ROVER’S DIARY: Balochistan independence movement — II - Babar Ayaz - Tuesday, March 20, 2012

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Not every government in Islamabad in the past believed that natural resources were provincial assets and not that of the federation. It was this unresolved provincial autonomy issue that haunted Pakistan from its inception

To understand this issue it is time to refresh our memory about the history of mismanaging Balochistan by Pakistan’s ruling elite.

Many years back I had called on Nawab Akbar Bugti at his Quetta residence. He was a bitter man, although his son Salim was a senior minister in the Balochistan government. During the discussion on harnessing Balochistan’s oil and gas resources, he said that no fresh exploration should be allowed in the province. Knowing the reasons for his reaction, I suggested that the Balochistan government or the people living on each concession should establish their respective holding companies, which should partner with the prospective exploration companies. “For instance,” I explained, “you can have say 15 percent to 20 percent equity in the company so that when oil and gas is discovered you can share the profit.” Nawab Bugti laughed at my suggestion cynically and said, “Babar, you are naïve. The government (federal) is not willing to give us control over our resources so how can we negotiate with others?” He was right then because the constitution of Pakistan did not give the native people any right over their oil and gas reserves.

Bugti was not the only one in Balochistan who felt that the natural resources should not be developed till the province gets control over them. “Let them be under the ground as this is the asset of our people, we don’t want to lose them like the Sui gas reserves.” This has been the common stand of a majority of the Baloch and that of other nationalists in Sindh and NWFP.

However, the 18th Amendment and the 7th NFC Award have now given equal control to the federation and the respective provinces over their oil and gas resources. Minerals and coal were already in provincial control. But this only happened in 2010 when the federation and the provinces made a leap forward to granting provincial political and financial autonomy. Not every government in Islamabad in the past believed that natural resources were provincial assets and not that of the federation. 

It was this unresolved provincial autonomy issue that haunted Pakistan from its inception. Provinces were denied their right to control their economic resources even though half the country was lost because of this stupidity of the establishment. 

Balochistan is going through its fifth low intensity insurgency after the killing of Nawab Bugti by the army in 2006. Since then the resistance led by mainly four Baloch militant groups is keeping the independence demand alive. Every day, reports about either the killing of some Baloch nationalist allegedly by the intelligence agencies or the killing of security forces by one of the four major Baloch liberation militant groups are published or telecast as a matter of routine. It is one of the worst examples of the Centre-province relationship in what remains as Pakistan. 

Let us scan the Balochistan and Pakistani establishment relations briefly. “Baluch political unity,” according to Selig Harrison, “came in the 18th century when several successive rulers of the Baluch principality of Kalat succeeded in expanding their domain to bring the Baluch areas under one political umbrella. Mir Nasir Khan, who ruled Kalat for 44 years beginning in 1749, set a loose bureaucratic structure embracing most of Balochistan for the first time and got principal Baluch tribes to adopt an agreed system of organisation and recruitment” (“Ethnicity and the Political Stalemate in Pakistan” by Selig Harrison, published in Regional Imbalances and the National Question, Edited by S. Akbar Zaidi (P 231).

But Adeel Khan’s contention is that “Baloch Nationalism emerged in a tribal set-up well before partition of India, and was opposed to Balochistan’s accession to Pakistan. After partition, however, the Pakistani state’s treatment of the region turned Baloch nationalism into a potent force, which attracted international attention...” Politics of Identity — Ethnic Nationalism and the State in Pakistan by Adeel Khan, published by Sage Publications, 2005 (P 109).

First the understanding was reached with the Khan of Kalat and the British Empire representatives on August 4, 1947 that Kalat would be independent on August 15, 1947, enjoying the same status as it originally held in 1863, having friendly relations with its neighbours. Another agreement was signed with Pakistan on the same date which said that: “The government of Pakistan agrees that Kalat is an independent state, being quite different in status from other states of India, and commits to its relations with the British Government as manifested in several agreements.” 

It was agreed that in the meantime a standstill agreement would be made between Pakistan and Kalat by which Pakistan shall stand committed to all responsibilities and agreements signed by Kalat and the British government from 1839 to 1947 and by this Pakistan shall be the legal, constitutional and political successor of the British (the British had control only over Quetta and some other areas). A few weeks later, Kharan, Lasbela state and the Marri, Bugti tribal areas were returned to the Kalat fold. The Kalat government made a formal independence declaration on August 11, 1947 and a delegation came down to Karachi to discuss the future relationship with Pakistan.

While the Khan of Kalat seemed inclined to merge his state with Pakistan, the Baloch Sardars of his jirga were not interested to do anything in haste without settling the provincial autonomy issues. The Khan was under considerable influence of Quaid-e-Azam and had promised to work out the merger details in three months, but as the Quaid was unwell, this issue was handed over to his cabinet. They mishandled the whole issue and used the British tactics to pitch the Baloch against each other by carving out three states of Kalat — Kharan, Lasbela and Makran. 

This resulted in the first uprising against Pakistan in 1948. The unilateral decision to break the Kalat State by Pakistan was contrary to the earlier understanding that in case the relations of Kalat with any government got strained, Kalat will exercise its right of self-determination (some historians believe that this also led the Maharaja of Kashmir to merge with India). 

That was the beginning of the Baloch revolt against the Centre. They have been to the mountains many times since then, the last (before the present armed revolt) being the one against the dissolution of their elected government by Mr. Bhutto in 1973. Khair Baksh Marri and young Dr. Abdul Hayee Baloch refused to sign the 1973 Constitution as it did not recognize the rights of the provinces over their economic resources.

Although gas was found in Sui in 1952, the province was not given any share from its profits. The provinces’ right over 12.5 percent royalty on oil and gas was accepted as late as in 1995. And what Balochistan used to get on the gas produced by it, which meets almost 21 percent energy needs of the country, was a mere pittance. This royalty goes into the provincial kitty but not much trickles down to the people of the area who actually own this precious natural resource. Provincial governments in Pakistan have also been denying the local governments and people their due economic rights. 

(To be continued)

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