Balochistan Problem – a Way Out
News about a new and extended military operation in Balochistan has started circulating in the past few weeks. While this would not be a new scenario as far as history of Balochistan is concerned, the need for adopting a reconciliatory approach towards Balochistan is now being felt more than ever.
Balochistan is the largest province of Pakistan comprising nearly 44% of the country’s landmass and is, by far, the richest one in terms of natural resources. But today, Balochistan is most underdeveloped and poverty-stricken province where even the most basic infrastructure has not been built and people do not have access to the very basic immunities of life.
The native people of Balochistan, numbered around eight million, have, for years, been complaining of marginalization. Law and order situation is worse than the worst possible and many a youth is now playing in the hands of those who want to destabilize Pakistan. Popular leadership is alienated and people of Balochistan are least integrated with the rest of the country.
If we are asked to define national integration, it would be something like, “the will of people to live together that comes from common destiny and interwoven cultures, regional languages, traditions, ideals, history, religion, customs, and right to equitable share in physical resources with privilege of decision-making in economic, political, and social matters of a nation-state.”
If we analyze this definition in the wake of situation in Balochistan, most would agree that the situation is not extremely grave as far as first half of this definition is concerned. But there are some serious reservations as to the ‘right to equitable share’ and ‘privilege of decision-making’ in economic, political, and social matters’. How and why have we come to such a situation is a sad but complex tale?
Dimensions of the Balochistan Issue
The Balochistan problem is essentially a struggle for provincial rights. They revolted against the overdeveloped federal state structure and demanded more provincial autonomy. Rather than its rich natural resources, Balochistan is characterized by economic backwardness, lack of development and non-availability of basic facilities of life.
Balochistan has been a focus of trouble in the past but the recent episode is the most grave of the all. The 2006 killing of Akbar Bugti – at that time the motive figurehead of politics in Balochistan – in a firefight with the security forces gave the current wave of secessionists a hero to latch onto.
Since then the situation in balochistan is out of control. National infrastructure is targeted routinely and the incidents of target killings of academia and intelligentsia belonging to other provinces, especially Punjab, have risen at an alarming rate.
The growing hub of Gwadar, which has been hailed as a special economic zone, is not only a focal point of strategic interests of many global and regional powers in Southwest Asia, but also a grave concern and source of contention for the natives of Balochistan as they feel being marginalized in the development of this project as in other mega projects going on in the province.
Balochistan has been an area of special interest for regional and global powers owing to its key strategic position. Every effort made at mass development in this area met with covert resistance from hostile competitors present in the region. The latest insurgency too coincided with the work on mega project of Gwadar port.
And lastly, the security agencies of the country see this entire situation in security perspective. While focusing on covert activities of hostile actors in the region, the economic, political and social grievances of the people have been largely ignored. Consequently, the angry youth of Balochistan fell an easy prey to the nefarious designs of our enemies. Thus the situation has grown complex and requires a holistic approach in order to be improved.
Recent Efforts Made by the Federal Government
It was in this context that the need for adopting a conciliatory approach towards Balochistan was strongly felt. As opposed to the military-action policy of Gen. Pervez Musharraf, a political solution to the Balochistan problem in the form of Aaghaz-e-Huqooq-e-Balochistan Package was hailed as a fresh breath to the ailing people of Balochistan.
It was expected to mitigate their sufferings and redress their grievances. Though Baloch sardars and other nationalist leaders expressed their reservations about the package, the government and other leading political activists of the country cherished it as a positive step towards the peaceful resolution and redressal of the grievances of the people of Balochistan.
Balochistan Package tried to address many issues – including the very contentious ones as well. It aimed at reviewing the role of Federal agencies operating in Balochistan and withdrawing army from Sui as well as deferring the proposed construction of cantonments in various parts of the province.
It envisaged limiting the powers of Frontier Corps and removing the various check-posts established by FC and Coast Guards away from the border areas of the province. It tried to address the highly contentious issue of missing persons and setting-up of a judicial inquiry commission to probe the killing of Nawab Akbar Bugti and the murders of three Baloch nationalist leaders in Turbat.
The Balochistan Package also tried to redress economic grievances by providing for different aid packages and creating more employment opportunities for the youth of Balochistan. Various arrears amounts due on federal government were promised to be released and the share of Balochistan government in various mega projects was hinted to be enhanced.
It tried to create stakes of the province in the mega projects of Gwadar. The provincial government and legislature were promised a lot of powers and representation in Gwadar port and development authority.
The Package also hinted upon starting dialogue with the alienated Baloch nationalist leadership. It indicated a conditional return of exiled leadership back to the country. On the constitutional level, it promised provincial autonomy, and restructuring of NFC Award to include backwardness, poverty, resource generation, and inverse-population ratio as against the previous criterion of population as sole determining factor for resource distribution.
Why Govt. Efforts Failed
Since its announcement, the Package had to face several challenges. The first and fore-most issue was its implementation in the wake of civil-military relations in Pakistan. While this package had been formulated by some sagacious brains of the nation and through a consensus of nearly all major political parties, still the impression that the military establishment was not taken on board was soon strongly felt.
This was and is the most significant reason of stalling of the promises made in this package. Secondly, the provincial political setup was and is not truly representative as popular political parties of Balochistan as they had boycotted the previous elections and they are still not part of the system at this critical stage.
Thirdly, the situation demanded a better effort in terms of aid packages announced, especially after the second year of worst floods in the province. Even the promises made were not fulfilled.
Moreover, there is a big question mark over the degree to which autonomy would be given to the provinces. Certain provisions have been made in the 18th amendment but the demands, especially from Balochistan, are now much beyond those provisions. And lastly, there is a question of bringing the alienated and rebellious nationalist leadership back into the mainstream politics over which this package failed to play any part.
Most of the leaders of Balochistan outrightly rejected this package expressing their reservations over its implementation. Two years after the package was announced, it can not be denied that those reservations were not entirely baseless. Apart from some cosmetic gestures, the government failed to move towards the implementation of this package.
The so far apparent failure of this package has made it crystal clear where the actual power lies as far as the statecraft in Pakistan is concerned. The political paralysis in dealing with this remote restive province is another manifestation of the power the military holds over the country’s weak civilian governments.
The fact that the more vibrant as well as violent part of the political leadership of Balochistan rejected this package whereas the establishment is not willing to implement even the provisions made in this package, makes the situation more complex.
At the same time, in a larger view, the situation in this region has grown more tense in the wake of a withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan. This new development has led to the intensification of the Great Game being played here in this region of which Balochistan is a part.
Thus one thing is clear that the situation in Balochistan is complex and chaotic and we can not have a straightforward and simple solution of this situation. Then do we need a new social contract to cater the growing urge of dismemberment in the people of Balochistan?
Here, one is reminded of the famous-cum-notorious six points Sheikh Mujeeb. The situation in Balochistan is comparable, at least in terms of grievances, to that of East Pakistan in 1968-9. A new military operation at this stage, like the one was done in Bengal in 1971, may further aggravate the situation.
Four decades later, most analysts would agree that a contract on the basis of those six points (one or two less) would have at least delayed the dismemberment of East Pakistan, if not prevented for good as more optimists would argue. Thus the need of the hour is an out of the box thinking among the ruling elite of Pakistan.
The Way Out
The way out of this situation demands that we should learn from history. The Balochistan problem must no more be seen in the security perspective only. Focus must be shifted on its strong political and social elements.
Unfortunately this has been a culture in Pakistan that all legitimate political movements against injustice have been labeled as foreign machinations and leaders of those movements have been called traitors and agents.
Even the credibility of lawyers’ movement for the restoration of judiciary was questioned. This culture must end and the dissenting people should be seen as patriotic as any other section of the society.
The federal government will have to restore the confidence of people in its authority through some confidence building measures. These CBMs should include a maximum possible withdrawal of a chunk of troops from the settled areas.
Better efforts to rehabilitate the displaced people to their homes would help improve the image of government. Then a broader political amnesty to all those who lay down their arms, like Gen. Rahimuddin did in the era of Gen. Zia ul Haq, can bring back a large portion of secessionist leadership.
Another CBM can be the introduction of dual citizenship as is present in many countries including US and Canada. This would effectively remove the danger of ethnic disturbance resulting from realization of mega projects.
Through these CBMs, we should create an environment to move towards a stable solution of this problem. It would be a political solution that grants the province greater autonomy and control over its resources.
Meaningful development can only occur if there is political empowerment, adequate healthcare, educational and employment opportunities. Unfortunately these areas have been largely ignored in the past.
Political and economic empowerment will bring positive social changes not only in the lives of people of Balochistan but also in their views about the federal government and its agencies. We should remember that it is the will of people to live together that provides for national integration and smooth functioning of federal structure of government. May God provide our leadership with the wisdom and right direction.
[Article written by: Dr Waheed Asghar (CSP - 10th Position CSS 2009), Courtesy of JWT]