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Analysis Human Rights Justice

Editorial | Govt Must Address BNP’s Concerns And Release Arrested Baloch Women

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The ruling party faces a moral and political test in its handling of its ally Balochistan National Party-Mengal (BNP-M) chief and MNA Akhtar Mengal. The demand from Mengal’s end is clear: four women who were reportedly arrested in Balochistan’s Awaran region recently be released. If this is not done, Mengal says, he will leave the government.

But if matters come to that pass where he must leave the government, it will be more than the loss of a mere coalition partner and a handful of seats in the National Assembly or the Provincial Assembly in Balochistan. Such a parting of political ways would have far-reaching implications, since it would weaken the pro-federation argument in Balochistan.

Akhtar Mengal, regardless of what one thinks of his political views or his career, represents a certain hope: that for all its limitations, the Pakistani mainstream can still accommodate a peaceful, law-abiding and independent Baloch political voice. When independent Baloch political leaders throw in their lot with the Pakistani federation, they set themselves at odds not just with a hostile Pakistani status quo, but with an equally – if not more – unfriendly attitude from separatists and armed rebels. Any political achievement on their part is then a success for the federation and the stability of Pakistan, in addition to their party. Any failure is scrutinized and held up all the more by separatists as proof of their own political argument.

The PTI government would do well to heed its Baloch ally’s appeal for help in releasing the four women who are, first and foremost, Pakistani citizens deserving of all the legal protections enjoyed by any other. There have been unconfirmed reports of the arrestees being manhandled in custody. The government must probe these allegations levelled by the human rights defenders.

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The arrested women were presented before media and the authorities claimed recovery of weapons from them. It is surprising that members of banned sectarian outfits in the province continue their activities with impunity in violation of Pakistan’s law and the National Action Plan (NAP), yet the state arrests women on seemingly dubious charges.

Pakistanis of Baloch origin need hope in the federation right now – not callousness, indifference and heavy-handedness. The BNP-M chief’s appeal to his allies in the federal government is not so much a challenge as it is an opportunity to strengthen Pakistan.

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