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In hearts, not on flagpoles

How many of us would recognise a flag with a green and red stripe, and a blue triangle in which a white star appears? Most of us would not know this emblem – but Baloch children do, with rough drawings of the image appearing in many places.

The fact that this flag flies over buildings in the province is something we should all note with the greatest concern for the integration and solidarity of our country. It signals sentiments in that province which will not change as a result of actions such as those the inspector general of the Frontier Corps has proudly announced his forces had carried out. Replacing the Baloch nationalist flag and compelling children in schools to sing out the national anthem, despite their reluctance, will not do a thing to allay this concern or make the problem go away.

The IG seems to believe that ‘patriotism’ can be forced into Balochistan. But patriotism – interpreted through history in so many different ways – is a far more abstract concept, an ethereal entity that can change form and which for individuals everywhere holds slightly different meanings. It comprises ideas, ideals and loyalties that are sometimes hard to put into words. Beyond the narrowest of thinking, the most limited span of vision, it really has little to do with flags or songs. It is the thoughts and emotions they evoke which are important.

And have the gentlemen heading the FC – a force detested in Balochistan – really thought about what a flag forcibly tied to a flagpole would mean? Patriotism lives in hearts, not on flagpoles – and it almost certainly cannot be forced on a people.

Rather than the absurd efforts to do so, the questions that should be asked in parliament and elsewhere is how we have managed to alienate the Baloch to such a degree. Why do Baloch children refuse to sing along when the national anthem rings out? And is it true the military encouraged or ordered all humanitarian aid agencies to quit Awaran after the September 2013 twin quakes, citing security reasons, so it could implement its own agenda?

Religious welfare outfits were ushered in as giant international agencies pulled out. These Islamist groups have been preaching, and challenging the nationalist narrative led by people such as Dr Allah Nazar Baloch, the nationalist leader and former torture victim who till the quake held influence across Awaran and also parts of Kech. A natural calamity was used to try and impose new ideas in a devastated area. Reports suggest the degree of Baloch anger has held back the attempt.

It is not hard to understand where this anger stems from. When mass graves are found in Khuzdar, holding an unknown number of decomposed bodies, it is natural rage will sweep in. When pictures appear of young men, who have been shot and their bodies callously dumped, the same will happen. One victim, being named as Chakar Baloch, is said to be only 12 years old. And when such images, such grim accounts, are backed by almost undisguised contempt for Baloch nationalists – all of them apparently seen as terrorists in the eyes of men such as the good FC chief – it naturally makes matters worse.

This is where the government must move into motion. We simply cannot afford to allow Balochistan to be further alienated, to move away further from the mainstream, to pull away with greater and greater fury. But we see no wisdom. No recognition of the gravity of the crisis, and this is very worrying indeed.

In response to the Supreme Court’s persistent inquiry into the fate of missing persons, the largest number of whom are from Balochistan, the federal government has taken a truly remarkable step. It has simply legitimised the picking up of people by security agencies, under the amended Protection of Pakistan Ordinance signed by the president a few days ago. The step was taken after the PPO bill could not be turned into a parliamentary act because of protests from the opposition.

Drastic new amendments were added to the highly controversial law before Mamnoon Hussain put his signature to it. It is now possible for security agencies to hold people indefinitely, without producing them in any court. The 90-day limit set under the original law has vanished. It is also possible for these agencies to remove people it captures – for reasons we may never know – to secret rehabilitation centres if they agree to lay down arms.

In other words, people can be kept missing for years without any crime having being committed and without their families having any way to determine what has become of them. This violates the basic provisions of our law and of humanity. As a next step, we may as well give legal cover to murder or abduction in order to avoid it being classified as a crime. This would, of course, drastically push down our crime rate and solve a whole range of problems by permitting the country to turn into a wilderness where anything is permissible.

The new law has already been frowned on from many quarters. The Supreme Court, which seems somewhat nonplussed by it, has said it will be reviewed. But it is the thinking of government that is the most worrying of all. The power of presidential ordinance was used when parliament declined to place its stamp on the proposed law – and the purpose of course is chiefly to allow government officials to escape the contempt they are in danger of being slapped with for failing to produce the thousands missing in our country.

Nothing could be so short sighted or so ill thought out. The agencies now have unfettered powers to do as they please. This may of course mean more will go missing with the danger of court action pulled away by the PPO, which is projected as an anti-terrorism law.

The impact of all this must be assessed. It must be discussed in parliament. In the Senate, we have heard outrage over events in Balochistan. We should be hearing more cries, and more outrage. What we are doing in that province is something that could affect us for many years to come. We simply cannot afford to have so much hatred running through an entire wing of our country. Force and senseless measures will not solve the problem. Far more wisdom and good sense is needed. How this can be generated we simply do not know.

The military interest in the province and its labelling of all nationalists as enemies complicates the problem. The failure over many years to deal with dangerous outfits such as the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi has only made matters worse and inflicted more agony on Balochistan. The way forward is covered with brambles. Whether we can successfully push these aside and clear the road is not clear right now.

Certainly, the right tools are not being used. Trying to burn away the brambles could cause much greater damage and ignite forest fires which plunge the entire province into further fury and add to the lack of patriotism which authorities have the audacity to complain about, even as they remain deaf to the complaints of neglect, injustice and exploitation from the desperate people of the province.

The writer is a freelance columnist and former newspaper editor. Email: kamilahyat@hotmail.com

Kamila Hyat, "In hearts, not on flagpoles," The News. 2014-01-30.
Keywords: Social sciences , Social issues , Social needs , Social rights , Supreme court , Government-Pakistan , Children-Pakistan , Society-Pakistan , Humanity , Schools , Mamnoon Hussain , Dr. Allah Nazar , Balochistan , Pakistan