A dangerous narrative

“I stood firmly with those who opposed Musharraf’s Balochistan operation and earlier the sending of the military into Waziristan,” wrote Chairman Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Imran Khan. These lines were penned by Mr Khan to explain his position on why he is in favour of initiating a dialogue with the Taliban. It was astounding to see Mr Khan drawing parallels between the genuine Baloch struggle and terrorism by the Taliban. Mr Khan is not alone in coming up with such ridiculous arguments. In recent months, many in Pakistan – especially in Punjab – have started equating the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) and other Baloch nationalists with the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Those who do this are either unaware of the history of the Baloch struggle or want to undermine it – or both. The narrative surrounding the TTP and the Baloch nationalists is quite dangerous, to say the least.

Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur, who has an association with the Baloch rights movement going back to the early 1970s, says: “Attempts are being made to equate the Baloch nationalists with the fundamentalist TTP. This serves two purposes: it maligns the Baloch struggle and creates doubts in minds of those sympathising with Baloch. If this false narrative wins public approval, Pakistan stands to benefit the most.” Talpur sahib is of the opinion that the essential difference between Baloch Sarmachars/nationalists and TTP along with their proxies operating in Balochistan is that the Baloch Sarmachars/nationalists represent the historical secular ethos of the Baloch society, which has always been Baloch society’s hallmark and is adhered to by majority of Baloch. On the other hand, the TTP and its Baloch proxies – who also double as anti-nationalist death squads – want to create the Islamist ethos, which the Pakistani state has sponsored through proliferation of madrassas throughout Balochistan and nurturing Islamists as strategic assets there to counter not only the secular ethos but also the Baloch independence struggle. For Baloch nationalists, this battle of narratives is as important as the struggle on the ground because classification of the Baloch struggle with the regressive TTP will do them more harm than any army can inflict.

It is not surprising that such a narrative is being propagated at this point in time. Many people in Pakistan are not familiar with the Baloch struggle and are unaware that this is the fifth time an insurgency has broken out in Balochistan. Pakistan’s military establishment has tried its best to black out news of the Baloch struggle from mainstream media for as long as possible. Due to the presence of Baloch nationalists and their sympathisers on the social media, it is now almost impossible to stop the news of the atrocities being committed by the military and its proxies in the country’s largest province. Reports on human rights abuses by local and internal human rights organisations have given credence to the claims of the Baloch nationalists. Many newspapers and television channels have started reporting on Balochistan as well. The establishment knows that it cannot hide the truth any longer so it is now trying to create a counter-narrative to undermine the Baloch struggle. No wonder then that this new, albeit false, narrative is being peddled around to create doubts in the minds of the people of Pakistan.

Dr Mohammad Taqi, a columnist with the Daily Times, says: “The dominant national discourse in Pakistan speaks about talks with both the TTP and the Baloch nationalists. This is the “politically correct” position that political leaders and people take speaking on record. The right-wingers – of which there is preponderance in today’s Pakistan – fully endorse the army operation in Balochistan when speaking off the record or privately and label them as Indian proxies. The same people go to extreme lengths to describe the TTP as the hothead tribals fighting because of the US intervention in Afghanistan and Pakistan allowing the US drone attacks. They describe the TTP being financed by US/India/Israel in the same breath. Still, the solution to TTP is proposed as dialogue both off and on the record. This creates an interesting ideological milieu, which endorses and prolongs inaction against the TTP while being indifferent to or condoning the army action replete with atrocities against the Baloch.” Dr Taqi believes the intense media focus on and hyping up the dialogue option with the TTP affords the military a plausible deniability that while it wants to act against the terrorists it cannot go against the national discourse, especially when civilian leaders have not been able or willing to go against this narrative. The operation in Balochistan is hardly discussed and this fading out of a human rights disaster enables the army to carry on with its despicable atrocities against the nationalists. Anyone with a sense of history and morals would tell you it is wrong to bracket TTP terrorists together with Baloch nationalists but it is apparent that the sum total of controlling or shaping the narrative is inaction against the TTP and unleashing havoc on the Baloch.

We need to understand that the Taliban are not the victims. They are, as usual, on a killing spree – they have already killed more than 40,000 innocent Pakistanis and maimed hundreds of thousands. On the other hand, the military establishment’s “kill and dump” policy in Balochistan continues unabated. The Baloch are suffering at the hands of the state while the Taliban have taken this state hostage. Thus, it is imperative to challenge this false narrative.

(Originally published in Pragati)

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