Alert Sign Dear reader, online ads enable us to deliver the journalism you value. Please support us by taking a moment to turn off Adblock on

Alert Sign Dear reader, please upgrade to the latest version of IE to have a better reading experience


Crises within the crisis

February 19, 2012

THE All-Party Conference was a colonial-era tool that emerged at a time when political parties of the subcontinent did not have an institutionalised mechanism for interaction and were governed through Westminster Parliament.

Though the presence of parliament should eliminate the need for APCs, ironically it is still relevant in Balochistan because it still is governed from elsewhere.

Consider the players in its complex matrix of violence: the security apparatus (army, MI and Frontier Constabulary), Baloch militant separatists, Baloch nationalist political parties, banned sectarian organisations and the Taliban and Al Qaeda — none of them are part of the political process. Neither one is accountable or answerable for their acts. The provincial assembly has little legitimacy and even less efficiency: rarely does a session maintain quorum and everyone is in the cabinet.

Political atrophy has given rise to unprecedented trends, such as Baloch cadre recruitment in militant sectarian groups like Lashkar-i-Jhangvi. The traditional political leadership of the sardars has met intense challenge from young radicals such as Dr Nazar, leaving the former no choice but to radicalise or become redundant.

Addressing the crisis requires a three-tiered approach. First, the relentless human rights violations and law and order in the province; second is the need to renegotiate the terms of relationship between the province and the federation; third, the Baloch nationalist separatist militants and the call for independence.

To create terms for a renewed social contract, the current federal government has made overtures for redress of structural asymmetries such as the NFC award, payment of back dues of gas royalties, devolution through the 18th Amendment, an apology by the president for past wrongs, and the Aghaaz-i-Huqooq package.

Even if the latter went nowhere, conceptually each was a solid symbolic and practical contribution. But these did not and could not have worked with parallel disappearances and mutilated corpses. The political solution was negated by the targeting of citizens, an untenable template of guns and roses. The political process was trumped by the security apparatus — yet again.

People in Balochistan accuse the army in general and the Frontier Constabulary (FC) in particular for the disappearances and killings. This newspaper has carried stories detailing forms of violence inflicted and the suffering of victim’s families. The testimonies of those who have survived imprisonment have yet to be officially recorded.

The FC denies any ongoing operation in Balochistan, backing their claim by ludicrously stating ‘no gunship helicopters are being used’. Even if allegations against the FC are disregarded, the institution is still responsible for either stopping the carnage or explaining why it is unable to do so.

Proponents maintain that the FC presence is critical to the province as police are not equipped or trained to deal with security challenges, including proxies of international actors. Well, this is what the US-funded security assistance was supposed to have been used for, that along with Coalition Support Funds amounts to $11bn since 2001.

According to the FC inspector general, 50,000 personnel are deployed in Balochistan. Using the 1998 census gives a ratio of one FC jawan for every 131 people in the province. Compare this to the ratio of doctors (1,564 registered doctors as of 2005), which is one doctor for every 4,198 people in the province.

Nationalist separatist militants, on the other hand, are targeting politicians amenable to democratic politics, indiscriminately killing suspected ‘informants’ and ‘settlers’, creating an exodus. People across Quetta testify that the businesses and properties the settlers are leaving are being bought out by Afghan mohajirs as the Baloch cannot afford them, so it is not as if nationalist militants are triggering radical wealth redistribution via decolonising violence.

The separatists have yet to prove that the majority of the Baloch are in accord with their demand, although it is increasingly the narrative and vision of Baloch youth. One possibility is if ultra-nationalist parties contest elections and win with a majority, they may be able to hold a provincial referendum on the question of Balochistan’s structure.

Options can range from implementing devolution to the declaration of an autonomous region or a special administrative region to other propositions, of which independence is just one, if extreme, option. India, China, Iraq and various other countries have such spatial arrangements.

If operable within a specified time period for public debate ranging from two to five years, it would shift the discourse to a reasoned evaluation of the pros and cons and a comparative analysis of options. Political forces, meanwhile, will need to create incentives for people to opt in — consent to be governed is after all the bedrock of democracy.

This may be one of the few ways of bringing separatists in the electoral fold. The next elections will be critical to Balochistan. The previous one was boycotted by nationalist parties, and if a repeat of this is allowed, a decade out of electoral politics will cement their position, making return to it highly improbable.

Underlining the importance of the political process in Balochistan is not to obscure its nexus with criminal syndicates, smuggling mafias, security apparatus and militant nationalism that underscore it. Yet it is the only possible avenue.

Recently, we saw Blackwater behind every urban tree and Kaala Pani behind every rural polio vaccine. Our positioning in the regional neighbourhood ensures that we will always be under surveillance, whether as an asset, liability or wild card, depending on how the game is played, so in a sense condemned by geography.

Global strategic irrelevance is a remote civilian dream. But external intervention can only build on local grievances, not create them. ‘India did it’ didn’t work in the then East Pakistan just as ‘US did it’ will not work in Fata. Outside influences capitalise on national weaknesses, and let us not obfuscate that.

Unless of course, the interior minister informs us that jilted serial killer girlfriends have migrated from Karachi to Balochistan and have taken to writing ‘Pakistan Zindabad’ on dead bodies.

The writer conducts research and analysis in the social and development sector.