Last evening at a social function your Blogger came across a respected media consultant with several decades of journalism behind him. Over a lengthy discourse I discovered – not to my surprise - that the intelligence agencies have been extremely busy trying to suppress news stories on the recent public protests in Balochistan.
As press freedom is a hallowed right your Blogger is determined to bring the pertinent facts – as can be established by him – to light.
On Sunday 2 April Baloch nationalist parties, orchestrated by Akhtar Mengal, organized a massive protest rally in Quetta. According to one unconfirmed report at one stage the line of protestors stretched over a distance of 14 kilometres (???), all chanting anti-Musharraf and anti-Establishment slogans.
As The News reported:
The demonstrators demanded Islamabad end the military operation in the province, and called upon the US to stop the Pakistan government from using US-supplied weapons against tribesmen in Balochistan.According to the media consultant a Sindhi daily (I assume it was Kawish) was telephoned by the ISI and ordered not to make any mention of the Quetta demonstration. It seems the terrified journalist covering the story went through much mental turmoil before valiantly deciding to publish the story. Luckily for him Dawn and The News also covered the story, which provided him with a fig leaf defence.
"We will not negotiate with the government until our workers are released from prisons and torture cells and the military operation is stopped," Akhtar Mengal, chief of the BNP, told the rally
Interestingly while the story was covered by several English language newspapers, most of them gave it modest coverage. The News mentioned the demonstrations in passing in a story titled ‘Seven cops among 13 killed in Balochistan’, The Daily Times just displayed a photo of the rally. Surprisingly it was the normally weak-kneed Dawn which printed a piece, albeit very brief, headed Operation not to weaken struggle, says BNP chief. These ISI phone calls obviously did make an impact.
Apparently the massive Quetta demonstration deeply angered our nation’s chowkidars as it made mockery of their claims that the Baloch unrest was limited to the ‘connivings of three rapacious tribal sardars’.
What then followed was utterly outrageous, that is if one believes in the sanctity of law and due process.
On Thurday 6th April The Daily Times reported as follows:
A second report filed on the same day the The Daily Times provided some further details:
Former Balochistan chief minister Ataullah Mengal told Daily Times that his son Akhtar Mengal accompanied his children to school in the morning as they had been receiving kidnapping threats recently. Akhtar Mengal and his guards noticed four men in plainclothes on two motorcycles following their car and intercepted them. Mengal’s guards managed to catch hold of three of the men but one of them escaped. Ataullah Mengal said that when the three men were taken back to the Mengal residence and asked who they were and what they were doing, they said that they were from the Military Intelligence (MI). “During this time, a large contingent of rangers, police and other law enforcement personnel arrived near the house and cordoned it off,” Ataullah Mengal said.
According to Ataullah Mengal, the three men were handed over to the police outside. In the meantime, Mengal said that the entire area was cordoned off and no one was allowed to enter or leave the house.
The police surrounded the immediate area around the house while rangers personnel spread out in the vicinity. Clifton Town police was called to the spot in addition to members from the police headquarters.
So it would appear that having become totally cheesed off with Akhtar Mengal’s actions in Quetta some splendidly minor military minds decided to take pre-emptive action against the former Chief Minister in an attempt to forestall further anti-regime activities on his part.
[BNP MPA Akhtar Langu] told reporters that Akhtar Mengal’s children had been followed for some days. “Four people followed their vehicle on the way to school in the morning. Akhtar asked his guards to get hold of them. They overpowered two of them while two managed to escape,” Langu said.
Langu claimed that Mengal’s guards thrashed the two people as they appeared to be common criminals who wanted to harm the children. “After they were thrashed, they told [Mengal’s guards] that they belonged to an intelligence agency,” Langu said. “Therefore, they were handed over to the police and within half an hour, the police had cordoned off the bungalow,” he claimed.
Langu alleged that cordoning off the bungalow was aimed at harassing Akhtar Mengal in response to the ongoing campaign being run by Baloch parties against the federal government.
One age old tactic deployed by Pakistani regime defenders – including those of ZA Bhutto’s in the 1970s – is to frighten their opponents by menacing the safety of their children. Obviously our heroes in the Military Intelligence are not above such practices.
Instead of flinching Akhtar Mengal met the threat head-on.
On the other hand the publicised thrashing of two or three army men has in all probability further enraged our chowkidars. Not only was Akhtar Mengal’s house cordoned off but I am told that three whole blocks were blockaded causing acute aggravation to local residents. According to newspapers the police cum para-military cordon was still in effect, four days later, on Sunday afternoon. Press has reported that even the water supply to the house has been disconnected.
Ironically it appears while Akhtar Mengal offered himself up for arrest the police declined to detain him, but the very next day they declared him to be an absconder – such are vagaries of law and disorder in our khaki republic.
Meanwhile Akhtar Mengal continued with his verbal attacks on the military regime.
According to the press:
Akhtar said many Baloch activists had been picked up by agencies in similar fashion. He claimed that more than 8,000 Baloch people were in the custody of government agencies, out of which 600 had been killed, all during the recent military action in Balochistan and Sindh.
Akhtar said the country was being ruled by secret service agencies. He said these agencies were committing human rights violations, and also depriving the smaller provinces of their legitimate rights. Akhtar urged the United Nations and other international bodies, including the Human Rights Commission to take note of the atrocities in Balochistan.
Unsurprisingly, logic clearly tells us that these actions of our great military minds have backfired badly for them. The Mengal house siege in Karachi has resulted in a provincial blockade which has effectively cut off most parts of Balochistan, for the moment, from the rest of the country.
As yesterday’s Dawn informed us:
In the meantime reports are reaching that there was a province-wide strike in Balochistan today protesting the official seige of the Mengal house at Karachi.
Hundreds of activists of the Balochistan National Party (BNP) resumed on Friday morning a blockade of the National Highway at several key points, cutting off road links between Quetta and Karachi for a second day.
“Since noon today there has been no road transport between Quetta and Karachi,” Ghulamullah Baloch, an activist of the Baloch National Movement told Dawn by telephone from Khuzdar.
Official sources confirmed the suspension of traffic between Sindh and Balochistan.
The blockade left hundreds of passenger buses, vans, lorries and cars stranded at different points on the highway after protesting workers of the BNP refused to allow them to continue their journey.
Leaders and workers of the BNP said they would not open the highway until security officials lifted the siege around Mr Mengal’s house in Karachi and released the three employees of Sardar Akhtar Mengal.
Reports reaching here from Nushki and Gwadar said that BNP workers also blocked link roads in the areas and were not allowing vehicles to proceed to the highways.