Turmoil in Balochistan - Anwar Syed - Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Source : http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=2012\03\20\story_20-3-2012_pg3_2

Where do we go from here and what is to be done? Few indeed in Pakistan are willing to let go of Balochistan. There may be many who will concede all or most of its demands short of secession

The place of Balochistan in the federation has been problematic from day one. The Khan of Kalat, head of the Baloch tribal confederacy, did not initially accede to the state of Pakistan. He adopted the position that he and the other chiefs had entered into agreements with the government of British India under which they recognized British suzerainty in return for the latter’s acceptance of their autonomy within the territories under their control. The terms of their accession to Pakistan would now have to be negotiated. The government of Pakistan did not accept this position. It sent in the army, which twisted the Khan’s arm and forced him to sign the instrument of accession. 

Some other tribal chiefs followed suit. But it should be noted that the more notable chiefs did not accept the forced accession. Sporadic conflict between the army and Baloch dissidents continued for the next several years. The 1970 election returned genuine Baloch spokesmen to positions of power. Ghaus Baksh Bizenjo emerged as governor, and Ataullah Mengal as chief minister. They fought for the interests of their province. Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, despite having conceded power to them in the aftermath of the 1971 breakup of the country in order to build a “New Pakistan”, dismissed them on February 15, 1973 and appointed his puppets to take their place. Resistance developed and he sent in the army to suppress it. A mini-civil war ensued and continued until his own ouster. General Ziaul Haq withdrew the army, released political prisoners, and peace and relative calm prevailed in the province for the next several years. But the causes of tension did not disappear.

Balochistan is the largest and potentially the richest province of Pakistan. Gas fields in Sui supply fuel to places all over the country. Its spokesmen contend that it has not received much in return. Economically it is the country’s least developed region. Far too many of the Baloch are unspeakably poor and deprived. They do not have access even to safe drinking water, let alone moderately nutritious food in adequate amounts. The Baloch nationalists have mounted a revolt against this state of affairs. Beyond declarations of good intent, the central government has done little to alleviate their grievances. As a result, Balochistan is currently in a state of turmoil. While the Baloch moderates say that there is still time to negotiate terms of coexistence, an increasing number of persons, especially the young people, are tending to the view that their land can no longer remain a part of Pakistan, and that it is entitled to become a separate and independent state. The army is back in the province to combat the militants and dissidents. The civil war is back. The generals seem to believe that Balochistan can be kept as a part of Pakistan only by the force of arms. 

A couple of relevant facts should be kept in mind. The provinces have had their distinct and separate identities much longer than the country itself. The lands, people, and cultures of Sindh and Punjab have been extant for more than two thousand years. To a lesser extent, the same may be said of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and Balochistan. Pakistan by contrast is less than 65 years old. There are Baloch who approve of their connection with Pakistan because it has placed them in positions of profit and power. Others regard it as a symbol of the Punjabi domination of their people and exploitation of their resources. 

Patriotism works at several levels. A man loves the village or town where he was born and raised. He has walked its streets, personally known its terrain and its residents. Then he cherishes his district or province. He has not seen all of the land and the people in this region but he assumes that they are all like him. His attachment to the region is an expression of his love for himself. He has never been to the interior of Sindh or KP. But, he is grieved at the death and destruction caused by the floods in these areas because they are parts of Pakistan, a country all of which he has not seen and will never see. What is Pakistan to him? It is essentially the idea of a state where Muslim beliefs concerning a good society and culture will flourish. This is a notion that he has inherited from his grandparents in whose minds it had been planted by the founders of this country. Not many of them were Baloch.

Where do we go from here and what is to be done? Few indeed in Pakistan are willing to let go of Balochistan. There may be many who will concede all or most of its demands short of secession. Individuals on whose lands natural resources such as gas and minerals happen to be situated may be regarded as their owners as is the case in some countries. If this option is not acceptable, these resources may be considered as belonging to the province as a whole whose elected representatives may settle the terms of their disposal. 

After the intended devolution of authority and functions to the provinces is implemented, the Baloch demand for maximum autonomy will have been met. The provincial government will have its hands more than full and may have to be subsidised to perform the functions entrusted to it. Baloch nationalists also say that their ways and values should be accorded the respect that is owed to them. The meaning and import of this demand are hard to grasp. It cannot be accepted if it means that the central government’s writ will not travel through Balochistan, that the Baloch tribal chiefs should be left free to make their own rules and regulations, maintain their own enforcement agencies, magistrates, and prisons. One may agree that outsiders should not interfere with local customs of marriage, divorce, and the ordering of family relations. That is not the same as saying that they should have nothing to say about the killing of a man and a woman who fell in love and got married without the prior concurrence of their parents or tribal elders. One cannot ask for uniformity in all areas of societal interaction, but Balochistan has to be integrated with the rest of the country in some significant measure if it is to remain as Pakistan and not become a foreign land.

The writer, professor emeritus at the University of Massachusettes, is currently a visiting professor at the Lahore School of Economics. He can be reached at dranwar@lahore,edu.pk

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