The last few days have seen the explosion of so many crises in Pakistan that there hasn’t been a lot of time to stop and take a considered look at individual events and evaluate them with a cool head. The biggest casualty of this lack of analysis has been the imposition of governor’s rule in Balochistan under article 234 of the constitution in the aftermath of the bombing in Quetta that killed over a hundred Hazara Shias.
The series of events that led to this is obviously a very sensitive one. Moreover, the provincial government was dismissed as a result of an unprecedented public outpouring of sentiment against anti Shia terrorism the likes of which have never been seen before in Pakistan. Clearly, this public activism is a very, very positive development. But the question in my mind is, is the the outcome of the activisim – i.e. the imposition of governor’s rule – a positive outcome? I would like to suggest for two reasons, that it was not.
The first reason is – did this dismissal contribute in any tangible way towards ending the problem of anti-Shia militancy in Balochistan? Anti Shia groups like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi have been operating in the Quetta area with impunity for several years.
In this article Mujahid Hussain provides a link to a letter distributed by Lashkar-e-Jhangvi Balochistan Unit in which they promise to eradicate the Hazara Shia community just as their comrades – the Taliban – did in Afghanistan. As Mujahid Hussain puts it, “Quetta, for all practicl purposes, can be called a second Qandahar.”. This is not surprising given that post 9/11 the leadership of the Afghan Taliban was moved wholesale, under the protection of the security establishment to be housed in Quetta. As Malik Siraj Akbar points out in this article the security establishment has pursued a policy of encouraging religious extremism in Balochistan as a counterweight to Baloch nationalism. This is in keeping with the state’s strategy of supporting the most extreme elements of society rather than even considering the demands of what it considers sub-nationalism in both Balochistan and KP.
So the question arises – will dismissing the provincial government – however incompetent – have any impact on changing what’s been a pretty longstanding approach towards Balochistan of fostering extremism + using Balochistan to harbour friendly Taliban? Of course not. Clearly, the presence of anti-Shia militancy in Balochistan is part of the larger problem of the state’s ambivalent approach to religious extremists. The LeJ leader Malik Ishaq’s release from prison in September 2012 has given the LeJ a boost throughout the country. Here is Amir Mir on recent developments within the LeJ in Balochistan. Reading over the sordid details documented by Mir, I really have to wonder why the “key intelligence agencies investigating the non-stop killings of Shia Hazaras in Quetta” required the dismissal of the provincial government in order to begin their investigation of the LeJ killers? Shouldn’t federal intelligence and investigative agencies be taking action against these military groups and investigating their bombings irrespective of whether there is an elected government or governor Raj in the province? The LeJ in Balochistan is not a widespread insurgency – it is a group of highly trained killers launching targetted attacks. Surely this is a matter for federal investigation especially since the reahc of the LeJ transcends provincial boundaries. My question is, why did the state need the provincial government to be dismissed in order to begin this investigation?
The second reason that I think that the imposition of governor’s rule was a mistake was that the Balochistan “law and order situation” as many like to refer to it, is not a situation that can be neatly categorized into one root cause. There are multiple factors at play in Balochistan – there is the rise of religious extremism and there is also the fact that the Baloch are in a state of complete disillusionment regarding the federation. So in my opinion, it is unwise to ignore the second issue and to give in to some sense of symbolic “action” on the first issue by dismissing the provincial government. Governor’s rule is something that the framer of the Indian consitution, BR Ambedkar referred to as a “dead letter” that should be avoided by the President at all costs. It is an article in complete contradiction to the principle of federalism. You can either respect the sanctity of a provincial assembly, or you cannot. Supporting governor’s rule, especially when the assembly was so close to completing it’s full term was a clear sign of the center’s complete lack of respect for the political entity that is Balochistan. Of course supporters of the invocation of article 234 will say that the federal government was left with no choice because of the Chief Minister’s refusal to resign gracefully. However there are less dictatorial ways of influencing the outcome including supporting a no confidence vote against him in the provincial assembly. If that failed, there were many actions that the federal government could have taken to help with the law and order situation, the main one being the deployment of resources within federal intelligence agencies to track down and eliminate the target killers and leadership of the extremist organizations. Many will argue that the Baloch assembly was a lame duck that had lost all its credibility. The question I have for these people is – why is that? Why is it that most of the important stakeholders of the nationalist persuasion have boycotted the political process and taken to armed revolt? Could it possibly be because they are fully aware of the lack of respect that the centre has for the province as a political entity within the country as a whole? Doesn’t the imposition of governor’s rule prove that they were completely right to begin with?
Every time that the centre deals with Balochistan with a heavy hand reminiscent of the worst kind of colonial practices, we lose another generation of men like Ghaus Bakhsh Bizenjo who are willing to risk the contempt of their fellow nationalists and take a risk on cooperating with the centre. The impact of this degradation of quality of leadership is clearly visible in the fact that we had a political joker like Raisani as the Chief Minister of Balochistan in the first place. Of course decisions in Pakistani politics are seldom well-considered and deliberated but it is doubly disappointing that an action like this was brought on by public pressure. The only thing that distinguishes civilized politics from the kind of barbarity that passes for politics in Pakistan is respect for institutions. The provincial assembly, in a country as divided by ethnic and linguistic faultlines in Pakistan is arguably the most sensitive institution that the political system possesses. To sacrifice it in the name of some misguided symbolic gesture of “doing something” is a giant mistake and it’s not hard to predict that this will come back to haunt the federal government in years to come.