A timely opinion from US capitalism’s watchdog – The Wall Street Journal.
It calls for the democratization of Pakistan and not surprisingly accuses the military of fudging the real issues behind Balochistan’s discontent, as well as noting the similarities between the Khaki stupidities of 1971 and today.
Wall Street Journal on Balochistan
By Federic Grare ( French expert on South Asia) & Georges Perkovich (Vice President for Studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace)
If you can’t find Balochistan on a map, you’re not alone.
Here are some clues: It’s next to Iran and Afghanistan. It’s the biggest province in Pakistan, the one where the most of the oil and gas rigs are. Lots of Chinese can be found there, because they are building an enormous commercial and military port in Gwadar, at the mouth of the Persian Gulf. There are two military bases from which US forces fight the war on terrorism.
Don’t plan a trip to Balochistan any time soon, though. It’s recently come under fire from troops, helicopter gunships and fighter bombers – sent by the West’s favourite military ruler, Gen Pervez Musharraf.
Balochistan, which has a literacy rate of 25 percent (3 percent for women), has never been integrated into Pakistan. Neither Balochistan’s rough tribal leaders nor the Punjabi-dominated elites of Pakistan have been able to rise beyond an uneasy colonial relationship. The current Baloch insurgency is the fourth in 67 years.
Since 9/11, the US government has downplayed the importance of democratic reform in Pakistan, and Balochistan shows why this is a dangerous mistake. Repression by the military-dominated central government will only exacerbate Pakistan’s instability and economic problems. The two US bases in Balochistan – and cooperation needed in combating terrorism in Afghanistan – could be compromised. Chaos in Balochistan could also aggravate competitive Sino-US relations in the region.
The Baloch have three main grievances that all reflect a general sense of being exploited as a colony by Punjab, the most powerful and populated province of Pakistan.
They demand a fairer share of royalties generated by the production of natural gas in their province. The federal government pays a much lower price for each unit of gas produced in Balochistan than it does for gas produced in other provinces. Moreover, Balochistan receives no more that 12.4 percent of the royalties generated for supplying gas.
The people of Balochistan want to be included, rather than marginalized, in the huge development projects the central government has brought to the coast, particularly the Gwadar port. There is no technical school or college in the area to train locals for future participation in the development projects. Those employed so far have been only daily wage labourers.
They also reject the Punjabi-dominated army’s establishment of new military cantonments in their province, and the selling at nominal prices by the central government of choice coastal property to out-of-province developers.
In other words, the Baloch want Balochistan for Balochis, not for others.
The government replies that Balochistan’s resources are national property and has made only nominal concessions. The conflict, it says, is the fault of a few greedy obscurantist tribal leaders opposed to the development of the province.
This argument resembles that which the Punjabi-dominated central government made in the early 1970s towards East Pakistan before massive violence and war with India erupted, leading to the creation of Bangladesh. Similarly the Musharraf regime has responded with military force, air strikes, and – according to some reports – the use of napalm.
The military rulers are more fearful of the situation than they admit, and have tried to conceal the real nature of the conflict in different ways. Balochistan is an anti-clerical province whose tribes have nothing to do with the sort of Islamism of the Taliban or Al Qaeda. Yet the Pakistani government has tried to tar the Baloch with the Islamist brush, in part to keep the international community from paying more attention to the real problems in the province.
The central government in Islamabad also has sought to blame the unrest on ‘foreign hands’, with the main culprits being India, Iran and the US, depending on who the audience is. Lately, the government says ‘criminal elements’ lay behind the insurgency.
The truth is that the development level is abysmal throughout the province. Many of the Balochis’ claims could have been satisfied without jeopardizing the country’s territorial integrity. The leaders of the Baloch nationalist movement have made it known that they would be satisfied with a generous version of autonomy. Instead, the conflict is now spreading.
Reconciling conflicting interests and seeking fair allocations of the costs and benefits of development is what governments are supposed to do. And history suggests that democratic governments, for all their drawbacks, tend to produce fairer allocations that dictatorships do.
By contrast, the manipulation of the 2002 elections, which gave the provincial government to a coalition of conservatives and Islamists, deprived the Baloch nationalists of any say in the allocation of resources.
Balochistan is yet another example of the risks of postponing democratization in Pakistan. The outcome could be a major civil war, whose consequences on regional stability and the war against terrorism are likely to be unpredictable – and anything but positive.