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Baluchistan”s Agony, Not Beyond Solution

Posted on February 27, 2012 in GlobeScope, Specials

By Waleed Tariq:

Baluchistan, located in the south-west region is the largest of Pakistan’s four provinces by geographical area. It is the least populated but the most resource‐rich federating unit. According to the 1998 population census, it has a population of about 6.6 million. The largest city, Quetta is the summer capital while Gwadar, the port city serves as the winter capital.

Baluchistan is an important but complicated issue. Its history since 1947 represents an unending narrative of non-stop conflicts, unfortunately. The long standing resentments dating back to its merger with Pakistan have led to present crisis in the province. The issues and grievances relate to demands and aspirations about the various economic, ethnic and political rights of and for the people of the province.

The stability of the province is crucial not just for Pakistan but also for its neighbours, regional countries, and for key world powers. But the problems with this resource-rich province are continuous which have been growing over time.

US congress committee discusses Balochistan

The latest developments regarding Baluchistan: the US Congressional hearing this month have prompted many heavy-lidded observers to give Islamabad wake-up calls, however the establishment seems to have shown no sign of its ability to comprehend the gravity of the situation.

The reasons of the present crisis have been known to the politically aware people all along. But little or nothing substantial has been done to address and resolve these matters by the successive governments. Consequently the wounds have continued to worsen and from time to time, giving rise to bleeding insurgencies and revolts.

There have been five insurgencies in Baluchistan since the creation of Pakistan. According to the official estimates, these have resulted in more than five thousand deaths among the insurgents and almost three thousand among the Pakistan army. The recent violence which started in 2005, took a serious turn at the end of year 2009 and became a potential threat to the stability of Pakistani state, as the insurgents spurred and angry, and in all likelihood aided and abetted by the outsider international players in the area, gave rise to the secessionist movement in the province.

The present government, in early 2009 initiated certain measures to address these complaints and grievances in the form of ‘Aghaz e Huqooq e Baluchistan Package’. For past four years there is a democratic set up in the province. But the resentments still persists, as no practical steps have yet been taken to actually tackle the problems.

As per the nationalist groups, the government has only provided a lip service to their problems so far. In fact, despite the promises to resolve the problems, the trust deficit between the nationalists and state hasn’t been narrowed down. It is essential to understand that the crisis is serious which requires serious and urgent action by all stakeholders, at all levels in order to eradicate the root causes of the long standing conflict.

Conflicts in Baluchistan historically have several underlying reasons. The fiercely independent Baloch sardars have resisted state interference, mainly to protect their continued influence and wealth and to seek rent from the state. The grievances of the masses relating to political, economic and cultural rights, that have given rise to nationalist movement; long-standing case of the missing persons; presence of Frontier Corps in the region; absence of problem resolution mechanisms, even in the democratic set ups; religious extremism, and perhaps most importantly continued mishandling of these issues by the Central governments, who on occasions have resorted to brute and unrestrained use of force.

Moreover, there has been a media revolution in Pakistan, which has resulted in not only heightened awareness of the situation, but also paradoxically sensitized the issue, by providing the insurgent leaders, media exposure that many rightly claim is out of proportion. Internet has also helped internationalize the problem.

Also, with nearly two third populations under the age of thirty, the closeness of the problem and its economic root has assumed new and deeper meaning.

Finally, the conflict has had an unintended catalyst in the form of the present global geo‐political conflict that rages across the border in Afghanistan. Taking advantage, certain external players have continued to provide aid, in the form of money, shelter, ammunitions and weaponry to the separatist elements.

“Malik Siraj Akbar discusses the factors that fuel these problems, how they are interlinked, and how they have worsened, in his book called The Redefined Dimensions of Baloch Nationalist Movement.” — The Friday Times.

According to the Friday Times review, a prominent Baloch journalist and the founder and chief editor of Baloch Hal, Malik Siraj Akbar has attempted to answer many unraveling questions in his recently launched book, giving a deep reference of the true conditions in the frayed Baloch land. From the strategic importance to the simmering sentiments of Baloch separatist insurgency, this book insightfully covers each heated debate that has rocked Baluchistan’s political, social and cultural climate for the seven most crucial years in its history. The book makes revelations that allow new ways of approaching the mysteries that complicate the problems in Baluchistan.

So in essence, instead of talking about dialogue, the federation must take some action to establish its bona fides. Everyone knows what these steps are. This is not the problem of one class, section, province or one dimensional. Therefore the response needs to be wholesome.

The most fundamental and urgent requirement is for trust building. And the only way this can even begin is, by governance measures from the centre that are urgent, transparent and reach the door step of the ordinary masses.

For its part, Pakistan needs to learn that the problem of Baluchistan must be given urgent attention and top priority in good faith and measure. The governing elite in Pakistan have to be sensitive to the genuine demands placed on the federal government by the Baluchis. These demands are protected and guaranteed by the constitution of Pakistan. The government has to adopt a multi‐pronged anti‐insurgency strategy to placate the Baloch people. The use of force will not lead to a peaceful solution. History is witness to the fact that suppression further ignites such movements.

The fact that insurgency still does not command the majority support must be capitalized on. By taking serious and urgent socio-economic measures and by providing justice and fair play as basis of governance, the back of the insurgency can be broken.

In a nutshell, the Baluchistan solution has to be a political one rather than a ‘white-wash’ of replacing the military with a paramilitary force. “Today any Baluchistan settlement will have to be more on its people’s terms than on the terms of Islamabad’s paramount power and any further delay in realizing this will make the possible terms of settlement more and more adverse to Islamabad.” — I. A. Rehman

The writer is the Pakistan Lead of Youth Ki Awaaz. Read more of his reporting and views here.