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Balochistan: The Ostrich Effect

In 2006, a study was conducted by NYU professors Galai and Sade that implied that investors have a tendency to avoid apparently risky financial situations by pretending that they don’t exist. Furthermore, it was discovered that during financial turmoil, people in the Scandinavian region looked up the value of their investments 50-80% less than usual. It is quite understandable, is it not? Man has a predisposition to shun the ugly, the uncomfortable but the truth is often times, muddled by these very characteristics.

What does psychology tell us? Confirmation bias is simply a psychological predisposition to agree with the people/information, which conforms to one’s worldview and ignore information, which does not. It would not be unfair to imply that every human present on this planet is suffering from some degree of cognitive bias since we have evolved to highlight positivity and disregard negativity.

Now let’s talk about the impact of man’s cognitive biases in the context of power politics, more particularly, the Balochistan conflict.

Much has been spoken about the war in KPK and Pakistan’s role in the global war on terror but not much has been speculated about the nature of events, which have taken place in Pakistan’s largest province. Is it an uncanny coincidence? Maybe, but in this age of information, it has become increasingly hard to conceal what goes on there.

Astonishingly, international news corporations like Al Jazeera find access to the war stricken province while our national channels are somehow ignorant or uninterested regarding what goes on there. Al Jazeera produced a documentary titled, Balochistan: Pakistan’s Other War in which the reporters had access to BLA leaders and fighters, separatist Baloch Sardars as well the representatives of the law enforcing agencies which present control Balochistan. On the other hand, the Pakistani media’s attention has been purposely or otherwise, diverted away from this region.

Needless to say, Pakistan is at war within two of its provinces and the establishment has to play a very tough and perhaps even brutal game, in order to defend the security and stability of Pakistan.

It is an open secret that several tribal Sardars have openly waged war against the state of Pakistan and seek an independent state. It is also true that Indians and Americans are also involved in aiding the forces fighting against the Pakistani establishment. In fact, the scion of the Marri tribe, Harbiyar Marri, has accepted the fact that America as well as India is providing him with support both in terms of weapons and money. While he is comfortably seated in London, he is openly instigating rebellion and calling for action against the Pakistani state. Bramdagh Bugti, presently clean-shaven, suited and extremely well spoken also gave an interview in Geneva in which he narrated the nature of conflict and his future aspirations. He appealed to western countries to recognize his struggle and has even been successful in lobbying a certain US Congresswoman Dana Rohrabacher to file a motion in the House of Representatives seeking an independent state of Balochistan.

Meanwhile, the ‘good’ Sardars, Harbiyar’s elder brother and Bramdagh’s cousins are happy serving the government of Pakistan in the capacity of elected members and provincial ministers.  The ‘bad’ Sardars however are old and weak and thus have to rely on foreign aid as well as unconventional guerrilla warfare tactics in order to display their significance. Just yesterday, over a dozen innocent workers were brutally murdered by the Baloch insurgents. Even before this event, several people, especially of Punjabi descent were murdered in order to highlight the insurgents’ displeasure at the Punjabi elite.

War is a dirty business and in Balochistan, the bodies keep on piling up. The missing persons fiasco is as controversial as it is furtive. Thousands of Baloch activists, students, teachers etc were kidnapped and are yet to be found. Some of the victims’ bodies were found in mass graves, which also showed signs of torture. Even reporting this issue has been a source of immense squabble, which is why I do not deem it wise to talk about this further.

Whenever any mention of ‘security agencies’ is made, eyes become weary, ears become vigilant and the tongue certainly more restrained. Surreptitiousness is certainly paramount in this field of work thus it is somewhat understandable that these forces must conceal their marks, every step of the way.

A leading, serving General in Pakistan’s armed forces wrote a very intricate paper in 2007, titled US-Pakistan Trust Deficit and The War on Terror. I accept with humility that reading that paper has been paramount in shaping my understanding of the relationship between these two nations and has been tremendously intellectually stimulating at the same time. Goes to show that some of our soldiers know what they are talking about.

The report highlighted an event in which a US fighter aircraft dropped two bombs (GBUs 34 and 38) on the Zoi Norai post along the Pak-Afghan border. This event resulted in the death of one soldier while several others were injured. In the astute words of the highbrow soldier, ‘what is of paramount importance is that these inevitable incidences be thoroughly and objectively investigated to the satisfaction of both parties and be accompanied by appropriate corrective action that is publicized so that there are no perceptions of favoritism or inequality in accountability.’

Bold words from one of Pakistan’s most formidable men.

It would then be a matter of surprise that an event, taking place in LUMS was cancelled on the directions of the establishment as it was deemed controversial. It was supposed to host, IA Rehman, Director HRCP, Asim Sajjad Akhar, Yale graduate, professor and activist, Farzana Bari, activist, and most importantly Mama Qadeer, a man who has lost his son to the conflict in Balochistan. The latter might have been the main reason this event was cancelled; as I said before, the missing persons case is in sorts a no mans land. The less said about it, the better.

However, one is forced to think how an in a private university is a matter of concern for our security agencies. Certainly the students at Lums are well informed enough not to be radicalized by propaganda and in fact, I feel it is highly unlikely that any anti-state sentiment could have been expressed in such an event which consisted of academics and intellectuals which understand the notions of power far more than the students.

A fundamental right has been violated but I feel that not many people are concerned with the development of intellectual and political discourse in Pakistan. Gen Rtd Asad Durrani, a former head of Pakistan’s premier intelligence agency said in a recent interview held at Oxford union, ‘When it comes to matters of statecraft, morality has to take a back seat.’ Due to the information asymmetry, which exists between my self and the retired General, I cannot help myself from agreeing with his point of view.

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