Wednesday, March 15, 2006

A Valid Perspective on the Balochistan Crisis



For once a remarkably sensible comment on the situation on Balochistan. It is written by Aziz-ud –Din Ahmad, whom I gather is a former professor from Punjab University.

After being fed a diet of daily regime-instigated nonsense from Islamabad (which is regurgitated without much comment in our press), this article came like a breath of fresh air.

Any level-headed Pakistani, in my book, can only oppose the brutal suppression of human rights that is currently going on in Balochistan. The Baloch appear to be fed up with Islamabad. Contrary to Musharraf’s belligerent twaddle, the issue is not about three sardars, but actually about Islamabad’s insistence on ruling Balochistan as a colony. The Baloch are not anti-state but anti-Islamabad (and as a proud Pakistani, so am I)

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Are tribal chiefs culprits in Balochistan?

AZIZ-UD-DIN AHMAD

Among the fallacies being spread about Balochistan is that the ongoing struggle in the province revolves around the interests of three tribal chiefs and that once they are disarmed or eliminated the problem will end.

These are Marri, Bugti and Mengal. Interestingly, none of the three has put up demands that would benefit his person or tribe alone. Sardar Akbar Bugti who is presently the most vocal among them sent proposals to the Parliament long ago, through his party’s representatives in the NA and Senate, aimed at solely securing the rights of the province. They have continued to gather dust there for the last two years.

It suits the government to present the Balochi people’s struggle for their rights as a challenge posed by a few tribal chiefs to the writ of the state. The present crisis in Balochistan was in fact provoked by the central government undertaking a series of mega projects, especially the Gwadar port, without determining the real needs of the people in consultation with their representatives. Sui gas had benefited only outsiders.

Gwadar was seen to be a similar project. The loot sale of the Balochi land in and around Gwadar, the prospect of large scale settlement by outsiders, the complete secrecy maintained about the details of the project and total control on it exercised by the center led to the perception among the vast majority of the people that they were being dispossessed of their land and resources and would soon be turned into virtual Red Indians. There was also a natural fear that with Gwadar turning into another Karachi in coming years, the outsiders would outvote the locals and seize the political control of the province through the electoral process.

Gwadar could have been made palatable if a massive attempt had been made prior to the announcement of the project to train the local population for jobs that were going to be created and the port was linked with the rest of Balochistan which is not the case at the present time. That this was not done makes the claim that the project would benefit the local population sound hollow. The government could have taken at least two measures needed to allay the apprehensions that the local population will be turned into aliens in their own land. It could have denied the outsiders the right to buy land and announce outsiders won’t be allowed to exercise the right of vote in the province. This is not unusual in federations. In India, to quote only one example, outsiders are not allowed to purchase land in sensitive states like Kashmir, Assam, or Himachal. In Assam, people from other Indian states cannot seek jobs when locals are avaialble or cast votes in state elections. That this was not done is partly because of the centrist mindset of the government which is unable to appreciate the ethnic sensitivities and because a powerful mafia wanted to mint money at the expense of national solidarity.

Those ruling Islamabad have always preferred to deal with a handful of Sardars rather than cater to the aspirations of the people of Balochistan. No government has ever been against the Sardari system, including the present one. The ruling alliance in fact has the most primitive representatives of the lot in its ranks. It demonises the three tribal chiefs simply because they defy the government. In case they were to agree to share in the loot of the province’s resources like the rest they would have been as welcome as others.

The operation in Balochistan has in fact been launched to divert attention from the demand for greater autonomy and the failure of the government to introduce the reforms suggested by the Shujaat parliamentary committee.

Why does the government hesitate from agreeing to greater autonomy which was promised while seeking the signatures of the representatives of smaller provinces on the 1973 constitution? Those in control of Islamabad want to keep the resources of the provinces at the disposal of the center to use them as they deem fit, doling out funds to the provinces as alms to the beggars. The struggle in Balochistan will continue irrespective of what happens to Bugti, Marri or Mengal chiefs as long as the centrist mindset alien to a federation persists in Islamabad.

Attempts to suppress popular demands for the province’s rights within an autonomous federation will continue to be challenged. The present crisis did not start from Dera Bugti or Marri area but from Makran where the hold of the chiefs and of the tribal bonds is the weakest. Among the most vocal proponents of the province’s rights are members of the nascent middle class like Senator Sanaullah Baloch and former MNA and Senator Abdul Hayee Baloch.

This is corroborated by independent observers also. For instance, Carnegie Endowment for Peace report “Pakistan, a Resurgence of Balochi Nationalism” released in January this year maintains, “Movement leaders have made it known that they would be satisfied with a generous version of autonomy. In the absence of their winning autonomy, however the medium and long term consequences of the struggle for independence cannot be predicted today. The outbreak of another civil war in Balochistan between the nationalists and the Pakistan army cannot be ruled out if the demands of the Baloch are not met.”

The fact that four months after the so called limited operation was initiated in Balochistan there is still no peace in the province indicates that an aggressive policy based on arrogance and contempt can only fuel anger and distrust. It is time Islamabad takes recourse to talks which is the only way to resolve the standoff. National solidarity must not be sacrificed to satisfy any individual’s ego.

E-mail queries and comments to: azizuddin@nation.com.pk


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