26th Feb, 2023. 09:10 am
Balochistan is in the limelight again. And for no good reason, as is mostly the case. Mind-numbing tragedies are reported from the province every now and then. The rest of the country looks on as the people of Balochistan burn in the hellfire that their province has become, and as the state refuses to address the root cause of everything that is wrong with the province. The most recent tragedy to have emerged from Balochistan is the discovery of three unidentified mutilated and bullet-riddled bodies of a woman and two boys from a well allegedly situated near the residence of provincial minister Sardar Abdul Rehman Khetran in Barkhan. The victims are said to have been kept in the private jail of Balochistan’s minister for communication and works before they were brutally killed. The woman’s face has reportedly been burnt by acid hence is beyond recognition.
While the issue of the victims’ identity remains, members of the Marri tribe have begun a sit-in with the bodies outside Quetta’s red zone. A man named Khan Muhammad Marri has claimed that the bodies are of his wife, 40-year-old Granaz, and his two sons, 22-year-old Muhammad Anwar and 15-year-old Abdul Qadir. He claimed that his wife and sons, and five more of his children, including a minor daughter, were in Khetran’s private jail for the past four years. The rest of his five children, Marri said, were still languishing there. According to reports, the man used to serve as a private guard to Khetran and fell from his ‘master’s’ favour after he refused to testify against his son. The issue came to light a few days before the bodies were found, after a video of Granaz pleading for justice went viral on social media.
The furore has resulted in Khetran’s arrest, who has also now been remanded to the police for 10 days. However, this can hardly be considered progress given the impunity and immunity sardars and feudal lords enjoy in Pakistan. Remember Nazim Jokhio? The signs of what is to come are clear from the fact that the FIR registered in the Barkhan case nominates ‘unknown’ people instead of Khetran. This crucial loophole usually serves as a means for the all-powerful to wriggle their way out of justice. What kills one’s hope more is that this is not the first time the provincial minister has been accused of running a private jail. The previous accusations go only as far back as 2014 when law enforcers had raided his house after he reportedly tortured police officers. The fact that men accused of such crimes still manage to get elected to the parliament is a slap in the face of our justice system, as well as our collective conscience. Even now, the minister has denied all allegations, and has termed the incident an attempt at “tarnishing his political repute”. It will not come as a surprise if the law enforcers come out holding up Khetran’s side of the story, instead of Marri’s.
Where does the problem lie? The problem lies with the network and support that power enjoys. The state apparatus more often than not serves as a means to justify and protect this power. The law enforcers know all too well who they arrest and why. The lawmakers also know who sits among them and why. The parliamentary parties also very clearly know who their members are, and why they are issued election tickets. Yet, each and every institution and its individual members fail to challenge the status quo. The only conclusion one can thus reach is that it suits them. In Pakistan, often it is not those who commit the crime that are dealt with the proverbial iron hands, but those who challenge the lawlessness. Be it a Baloch sardar, a tribal elder from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, feudal lord from Sindh or powerful business owners from Punjab, all are equal to each other when it comes to the law going blind.
Pakistan can only progress when the ruling elite stops drawing inspiration from the colonial era, and dare to live in the 21st Century. The change will need to come from the top down and not the bottom up.