What next in Balochistan?

By Zubeida Mustafa
Source: Dawn

ISLAMABAD knows the art of messing up situations that could be used to its advantage. Take the case of Balochistan. Backward, under-developed and impoverished, Pakistan’s largest province has been reduced to that state by the sardars who have ruled it for ages without doing anything for the uplift of their people.

They themselves received hefty sums from the Pakistan government. All the federal government had to do was to pump in development funds and reach out to the people directly who would then have responded by standing on their own feet and marginalising the feudal leadership.

What did the Pakistan government do instead? It joined hands with the sardars to crush the people. Now that it has fallen out with the sardars, who are not satisfied with what they have been receiving, Islamabad finds itself between the devil and the deep sea. The sardars are angry and the people are alienated. The tribal chiefs have given the people a sense of honour and pride that they cherish and thus cleverly enlisted their support against Islamabad. On the contrary, the federal government has attacked the Baloch where it hurts them most. It has tried to humiliate them and rob them of their self-esteem.

The polarisation is acute and there is total deadlock. Now it is too late for Islamabad to blame the sardars because in the conflict that is taking place the sardars are posing as the champions of the people’s rights for whom they have taken up arms. Since the people are suffering casualties and loss of property and homes at the hands of the Pakistan army, they have turned to the sardars for protection.

Now Pakistan will perforce have to deal with the sardars as representatives of the Baloch people. Attempts to drive a wedge between them have failed in the present circumstances. More dangerous has been Islamabad’s strategy of using force to put down the Baloch and making them toe the federal government’s line. This has alienated them further.

Another unwise move by Islamabad has been to slam the door on a political settlement and insist on adopting a military approach. The Baloch nationalists are described as “miscreants”, “terrorists” and “fararis” who have to be decimated. With the army taking a broad swipe at the Baloch fighters, it is inevitable that “collateral” damage is massive and innocent civilians — men, women and children — are being killed in large numbers.

This is further alienating the people. In the last week or so, the government claimed that nearly 50 “militants” had been killed. But who are the militants? Whether they are members of the Baloch Liberation Army, a shadowy outfit that has no clearly defined command structure, or other militias who make their presence felt through acts of subversion, the fact is that innocent civilians are also being killed. The truth will never be known because the reports are one-sided and emanate from the army sources. Independent reporting speaks of the tragedy of the common man who has been caught in the crossfire.

Now the government is pretending to do what it should have done a long time ago. It has retrieved the report of the Mushahid Hussain parliamentary subcommittee from the dusty shelf to which it was consigned in June 2005 when it was presented to the government. Unfortunately this belated move amounts to conceding too little too late. More than a year later, when so much ill-feeling has been created, the government has reverted to the recommendations made in the report to see what can be done to alleviate the grievances of the Baloch. But probably more than that is needed now.

The president and the prime minister have been reiterating that the recommendations of the subcommittee are being implemented. Mr Shaukat Aziz even said that 30 proposals have already been implemented. He chose not to be specific about which recommendations had been put into effect. Various government functionaries keep reminding us that thousands of jobs have been created and a lot of development work has been undertaken. But have these changed the lives of the people in any way? It would be a useful exercise if the government would let the people, and specifically the Baloch, know serial wise every recommendation and the status of its implementation in detail. This would help clarify the government’s own thinking.

There are some recommendations that touch at the heart of the Baloch grievances and sense of alienation. We need to be informed more about their implementation. These are listed below:

— After rationalisation of gas revenue receipts for Balochistan the district or agency from which gas/oil is being produced should be given at least 15 per cent of the revenue received by the provincial government in this regard.

— Maximum representation should be given to the province on the boards of PPL, OGDC, Sui Southern immediately.

— Five per cent of the total expenditure of an exploration company awarded concession in an area shall be spent on social welfare projects, whereas companies which are successful in striking gas/oil should be bound to spend five per cent of their pre-tax profit on social welfare projects.

— The job quota of 5.4 per cent under the constitution for Balochistan should be strictly implemented in all federal ministries, divisions, corporations and department. — A judicial enquiry be conducted by a high powered judicial commission … to probe the settlement and allotment of government lands in Gwadar district.

— The NFC award, which has been delayed unnecessarily should be announced giving due consideration to the just viewpoint of the people of Balochistan.

— The unnecessary presence of FC coastguards on the roads in the interior of the province are disliked by the people of Balochistan while also creating hatred since women and children are humiliated at check points. It is recommended that both these agencies should work in their jurisdiction.

— … the Levies should be trained on the pattern of the police and provided with the requisite logistics. (At present the Levies control the “B” areas which present 95 per cent of the land mass and where crime is better controlled while the police control “A” areas).

— A special task force may be constituted by the federal government … to ensure implementation of these recommendations within 90 days.

These are sensitive issues and many, if implemented, would serve to restore the confidence of the Baloch. It may also be recalled that another subcommittee under Waseem Sajjad was to study the issue of autonomy. There were some stray reports about the work it was doing — including the slashing down of the Concurrent List in the Constitution — but nothing came to light.

But before the implementation process is undertaken, Islamabad will have to bring the Baloch leadership to the negotiating table. That is possible only if the government holds out an olive branch to the Baloch nationalists. This calls for an end to the war of words followed by a truce, even if a temporary one. The initiative will have to come from Islamabad as it is the senior partner in this process. Branding the Baloch terrorists — even though they have been targeting strategic installations and not humans — has not helped.

The prime minister declared the other day that amnesty can be given to the Baloch. Why not? The president has reiterated a similar stance. This is not a message of reconciliation which is the need of the hour. The loss of East Pakistan in 1971 was a tragedy that could have been avoided only if the military leadership of the time had displayed some political instincts. Pakistan is not ready for a re-enactment of that drama in the context of Balochistan.