Pakistani politicians can learn from Australian leaders

Posted on February 19, 2010


By Mehroz Siraj Sadruddin

IN AN unprecedented move more than two weeks ago, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and leader of the opposing Liberal Party, Malcolm Turnbull had made speeches, apologizing to the ‘forgotten Australians,’ children and members of society who had been forcibly evicted from their families and placed in foster care centres, where lax government regulations and laws had only ensured that these innocent people were abused verbally, physically and sexually.

After living for a few years under harsh conditions at these foster care centres, children who had all, but lost their innocence and childhood were released into Australian society with the belief that they could adapt to the society on their own, without undergoing the normal process of socialization that children undergo at home and social institutions like schools.

Most of these gross human rights abuses across Australia, which are said to have taken place in the 19th and early 20th century (when the country was mainly a British colony) reportedly victimized 500,000 or more innocent Australians.

In his unprecedented address to the Australian Parliament on November 16, Prime Minister Rudd said “we look back with shame that many of these little ones who were entrusted to institutions and foster homes instead were abused physically, humiliated cruelly and violated sexually.  And we look back with shame at how those with power were allowed to abuse those who had none.”

In his own speech, Opposition leader Mr Turnbull clearly identified the fact that these innocent people were failed by the social institutions in which they should have bestowed their faith, when he said “you were failed by the system of care.”

Mr Turnbull went on to add that “for far too long, your stories were not believed when they should have been, and for that too, we apologize, and we are sorry.”

It is actually very interesting to learn that by studying and understanding this apology and the one that Mr Rudd gave to the Aboriginal Stolen Generations in February 2008, Pakistan’s current government and the Nawaz Sharif led political opposition can learn a lot.

Just like Australian leaders before Mr Rudd had generally forgotten about the treatment meted out to the stolen generations and the forgotten Australians, all Pakistani governments since the country’s break-up in 1971 owing to the India-sponsored Mukti-Bahini insurgency, have conveniently forgotten the plight of the Bihari population of the former East Pakistan (now Bangladesh).  Similarly, no government in Pakistan since 1971 has ever allocated serious priorities towards investment in Baluchistan in any project other than the Gawadar Port.

The people in Pakistan’s other three provinces have only now started to learn about the real extent of the problems being faced by the people in Baluchistan as a result of the complicit ignorance of not only the federal governments since 1971, but also because of the sheer carelessness of Baluchistan’s provincial governments, ministers and tribal chieftains who were only busy squandering tax payers’ money and foreign funds and weaponry into erecting and maintaining small militant organizations and torture cells with the ultimate intention of carrying out their anti-Pakistan activities and fight out their political rivals, all under the garb of Baluch nationalism.

It is correct to say that the common people in Baluchistan have suffered more at the hands of their own provincial leaders and ethnic tribal chieftains, than they may have ever suffered either because of the ignorance of the federal governments or because of the military deployments in that province during the rule of General Musharraf.

However, this by no means suggests that the federal government should choose to ignore the challenges being incurred in Baluchistan ranging from combating Indian involvement in cross-border terrorism, to establishing schools, hospitals, public infrastructure and social welfare.

In fact, now is the right time to reach out to the Baluch people and invest openly in that province.

Just as  Mr Rudd used the floor of the Australian parliament in February 2008 to apologize to the Aboriginal stolen generations, whose children and community members were forcibly evicted from their families for more than a hundred years, our current government and the opposition which does enjoy genuinely enjoy democratic credentials should utilize the parliamentary sessions to apologize to oppressed communities in Baluchistan and even in the NWFP and Sindh.

Also, special apologies should be made to the Biharis (aka Stranded Pakistanis) who had endured harsh and long struggles and journeys to make their way into East Pakistan from the Hindu dominated oppressive states of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa in pre-partitioned India. The Biharis were amongst the most patriotic people Pakistan has ever had and their patriotism was blatantly abused by the military dictatorships of Generals Ayub and Yahya Khan, who had shown these people false dreams of being re-settled in Pakistan once the 1971 civil war and subsequent Indo-Pak war was over.

However since the fall of Dhaka on December 16, 1971, Pakistani governments disowned these people on the grounds that their entry into Pakistan would create greater racial, linguistic and ethnic problems in the country. It is ironic to see that the issue of the Bihari people did not feature anywhere in the Z.A. Bhutto-Indira Gandhi joint declaration at Simla in 1972, nor has it ever been taken as a first-priority issue between  Pakistan and Bangladesh ever since Pakistan recognized that state in the 1974 Islamic Conference held in Lahore.

The fact that these Biharis have also been considered widely as social outcasts by the Bangladeshi people and have been living in shanty towns, slums and worse conditions in Bangladesh makes it all the more important for the current Pakistani leadership to not only apologize to them for promises broken previously, but also to work with the Bangladeshi leadership in order to alleviate their sufferings.

Just as a national consensus is helping PM Rudd to engage with aboriginal communities by investing in their health care, education and social sector,  our leaders can utilize Pakistan’s reinvigorated national unity as the right platform to commence a new beginning with the Baluch people, where the presence of the government, army and an active judiciary in their province is viewed as a measure undertaken to provide security and for ensuring proper structuring and streamlining of the investments and funds into establishment of educational institutions, health care facilities, infrastructure and social welfare, all of which would generate more jobs for the Baluch people who would then see a gradual decline in poverty and illiteracy in their province.

By initiating a positive process of reconciliation in Baluchistan, Pakistan’s current leadership can avail the available opportunities to integrate the province and its people more firmly in the country’s economy and social fabric.

This is exactly what the Rudd government has done in Australia with respect to the Northern Territory intervention. Although the emergency action plan was launched by the government of PM John Howard, it was the Rudd government that took the project forward by means of political reconciliation, which surely includes the February 2008 apology to the stolen generations.

Baluchistan has large tapped and untapped reserves of natural resources including oil, uranium, coal and gas. If Pakistan’s current leadership succeeds in convincing the Baluch people about their own stake in Pakistan’s economy and future and then  delivers on its promises and development initiatives, this in itself could prove to be beneficial not only for the people of Pakistan, but also for the government and the military establishment.

Greater prospects of sustainable jobs, good education health care, dispensation of justice, building of infrastructure, along with a better sense of security would definitely turn people away from deadly tribal cultures and reject terrorism.

Also, such a strategy could prove to be the government’s most effective means of combating Indian and other foreign interferences in Baluchistan, all of which surely seek to exploit the Baluch people by inciting amongst them anti-Pakistan sentiments on the pretexts of supporting Baluch nationalism.

When the Baluch people would see that their patriotism and strong nationalistic feelings are being valued, loved and recognized by the federal government, they would themselves ditch insurgent organizations like the Baluch Liberation Army, whose leaders were once jailed by the government of ZA Bhutto in the 1970s on the allegations that they were conspiring against Pakistan for foreign agencies.

Over the last fortnight, the controversial National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) has been thrown away by the government and the opposition and a new Baluchistan package has been taken up. This clearly shows that the need for greater but neutral and well meaning political reconciliation within the country has never been greater since the parallel rise of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and the Bengali secessionist leader Sheikh Mujibur Rehman in the late 1960s.

While the NRO fiasco has proven that politically motivated reconciliation moves (which would only give corrupt politicians a clean chit) would be resisted by the nation, the reasonable support that the Baluchistan aid package seems to have received from the Pakistani people and the media clearly shows that people from all walks of life, including most Baluch people, still have great faith in Pakistan’s unity and forward march into the 21st century.

Terrorism, Taliban, and foreign meddling in Pakistan’s internal affairs have been unequivocally condemned by a vast majority of Pakistanis who have supported the military’s anti-terror operations in Waziristan, Swat, other tribal agencies and even Baluchistan.  This clearly suggests that Pakistanis still have faith in the idea that their country will move on and terrorism would be defeated.

Now is the time for the government and the opposition to play their cards well. History is filled with examples that detail the fate of those communities who failed to learn their lessons. It is time that our politicians learn their lessons from the past and one way of doing so, is to learn from international politicians who have demonstrated great leadership both, domestically and internationally. Kevin Rudd and Malcolm Turnbull are surely placed at a high position in such a group of politicians.

The author is a Melbourne based freelance journalist and an International Studies student at RMIT University

The article was originally published at

Posted in: South Asia