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September '06: Taking Balochistan Seriously

Individualland spotlight is a monthly monitor on political affairs printed on the 17th of every month by individualland.com. Individualland would welcome reproduction & dissemination of the contents of this report after proper acknowledgment.

Taking Balochistan Seriously
This issue of individu-spotlight focuses on Balochistan and the current political challenges that Pakistan is faced with regarding the province. A number of opinions have been penned after the murder of Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti. He has been painted as either a saint or a devil. Individualland believes that confining the discussion only to the Nawab is incorrect. The whole debate is about the larger question of a lack of a functioning federal system in Pakistan. The report of the International Crises Group also seeks to correctly contextualize the issue. The individu-spotlight has thus focused on the ICG report and drawn conclusions from it. As always, feedback will be most welcome.

The Brussels based International Crises Group came out with a report on Balochistan.This report, like other reports of ICG would undoubtedly receive mixed reactions. It might be labelled as `toilet paper" by some government functionaries or `` a well researched one " by others; depending on who you ask. From an ordinary citizens' point of view, the report is certainly interesting reading. It frames the situation contextually very well ,including a brief history of the political turmoil in Balochistan profiling the main political actors , both party based and non party based.

According to the ICG report, as far as Balochistan is concerned, `` The Musharraf government is in a bind." The report rightly captures the genuinely felt public sentiment that the struggle in Balochistan is one of rights. It is a struggle for provincial autonomy. It is a struggle for control over local resources. These issues crop up in a number of federations, Pakistan being no exception. However, the question of provincial autonomy and that of resource sharing and distribution no longer remain questions. They have become struggles. Struggles that claim lives. Struggles that are waged by various groups decade after decade. This is what needs to be taken seriously as it has spill over effects in the other provinces too. Thus the ICG is very correct in pointing out that presently the people of Balochistan feel that Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti was killed because he had raised his voice for Balochistan rights.

Bugti's death is also significant because he has become a symbol. With his death , the question that is now on everyone's mind has best been articulated in the report by National Party leader Dr Abdul Hayee Baloch.Dr. Baloch is quoted as having said ,``we all been devastated by the magnitude of the crime the government had committed. If this is what they could do to him, just imagine what they are doing to ordinary Baloch men, women and children every day?"

This is what is plaguing the locals minds. If this can happen to Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti ,what about us? A number of people have mysteriously disappeared from the province for months now. Almost daily, their relatives stand in front of the Quetta Press Club trying to keep their plight in focus through the media. But now with Bugti's death, they ask ` what will happen to our beloveds? "

The government of course claims that there is no such public sentiment and some sardars are manipulating the situation at the cost of the ordinary citizens. Conspiracy theories declaring that the nationalists are supported by the Iranians or the Indians have also been articulated. The ICG report correctly points out that ``even if India were conceivably cultivating Baloch dissidents, the extent of such support would likely be limited. After all, a Balochistan that spins out of control would not serve India's interests. It would destabilise Afghanistan and undermine India's prospect of gaining access to the energy resources of Iran and Central Asia through pipelines that would traverse Balochistan."

It is tragic that in our history whosoever has called out for provincial autonomy has been labelled anti Pakistan. They have been labelled communists, RAW agents etc as that has become the most convenient label to discredit someone.

Nawab Bugti died holding the banner of provincial autonomy within a functioning federalism .Whether the banner was a fig leaf for personal interests is beside the point. The point is that there remains a genuine resentment amongst the federating units regarding provincial autonomy and access to their own resources. That is why the late Nawab and others can command public support on this issue.

It is a fact that Balochistan remains cold while it warms the rest of us with its gas. It is a fact that while coal is mined in Balochistan, the local inhabitants are only left with black dust. It is a fact that while Sindh provides for forty five percent of the revenue, its interior remains underdeveloped. It is a fact that while NWFP provides us with land to construct dams, the displaced locals remain damned to an uncertain future. It is a fact that the concurrent list remains, a jarring reminder that provincial autonomy is a joke.

The Balochistan issue was, is and will be not about just one or two individuals. The Balochistan's call for rights within a functioning Federation of Pakistan is a larger issue and an issue that plagues the mind of every inhabitant of that land. To dismiss it saying that this sentiment does not exist or incorrectly interpret it as instigation by the Indians or Iranians is being ignorant.

It is not the first time that we are seeing an armed conflict raging in the province. In fact it is the fifth time that this is happening. But we do see how democracy succeeds in providing the space for peaceful negotiations of rights . The three sardars i.e. Bugti, Mengal and Marri who formed the Mushraff 's version of the `Axis of evil" have all been part of the political process briefly. The ICG report correctly brings our attention to the fact that, `` Baloch politics, within the province and at the national level, focused on demands for regional autonomy political, administrative, economic and social. Yet, differences with central governments led by Benazir Bhutto or Nawaz Sharif over issues such as royalties and employment did not degenerate into conflict in the 1990s, even after prime ministers reneged on pledges of provincial autonomy and dissolved nationalist-led provincial governments. It was with military rule's return that ethnic competition and bargaining in Balochistan transformed into conflict."

A hundred and one flaws can be highlighted of the Benazir and Nawaz era. However, all said and done, one has to admit that the political leaders of Balochistan opted to use political means to articulate their demands. However, when the current military operation started, they were left with no choice. As one young activist quoted in the report declared, ` When nobody wants to hear our voice, we're forced to make them hear it through violence. The young man further chillingly added, ``the young have taken up arms. They are fighting for their rights. They think they can't get them through a political struggle. These are not things that a good citizen says. But we are now tired. This is our last struggle".

It is time to seriously reflect when the young who are supposed to have the luxury of time declare, `` This is our last struggle" It reflects that they believe that they have nothing to loose and therefore military means is the only means.

The ICG report presents some recommendations to the government, the National Assembly, the judiciary and the international community. The recommendations to the government essentially asks for a political solution rather than a military solution, respecting democratic freedoms by producing immediately all detainees before the courts, releasing political prisoners as well as ending the political role of intelligence agencies, military and civil, and barring them from detaining prisoners; withdrawing travel restrictions, internal and external, on Baloch opposition leaders and activists and ending intimidation, torture, arbitrary arrests, disappearances and extra-judicial killings.

The report calls asks for an implementation of the Mushahid Hussain's committee's report. All these recommendations are useful.

However, we must admit that we fail to see the usefulness of a recommendation that was given in the Hussain report as well as the ICG one. The recommendation of retaining the Balochistan Levies Force. Balochistan,as readers would know is divided into ``A" and ``B" areas, the former being areas where the police have jurisdiction and the latter under the jurisdiction of the Levies force. The Levies consists of local people that are recommended by the sardars. Over the years, this force is increasingly being used as private armies by the sardars. In areas where there are not used as private armies, the very method of recruiting strengthens tribalism.

A basic question is that what is the utility of the Levies force? Why can't there be a professional well equipped police force comprising of locals of Balochistan? Is there a Levies force in Punjab? Is there one in Sindh? So, why are there A and B areas in Balochistan with separate forces?

Thus, perhaps this recommendation needs to be further examined. The ICG report does go on to state that after retaining the Levies force for sometime ,eventually a professional police force should be formed comprising of locals. The question than is why have Levies as a stop gap measure?

We have in a sense regularized ad-hocism. This is true in the political arena as well as social and economic. We constantly think either short term measures or stop gap measures. It is in everybody's interest to stop with the adhocism and seriously take up the issue of federalism in Pakistan.



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