Heading towards a political solution of Balochistan
WHILST all the political leadership, institutional dispensation and well-aware intelligentsia have joined hands with the singular objective of ensuring peace in Balochistan province at all cost, it indicates a major paradigm shift from the deep state of somnambulism and inaction by the ruling governments over the past 64 years or so. All the successive governments of the past promised to bring prosperity in the province, but somehow the practical component of their policies remained elusive. The authorities’ pledge for political reforms, economic uplift, and capacity building strategies suffered heavily due to communication gap between main stakeholders - the Baloch people, the Pakistan Army and the Federal government. All the players in the Balochistan imbroglio attached different connotation to terms used from each other’s lexicons, with some offering decidedly positive meanings while others produce decidedly negative implications. An environment of reconciliation and accommodation has sparked hopes for practical moves towards implementation of the much-needed steps for resolution of the conflict in Balochistan. The leaders of major political parties have expressed unanimity to resolve Balochistan issue without any delay in the National Conference on Balochistan, organised by the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA). All agree that the fulfillment of genuine rights and redressal of long standing grievances can only discontinue sectarian killings, enforced disappearances, kidnapping for ransom, etc – thus creating capacity to promote understanding, respect, acceptance, tolerance, equality and sense of belonging. The deliberate distortion of terminology has added more problems to the issue at hand, as it is more of an attitude problem. The misunderstandings generated by some of the terms are as under:-
Firstly, the army, Baloch public, Baloch militants and Islamabad all interpret the term “military operation” through their own perspective. From Pakistan Army’s point of view, a “military operation” is a coordinated military actions of a state in response to a developing situation, involving heavy mechanized weaponry, tanks and helicopters, e.g., Lal Masjid operation-2007, Swat operation-2009, etc. On the other hand, the Baloch equate unexplained killings, disappearances, abducting for ransom and even the checking at check-posts with “operation” and a handiwork of intelligence agencies. In his affidavit to the 3-member commission headed by CJP Iftikhar Choudhry on the ‘situation of Balochistan’, the Defence Secretary disclosed that neither proxy death squads are operating under the supervision of the ISI and MI nor is a military operation going on in Balochistan. So whenever, the Army or the Federal Government denies the presence of any “ongoing operations” in Balochistan, the Baloch instantly refer to the killing or “disappearance” of the political workers and activists. The immediate reaction by the Baloch to each government’s defensive statement is, how can military operations are denied when there are so many killings and enforced disappearances in the province.
Secondly, from Federation viewpoint, the embankment of mega development projects in Balochistan including Gwadar Port, Coastal Highway, Mirani Dam, Kachhi Canal and Sandak Copper Gold project, is aimed to turn the province into a regional economic and energy hub. The government claims that mega projects would create better employment opportunities, reduce poverty and bring prosperity in the province - Gwadar serving as a gateway for trade from land-locked countries of Central Asia. Nonetheless, from the perspective of Balochs, these projects are considered as an attempt to turn the Balochs into a minority and usurpation of the natural resources in that area - that the gas from Sui has not benefited the people of Balochistan, that Gwadar is being run by a land-grab mafia from Punjab and other provinces while the Baloch people remain in a state of deprivation, etc. So when development is under discussion, the Baloch would immediate disapprove the developmental projects. That is why Balochs are not hesitant in attacking strategic national infrastructure and willfully destroy public and private property of the non-Baloch.
Thirdly, from Center’s perspective, the construction of military cantonments in various parts of the country not only enhances the operational preparedness of the troops to counter any foreign belligerency, it also helps in the uplift of the area and improvement of overall internal security environment. It was in light of these factors that it was decided to establish cantonments in Sui, Gwadar and Kohlu in Balochistan. From Baloch standpoint, the buildings of cantonments were viewed as a conspiracy against the ethnic Baluchis – to spy and control Balochistan. Owing to stern resistance from various quarters, 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.
Fourthly, The Baloch consider deemed necessary to internationalize the Baloch issue by projecting the plight of Balochis in the western countries. The situation in Balochistan is being portrayed as threatening 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. Many Pakistani would not disagree that the Balochs have genuine grievances against the post-2008 scenario, but it is our own internal affair and Pakistanis would not like any foreign interference from anywhere, may it be US, India or Iran.
Fifthly, the “Frontier Constabulary (FC)” is another term which remains ambiguous in the Balochistan setting. Besides, looking after the International Borders with Afghanistan & Iran and maintenance of law and order in the province, Frontier Corps Balochistan has also been assigned the responsibilities of anti smuggling duties. Operating under strict discipline, FC is responsible for maintaining law and order situation in the restive Balochistan. As of December, 2012, a total of 432 Frontier Corps (FC) officials have sacrificed their lives to secure the area from miscreants. Whereas, more than 1,000 people have become victims of target killings and minority persecution. According to Baloch, FC is considered as a troublemaker rather than a solution to the longstanding conflict. Balochistan Chief Minister Nawab Mohammad Aslam Raisani blames the FC for allegedly running a “parallel government” within the province, accusing FC of sabotaging every attempt to political reconciliation with the angry Baloch leaders. The nationalists accuse it of kidnapping political activists from public places like universities and markets. Thus, when General Kayani says he is going to deploy FC in Sui, it means he, in the Baloch interpretation, approves of FC’s extra-constitutional actions such as the killing of political workers, arrests and enforced disappearances. The seriousness of the government can be ascertained by the fact that Frontier Constabulary (FC) in the insurgency-stricken province has been placed under full control of the provincial government. More over, FC is relieved off from the responsibility of carrying out anti-smuggling operations in the region.
And sixthly, the term ‘reform/relief packages’ has different connotation amongst the main stakeholders in Balochistan. From the Federation viewpoint, the economic packages have been regularly announced to improve the standard of living of the common people of Balochistan. From Baloch perspective, the reforms and economic packages recommended by Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, Mushahid Hussain Sayed and Senator Wasim Sajjad, proved ineffectual due to lack of will by the respective ruling government. The promises for prosperity in the standard of Baloch could not be translated into practical changes on the ground, as the recommendations of the parliamentary committees were never implemented. A similar comprehensive move in the form of Aghaz-e-Haqooq-e-Balochistan Package-2009, has been severely criticized as an “whitewash” by the Baloch people due to want of its implementation.
Today, Balochistan issue requires a whole-hearted effort on six dimensions: operational, developmental, administrative, legal, political and financial aspects of the situation. Many Pakistanis believe that a better course is a meaningful dialogue process in resolving Balochistan issues. The phased-dialogue process with various Baloch leaders should have three stages: a) holding dialogues with all the political parties in Balochistan believing in the federation, b) initiating talks with those nationalist groups which are working under the federation, c) persuade and woo the most disgruntled dissidents on a dialogue course. The services of Marri, Mengal, Magsi, Bugti, Raisani, Zehri and other tribes should be attained in the consultations process. Equally important is the sagacity of our seasoned politicians, who are expected to display greater responsibility by avoiding their narrow political gains over the national interests.