By Dr. Qaiser Rashid
In the first week of this month, eight plastic posters and one digital poster displaying the slogan of “Free Balochistan” appeared on poles along a street in Geneva, Switzerland. A spate of vitriol was unleashed on both the poster activists and the Swiss government in the context that these nine posters besieged Pakistan’s sovereignty and challenged Pakistan’s territorial integrity. Farukh Amil, Pakistan’s ambassador to Switzerland, spearheaded the initiative to condemn the Swiss government for allowing the display of posters and demanded the non-repetition of the event.
There are two interesting aspects of this episode. First, Pakistan’s stance remained that the Balochistan House which sponsored the posters was affiliated to the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA), a declared terrorist organisation in Pakistan and the United Kingdom. Consequently, a list of BLA’s activities was provided to the Swiss government to show the poison being spewed by the banned organisation. Through this stance, Pakistan at least expressed that an organisation banned in some countries could not operate on the land of other countries, even if the latter did not proscribe them. Pakistan’s stance is justified that an evolved principle should be applicable to all indiscriminately – including Pakistan.
Second, through Amil, Pakistan made an interesting remark that the “use of Swiss soil against Pakistan by violent secessionists was totally unacceptable”. Through this statement, Pakistan acknowledged that it was tolerant to non-violent secessionists. Certainly, Pakistan is not a totalitarian or dictatorial country where the voice of dissent can be discredited: Pakistan is democracy which revers the voice of dissention. Despite the fact that this remark reminds a reader of the stance other countries of the region and the world at large have taken against Pakistan, this time, at least, Pakistan utilised the same stance to its own benefit. Again, Pakistan’s stance is justified that the evolved principle should be applicable to all indiscriminately – including Pakistan.
When taken together, both these aspects reminds a reader of the boomerang effect: “the unintended consequences of an attempt to persuade resulting in the adoption of an opposing position instead.” Pakistan has now come of age at least diplomatically. Pakistan is not only a good listener to the lament of other countries but Pakistan is a good narrator too. Nevertheless, the problem with the boomerang effect is that it does not lie still: it stays active. The snare of the boomerang effect is worse than the trap of the state of denial. On the direct correlational surface, the boomerang effect is antagonistic to any state of denial, and this is where the caveat lies for Pakistan.
Back home, many alighted on the godsend opportunity to rejuvenate their nationalism and they did that fruitfully and publicly. Reportedly, a crowd also took to the streets in Quetta to condemn the posters and to show solidarity with Pakistan. Certainly, on the one hand, it was finally shown that just nine posters were enough to wake up Pakistan from its slumber while, on the hand, it became visible that after 70 years of age Pakistan still needed reassurances of survival.
The embrace of Pakistan for Balochistan is attention-grabbing. The cuddle is based on the 1973 Constitution which was signed by the forefathers of today’s Baloch fugitives to Switzerland to make Balochistan part of the federation. In this way, the relationship of the province of Balochistan with the Federation of Pakistan crosses through the Constitution of Pakistan. One school of thought says that the link is tenuous because, after a constitutional abrogation, any attempt to frame a new constitution by any constituent assembly will offer much latitude to Baloch dissidents (and Balochistan) to part ways with Pakistan. The other school of thought says that the link might be fragile but the link is somehow a blessing in disguise for the parliamentary democratic survival of Pakistan. The reason is that the link restrains a military dictator from framing a new constitution which otherwise may open sufficient constitutional space to the military to seek any bigger role or which allows a constituent assembly to frame the presidential constitution. The conflict in Balochistan is evocative of the conflict for the provincial autonomy rocking Pakistan since 1947. Today, it can be imagined what impact the ethnic assertion of the Bangladeshis might be having on the rest of ethnic identities in West Pakistan. Denying provincial autonomy to provinces led to the transformation of East Pakistan into Bangladesh.
The other provinces also learnt a lesson that their right of provincial autonomy would also be at stake, especially when One Unit was established in October 1955 (after the abolition of which, in March 1970, Balochistan was given the status of a province). Secondly, the way the Pakistan government handled the revolt (termed insurgency) violently in East Pakistan spoke volumes for the way the government was disposed to dealing with any demand for provincial autonomy coming from any other ethnic nationalities of Pakistan. This precedent made provinces apprehensive of the attitude of the Centre. The fall of Dhaka in December 1971 gave a necessary impetus to the groups thinking of more ethnic assertion and provincial autonomy and the province of Balochistan was no exception. Today, India might be fanning the Baloch insurgency to repeat the East Pakistan episode, but the question broader to this assumption (and allegation) is that what lesson Pakistan learnt from the fall of Dhaka. The one main lesson is that coercion or repression offers no solution especially when society is heterogeneous.
Ambassador Amil must have earned laurels for complaining to the Swiss authorities but he might not have mulled over the probable reason for the resorting of the Baloch fugitives to publicising their cause in September 2017. One convincing explanation may be that the next elections are approaching fast. The Baloch fugitives might be longing for coming back to Pakistan to take part in the elections in 2018. They need some face saving, which must be provided by the Federation of Pakistan. Instead of (or besides) filing a complaint with Swiss authorities, Ambassador Amil must have approached the Baloch fugitives related to the Balochistan House and negotiated with them a plan of compromise which could facilitate their entry back into Balochistan and which could warrant their participation in the next general elections. Certainly, the federation needs to be altruistic. It must speak to the Baloch fugitives in Switzerland and opens ways for them to be part of national political mainstream. The 18th Constitutional Amendment passed in April 2010 has already addressed the issue of provincial autonomy comprehensively.
The Baloch fugitives and dissidents in Switzerland are also overlooking the fact that the inter-ethnic relationship does not flow from any security agency, be it Frontier Constabulary or the Army, which are salary paid servants of the country. Instead, the relationship springs from people, who want to see the Baloch leadership back to Balochistan working for its progress and development. Nevertheless, the Federation of Pakistan is beholden to the ancestors of today’s Baloch fugitives and dissidents for three main reasons. First, for welcoming Mohammad Ali Jinnah (the father of nation) to Balochistan; for giving consent to becoming part of Pakistan in June 1947; and for becoming part of the federation while being represented by Ghaus Bakhsh Bizenjo, who as the Governor of Balochistan was a key signatory to the 1973 Constitution.
(The writer is a freelance journalist and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)