Stop this madness - Aftab Syed - Thursday, March 17, 2011

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Pakistan’s largest province Balochistan, dotted with bleak hills and long stretches of barren land rich in natural resources, has always been in the news since the country’s inception. The Baloch have attempted to assert their sovereign rights over their natural resources for which they are justified, and this phenomenon should not have become a bone of contention. But the modus operandi adopted by the Baloch youth to attain their objectives has raised many eyebrows. There is a widespread sense of deprivation among them, which is the result of the colonial approach of the rulers, who have been at the helm of affairs from time to time with immunity. At the same time we cannot exonerate certain Baloch sardars and political leaders either. They have been in power in the province but have done nothing to ameliorate the lot their people.

Over the years, growing sense of deprivation has played havoc in the province. The first warning shot was fired by the ruler of Kalat during General Ayub’s era. Ironically, he was the man who paved the way for Balochistan to become a part of Pakistan. However, this discontent was crushed and the Nawab of Kalat was arrested. But that did not cool the situation, over the years emotions kept simmering which finally erupted during ZA Bhutto’s regime and a movement to secure the rights of the Baloch people was launched. However, this attempt was also foiled.

After ZA Bhutto was toppled by General Ziaul Haq, the1973 consensus constitution that had guaranteed limited provincial autonomy was abrogated. The Baloch saw this as another attempt to deprive them of their democratic and economic rights.

But things got much worse during the military dictator Gen Musharraf’s regime. It is believed that things only got worse in Balochistan. He allegedly let lose a reign of terror in the province which resulted in the killing of Nawab Akbar Bugti, who had allegedly challenged the federal writ. This tragic incident proved a turning point. The Baloch virtually rose in revolt. Several armed groups have emerged to challenge the writ of the federal government. Killings and kidnappings have become the order of the day. Travel across Balochistan is not safe. Government installations are being attacked. Settlers are being targeted which has forced them to move to other provinces resulting in brain drain in Balochistan. Even the Hindus population of the province has not been spared, forcing some of them to migrate to India. Armed groups have banned playing the National Anthem in several educational institutions.

Thousands of people have gone missing without any trace. The incumbent PPP government led by Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani attempted to assuage the wounds by announcing a special package for Balochistan. However, this also failed to win over the enraged people of Balochistan. The 18th Constitutional Amendment abolished the concurrent list and devolved several subjects to the provinces thereby increasing the quantum of provincial autonomy.

This has so far failed to produce desired results. Lately the prime minister has again invited the Baloch leadership to come to the negotiating table and help sort out the problems. So far the invitation has not been responded to. A negotiated and acceptable solution will have to be found to end the bitterness which has vitiated the atmosphere. The stalemate cannot be allowed to linger, Balochistan has to be brought back into the mainstream. The province should get maximum financial autonomy to embark on the path to development to bring it at par with other provinces.

The writer is senior news editor, The News. Email: aftabsyed

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