Thursday, 28 May 2015

Balochistan(Part 3): The Politics of HR

In the aftermath of Sabeen Mahmud’s murder, actually right after the cancellation of the LUMS talk, a large number of people voiced anger against those trying to highlight state abuses in Balochistan. Mama Qadeer especially came under fire, but many people vocal about the issue were also accused of being traitorous, or at least of lacking patriotism, or colluding with separatists or, well, you get the idea.

The group under fire have expressed shock over the reaction they have faced. All they are trying to do is highlight basic, basic, human rights violations; human life itself. Human life, in theory, should be the foremost concern of every decent person, even in an indecent society.

In Pakistan however, that is perhaps too much to ask for.

As mentioned in part 2, an overlooked aspect of the Balochistan issue is that tactics employed by Baloch insurgents are similar to those that are used by TTP in FATA and KP. Another overlooked aspect is that the state’s security apparatus has also employed similarly abusive tactics in KP/FATA to deal with them.

The displacement of a population, like that of parts of the Bugti tribe, has been witnessed in South Waziristan. Also witnessed is distrust of the populace and delayed rehabilitation. The raising/backing of pro-government militias to fight the insurgents, as alleged to take place in Balochistan, is another common occurrence in the long fight against the Taliban.

There’s more. Amnesty International’s report in 2012, “The Hands Of Cruelty”, details some of the other abuses committed by the Pakistani forces in the tribal areas. These include abductions, torture, deaths in custody and dumping of bodies. They also include “enforced disappearances”, again, like the ones that have brought Balochistan into the limelight. If anything, the intensity seems to be greater, with the report noting 2000 court cases filed by 2012, compared to only 135 by 2015 for Balochistan.

In addition, the people in FATA and parts of KP face intensive artillery & aerial bombing campaigns in populated areas, villages and towns etc. These forced millions to move and caused unprecedented damage to property and, one would imagine, to life. “Imagine” because even though there are recorded instances of gunship helicopters firing indiscriminately, and mowing down everyone, in crowded main bazars, no figures of civilian deaths have been compiled by any organization whatsoever.

This is because their lives, or deaths, are not relevant to politics of any organization. Or any group. In fact, highlighting the above mentioned tragedies is considered, by most of us, as detrimental to the greater good.

Consider that, according to Wikileaks, Asma Jehangir & HRCP, when investigating HR violations in the wake of the Swat operation, actually covered up the military’s abuses. The rights body, that has been vocal on Balochistan, did so in order to “avoid arming the militants' propaganda machine”

Is it a secret that the establishment doesn’t want its abuses in Balochistan to be highlighted for the same reason HRCP covered them up in Swat? What happens when someone is intent on highlighting abuses another group would rather have swept under the carpet?

Let’s take the example of drone strikes. Not only a violation of international law, but also the purest, most arbitrary form of extrajudicial killings we have seen in the last decade.

Unlike in the case of missing persons, there are no arrests, no interrogations, no one is released. Drone attacks have killed roughly the same number of children as the number of enforced disappearances the HRCP could confirm in Balochistan.

Yet many that are appalled by the atrocities elsewhere have cheered them on. They have mocked protests against drone strikes with religious fervour and admonished the protesters as informers or supporters of TTP.

Is that at all different from what happened last month? The efforts to hide the truth about military brutality. The vitriol against those who protest. Only the roles have changed.

The same people who are willing to overlook abuses & attack dissenters in one conflict, for the greater good, can be at the other end of vitriol for highlighting abuses in another theatre. For the greater good.

This is the sad reality of discourse in our country. Around the world, peoples’ politics decide the HR causes they get behind. In Pakistan, our politics decide the HR abuses we get behind. 

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