It almost felt like Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan was stating the national policy of his country when he said at the start of his United Nations General Assembly speech that “non-use of or threat of unilateral force, self-determination of peoples, the sovereign equality and territorial integrity of States, non-interference in their internal affairs, internal affairs, international cooperations — all these ideas are being systematically eroded”.
Ironically, he was complaining about “the foundations of ‘world order’” being changed. It must be the state policy of Pakistan to lie.
Imran Khan continued his speech and, as expected, talked about the ‘injustices against Muslims and Islamophobia around the world’. However, he shamelessly ignored inhuman treatment of religious and ethnic minorities in his own country.
He showed ‘grave concern’ for Kashmir and Palestine while staying silent on the atrocities against Baloch and Pashtuns in Pakistan. He raged against India for the “killings of muslims with impunity” without providing a shred of evidence, even as he pushed under the carpet the systematic genocide of Baloch people by his own army, which he had publicly spoken about and ‘exposed’ before becoming the prime minister with the blessing of the mighty Pakistan Army.
Imran Khan admitted on many occasions that the Pakistan Army was bombing villages populated with women and children in Balochistan as it did in Bangladesh. This makes one think whether lying through the teeth is the state policy of Pakistan, which has led to the public believing in those lies and living in a world far away from reality.
This is the reason that you can find Pakistanis giving expert opinion on Kashmir, Palestine and Afghanistan while remaining completely oblivious about the happenings in their country and especially about crimes of their own army.
What do average Pakistanis know?
A question to an average Pakistani reader: What comes to your mind when you read or hear the word “Balochistan”? The exotic landscape? The riches and minerals? Gwadar, the ‘future dubai’ and China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC)?
Do you think there are ‘estranged Balochies’ and ‘tribal sardars’ who do not allow development in their areas because they fear that ‘an educated and developed people will reject the medieval tribal system’? Or do you think more about the poverty-stricken people? The tales of missing persons and their crying families on the roads, in front of press clubs and at the doorsteps of government offices?
Your answer really depends on where you come from in Pakistan and your interest in the geopolitics of this region. For example, if you come from Lahore or some other metropolitan city of Punjab, chances are that you have either never heard about the Baloch missing persons and the agonies of their families or you ‘know’ that the missing persons are actually people who went into foreign countries and the recovery of their dead bodies is a result of intra-tribal conflicts in Balochistan.
BBC News conducted a survey in Punjab in 2014 where it asked random people on the streets if they knew Balochistan and if they could tell the names of any cities there. Most of the people had no clue about the geography, culture, language and people of Balochistan. Some of the top media persons and politicians too did not know the basic difference between Balochi (the language) and Baloch (the people).
A systemic operation
Who is to be blamed for this unawareness among the people from the largest province of Pakistan about Balochistan that covers almost half of Pakistan? Is it the lack of interest of people? But how can people be uninterested about a region that covers 50 per cent of their country and, more importantly, supplies natural gas to their kitchens, while the Baloch have to rely on firewoods?
One can easily put the blame on the media and news agencies for not giving coverage to the human tragedy that is taking place in Balochistan, and it will be true to some extent. Few journalists who do talk about Balochistan and its suffering are silenced through use of force. Attack on Hamid Mir and the brutal killing of Sabeen Mahmud are just a few examples.
The real reason behind the ignorance of the average Pakistani is the policies of state institutions that have been ruling the country since its inception, sometimes blatantly occupying the driving wheel and other times taking the back seat while still calling the shots. This does not automatically exempt the media and the politicians from the moral and legal duty of standing for truth but simply exposes the real culprits behind the curtain.
When it comes to Balochistan, this policy of keeping the Pakistanis, and to some extent the international community, in complete darkness and misleading them with disinformation is as old as the country itself.
This policy has been furthered after the assassination of Baloch leader Nawab Akbar Bugti in a military operation in 2006, in order to cover the real motive behind his killing and the brutalities against the Baloch populace that followed it.
Military operations in civilian areas get reported as ‘action against a handful of RAW agents’. For the Pakistani media, and by extension the average populace of the country, cases of enforced disappearances in Balochistan are just ‘people moving to foreign countries’ and the recovery of their mutilated dead bodies become the result of ‘intra-tribal fights within Baloch people’.
The betrayal of political class
The Pakistani politicians are equally responsible for furthering these propaganda statements for their temporary political power. They play at the hands of the security establishment while in power, and reveal bits and pieces of truth when they become useless to the same establishment.
One example is the Chaudhary brothers, who were part of the Pervez Musharraf dictatorship when Nawab Akbar Bugti was killed. It was later revealed that Bugti’s demands were justified and that killing him was wrong.
Same is the case with the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) government, which left no stone unturned to malign the political Baloch leadership and to paint the indigenous Baloch movement as ‘India-funded miscreants’. The PPP ministers who blamed the abduction of UN official John Solecki in 2009 on Nawab Brahumdagh Bugti, the successor of Nawab Akbar Bugti, later confessed in private gatherings that they did so on the behest of the security establishment that wanted to ‘get rid of Brahumdagh Bugti just like his grandfather’.
Nawaz Sharif is no different. Every time he is thrown out of the government, he “speaks up” for Balochistan and Musharraf to be brought to justice but forgets even the name of Balochistan when in power.
Social media and calls for justice
Things have started to change with the rise of social media. Now, more and more people are getting informed about the injustices being meted out to the people of Balochistan and human rights crises that are taking place there.
The plight of missing persons and their families in Balochistan is reaching a wider audience through social media and voices in their support are getting louder and louder. More importantly, social media has given a platform to the oppressed Baloch, Pashtuns, Sindhis and religious minorities — all those who have been suffering at the hands of the Pakistani security establishment — to be united and rise against the injustices.
The Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) of Pakistan Army has also launched its counter narrative campaigns against the voices of the oppressed people, which they shamelessly call ‘fifth generation warfare’. But these voices can no longer be silenced now.
It becomes the moral duty of every individual, whether a Pakistani or a member of wider international community, to not only become aware of the sufferings of Baloch and other people in Pakistan. They must stand on the right side of history by supporting their movement for justice and rights.
Abdul Nawaz Bugti is an international representative of Baloch Republican Party and represents Balochistan at the UN Human Rights Council’s sessions. Views are personal.