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EDITORIAL: The order of the Islamabad High Court (IHC) to form a commission to “investigate grievances of students belonging to Balochistan regarding racial profiling, enforced disappearances and lack of security while visiting their home towns” also touches upon a number of other extremely important issues.

While racial profiling has been judged “intolerable” and “one of the worst forms of human rights violations”, and rightly so, there’s also mention of the “disturbingly indifferent” response of public functionaries. That raises the question of when the state does not honour the court’s summons in a matter as central to the constitution as preservation of basic human rights, does it not invite suspicion that some of its agencies might have overstepped some red lines?

This issue goes much deeper than the case of the missing Baloch students of Quaid-e-Azam University, which the court is hearing, and indeed right to the heart of the genuine part of Baloch disenfranchisement. There must be a reason that the state has been unable to explain the benefit of, or even accept, some tactics that are clearly employed in Balochistan.

Even the court was forced to admit that the complaints of the students of QAU university were “not unfounded”. Since it’s also pretty clear that the approach that revolves around intimidatory tactics like forced disappearances and harassment in home towns alienates far more honest Baloch than the few separatists it might help catch, it beggars belief that it is still used.

The recent Karachi University terrorist attack, more than all the work that still needs to be done for CPEC (China Pakistan Economic Corridor), was a tragic reminder that the time has come for the state to rethink some things about its approach to Balochistan.

The urgent need to surgically weed out terrorists and dissidents from the mix while keeping the work going on safely does not in any way justify the crackdown on everybody’s civil liberties. Surely, Islamabad does not need to be schooled is the terrible history of attempts to stomp out disagreements.

As this case proceeds, it would not be a bad idea to sort out the public functionaries whose trademark inefficiency continues to frustrate everybody all the way to the chief justice of IHC. That the state machinery always manages to throw a spanner into the state’s own work is perhaps the biggest reason that nothing gets anywhere; and problems like those faced by ordinary Baloch continue to linger. Yet if things are to change, especially in problem areas down south, this remarkable ineptitude will also have to be rooted out. And that’s a very big ask.

Meanwhile, Balochistan continues to simmer. When you have forced disappearances, racial profiling, and constant surveillance, on top of the insurgency and sectarian terrorism, you have only so long to put out the fire. And the state is already more than a little behind the curve in this matter.

The latest headlines out of the province should have been about new CPEC projects creating record jobs and weaning local people away from less desirable pursuits. Instead they’re about a separatist outfit scoring successful hits and even carving out an alliance with the deadly and itself resurgent TTP (Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan).

It’s extremely important, therefore, to shift focus from students and travelling locals to enforcing the National Action Plan (NAP). But that would first require these things, especially about fundamental human rights, to be sorted out on priority.

And it’s a shame that it’s the state itself that is the biggest roadblock in any meaningful progress. Hopefully, the commission formed by IHC will submit its report “at the earliest”, as the court demanded, and then the arms of justice will ensure that the right departments implement the right rules within the right time frame.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

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