South Asia Research and Analysis Studies

Focusing on Balochistan Woes
Khalid Khokhar

The strategically located Balochistan is Pakistan’s largest province with 43% of area and only 4% of the country’s population. The province is gifted with some of the world's richest reserves of natural energy (gas, oil, coal); minerals (gold, copper), having strategic mountainous borders adjoining Iran and Afghanistan on the west and a coast stretching from the Persian Gulf to the Arabian Sea in the south. The peace of this once calm province was disturbed by many regional and global vested interests, aimed at not only jeopardizing the economic development of the province but that of the country.

The sad truth is that Balochistan has been neglected by the centre since independence in 1947 with little benefit accruing to the people of the province. This protracted disregard from Islamabad turned the Baloch people into a silhouette of desperation to withstand against the Government’s insensitivities over past sixty-four years. It forced the nationalists groups to demand more autonomy within the federation of Pakistan. Filling the void, many local and foreign elements including the militants came to the fore. They forwarded their respective agenda in the region, culminating into the abrupt exacerbation of violence since 2002. In the last year or so, the militancy has increased manifold in frequency and intensity. While hearing a petition regarding the missing persons in Balochistan, the Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry asserted that “the Balochistan issue would have to be sorted out before entering a blind alley”. Now, the only option left is to save the country through a policy of reconciliation and mutual accommodation. The CJP remarked in the court proceeding that all Baloch leaders, including the President, Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan, would have to work to find out a political solution of the matter.
It is worth-mentioning that many deliberate and conspicuous efforts have been made by successive governments to resolve the issue according to their own prudence based on party policy lines. Way back in 2004-6, the reports of parliamentary committees on Balochistan by Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, Mushahid Hussain Sayed and Senator Wasim Sajjad, proved ineffectual due to lack of will by the respective ruling government. The Aghaz-e-Haqooq-e-Balochistan (initiation of the rights of Balochistan) package-2009, has been severely criticized as an “whitewash” by the Baloch people due to want of its implementation. The attack on Government strategic installations resumed with renewed vengeance when the government failed to fulfill its promise on economic uplift programmes as well as on political reforms. Sardar Akhtar Mengal, former Balochistan CM and leader of Balochistan National Movement (BNM) had alleged in his statement to Supreme Court last month that military operation is being carried out in Balochistan by the armed forces, and death squads in the ISI and MI are killing the Baloch people. Besides this, some glaring demands are: a) Baloch masses have a strong feeling that, their resources are being used by other provinces and federation without giving due share to the locals, b) exceptional delays in the timely completion of development projects by the Federal Government, c) non-implementation of Aghaz-e-Haqooq-e-Balochistan (AKB) package-2009, d) early resolution of Missing persons matter by the Federal and Provincial Governments and their agencies, e) bringing to justice the killers of Nawab Akbar Bugti, thus providing relief to the people of war-torn areas, f) withdrawal of military and paramilitary troops from Balochistan. Today, many political analysts feel that, Baloch unrest can be attributed to the lack of true representative governments in the province. Observers say, had there been true representative governments in Balochistan, people’s grievances would have been addressed with socio-economic developments and participation of the masses in various affairs of the province. The simmering situation is further aggravated by the incompetent and ineffective political structure as well as poor provincial administrative setup in Balochistan. The elected Provincial Government should have the courage to owe responsibility of internal security and ensure effective governance.
The 3-member commission headed by CJP Iftikhar Choudhry on the situation of Balochistan, is earnestly trying to alleviate some of the grief of the people of Balochistan. The Defence Secretary in his affidavit informed the court that neither any proxy death squads are operating under the supervision of the ISI and MI, nor there are any missing persons in their custody. On the contrary, the Government has not only approved a compensation policy for the legal heirs of deceased persons, it has vowed to settle the displaced persons. With the Frontier Constabulary (FC) in the insurgency-stricken province had already been placed under full control of the provincial government, its role has been curtailed in anti-smuggling operations in the region. In the same milieu, the COAS Gen. Kayani reiterated Army’s full support of any political process in Balochistan, as long as it is within the constitution of Pakistan. It is significant to note that Army had discontinued its military operations in Balochistan in 2010, and withdrew plans for the 3 new cantonments in Sui, Kohlu and Dera Bugti making the use of the buildings as educational centers.
Many Pakistani would not disagree that the Balochs have genuine grievances against the post-2008 scenario. Besides inefficiency and inefficacy of the political provincial government, other factors also complicate in deepening the situation of Balochistan. Firstly, the threatening environment is posed by the expatriates or their foreign patrons; the leaders of the armed resistance in exile have moved US legislator Dana Rohrabacher to highlight the so-called human rights abuses in Balochistan. Secondly, India is exploiting the bad situation by providing financial and arms support to the insurgent forces targeting important strategic installments in Balochistan. Thirdly, the violence in Balochistan is due to Indian intelligence operatives prowling in neighboring Afghanistan. The complicity of criminal elements with Baloch militants has further aggravated the situation - resulting in murder, kidnapping, willful destruction of public and private property of the non-Baloch. Fourthly, the Baloch sardars can not be left oblivious of the present situation. They are equally responsible as they receive royalty from the federal government and use it not to launch development schemes for their people through increasing education and health facilities but for personal gain.
Nevertheless, the plight of ethnic Balochis has been overemphasized. The situation in Balochistan has never been so painful as projected by tribal Waderas who always try to obstruct educational & developmental process because it does not suit them. The people of Balochistan were treated on the basis of justice and equality and given the same rights as given to the people of other provinces. During the last decade or so, the government initiated a number of mega development projects in Balochistan including Gwadar Port, Coastal Highway, Mirani Dam, Kachhi Canal and Sandak Copper Gold project. The government is investing millions of rupees into Balochistan with the aim of turning the province into a regional economic and energy hub. The Gwadar Port project is a excellent vision for the country’s development and progress and can help the country to take a quantum leap in terms of economic progress. These mega projects would create better employment opportunities, reduce poverty and bring prosperity in the province. The infrastructure facilities consisting of road-link, connecting Gwadar to the national highway, will serve as a gateway for trade from land-locked countries of Central Asia.
Balochistan needs quick response strategy to improve the economic downturn, massive unemployment in the province. The announcement of a special relief and rehabilitation package of Rs 2.6 billion for three districts of Balochistan affected by the recent flash floods, are too meager to address the uphill task of raising the living standard of the common people. Similarly, committing to talk to the militant nationalist forces and not taking practical steps are not enough to dispel the feelings of alienation of the Baloch - bringing the nationalists into mainstream politics, include local stakeholders in the province’s development, and to assuage their overall grievances. We should not forget that the Balochistan issue cannot be solved without adopting a political course. A vast section of Pakistan’s population considers that it is our national responsibility to address the complaints of the people of Balochistan. Therefore, it is high time to shun political confrontation and move along for the betterment of Pakistan.