthening tribal system in Waziristan” — the headline of a news item in a national daily with byline Peshawar, April 26. The General in his address to the same Jirga said as the headline in quotation marks says, ‘Troops to be pulled out if tribesmen cooperate.’

It seems that the government is not only clueless but also self-destructive, wavering from one extreme to another in hope of finding solutions and cures to self-created problems and self-inflicted wounds. They vacillate between use of destructive and indiscriminate force or uninhibited appeasement, with neither working out for them. They had tried this tactic with Nek Mohammad and the result was, as they say, history.

Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur has an association with the Baloch rights movement going back to the early 1970s. He can be contacted at mmatalpur@gmail.com

This article was first published on 03 May 2006 in The Post

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