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The quantum entanglement of Balochistan and Islamabad

May 18, 2012

To rephrase a song from the classic movie “The Sound of Music”: How do you solve a problem like Balochistan? The lingering nature of this dilemma suggests that the solution is more elusive than it actually appears. For years this problem child of Pakistan has been shouted at and whined about, with blame for its wild and unruly nature laid at every available doorstep. A positive step might be focusing on the solutions and understanding the concerns, rather than wallowing in the negatives.

Balochistan has been in turmoil since the partition that led to an independent Pakistan with a forcibly annexed Balochistan. Since then, relations between Islamabad and Balochistan have not been cordial. The Baloch have fought against the Government of Pakistan many times since then to secure the rights that have been promised to them. The first insurgency in 1950 was followed by revolts in 1958, 1973 and finally the ongoing revolt which started in 2005. These strained conditions have been exacerbated by a lack in efforts by the federal government to bring development and literacy to the region, which are necessary for Balochistan to become part of the economic and political mainstream.

A lot of blame is being dumped on the tribal system and the Sardars for holding Balochistan back. The rhetoric is that education will bring enlightenment and the Sardars will consequently lose their grip on the people. That theory rings a little hollow when we see that in the past 60 years, there have been no honest efforts to abolish the tribal system when it is claimed to be such a hurdle in the steady march towards prosperity. Not only that, but at times there has been a definite coddling of this system. Islamabad has, at times, even bypassed elected provincial governments and negotiated directly with tribal leaders when it has served its purpose.

The fact is that the tribal system with a Sardar at the helm is only true for the Baloch population. Other ethnicities, for example the large Pashtun population of the province, are not bound by tribes and tribal leaders. Salma Jafar is the founder and executive director of Social Innovations, a human rights advocacy group and a dedicated voice for human rights. She is a native of Quetta and a Pashtun. According to her, the Pashtun areas of the province are among the most impoverished. The absence of education and opportunities for growth can only be explained by the absence of responsibility in the allocation of funds and a lack of incentives for the people in those regions. Urban and coastal areas like Quetta, Makran and Gwadar, which have never been under the influence of tribal systems, have not seen any significant developments either.

The people of Balochistan have always suffered with the insufficiency of funds from the federal government. In the past, the parameters for the allocation of funds, being population based, ensured that Balochistan, with its sparse population, got the least amount. Now, with new amendments to the Constitution, those parameters have changed. Levels of deprivation and poverty have been added as markers to ensure the funds reach areas where they are needed the most. Even though the allocations have increased, and disbursed through the predominantly Baloch provincial government, no discernible improvements have been seen.

The situation becomes even more tragic when we take into account the fact that even though Balochistan is the most resource-rich area of Pakistan, the people are uneducated, impoverished and oppressed. Their dissatisfaction with the government has taken the form of a dangerous separatist mentality which is spreading like fire.

The Baloch make a strong case, citing years of trying to assimilate into Pakistan but consistently being plundered and laid by the wayside. They feel that their rights have been trampled upon by every government that has trudged by since 1947. Recently, their peaceful protests gave way to violence and sabotage. Instead of trying to control the situation through dialogue, the government responded with brute force. The army was deployed to crush the insurgency and responded to concerned citizens, who reacted to a military operation inside Pakistan, by arguing semantics. According to them, a military operation was in effect when tanks, helicopters and weapons were deployed to achieve a goal. When the Baloch presented the cases of forced abductions and body dumps, the government blamed it on activists.

In a benevolent gesture, General Kayani replaced the army with the paramilitary forces of the Frontier Corp as enforcers of order in Balochistan. Since then, the Baloch activists or terrorists — depending on who you talk to — are being picked up on a regular basis. They are tried, convicted and sentenced extra-judicially and their tortured, broken bodies are dumped unceremoniously as a lesson to others.

According to a report by the South Asian Terrorism Portal: “It is a matter of grave alarm that 107 new cases of enforced disappearance [sic] have been reported in Balochistan in 2011, and the ‘missing persons’ are increasingly turning up dead”. Men, mostly between the ages of 20 and 40 years, are picked up in broad daylight and taken away. No reasons are given, no warrants are read and no explanations are offered as uniformed men drag activists, students, shopkeepers and teachers away. Their mutilated bodies are found days later or not at all. Sites like Bygwaah, claiming to be the voice of the missing persons, have detailed testimonials of these abductions. Backed into a corner, the Baloch feel like they only have one of two options: watan ya kafan (independence or death), a sentiment found scrawled on walls all over Balochistan.

The current provincial government has to carry some of the responsibility. They have been given the autonomy to talk to and negotiate terms of peace with the dissident Baloch. Despite this, no real effort is being made in that direction. Could it be that the government in power feels that the only reason they were able to secure seats in the Parliament was that the BNP had boycotted the elections as protest? In that case, any negotiation and the subsequent reconciliation might lead to a reduction in seats in the assembly for the present members.

So, lay blame where blame is due and then, lay it on thick. Resolution of a problem so convoluted and so deep-rooted does not lie on the shoulders of one agency. Everyone needs to come to the table with cool heads and egos checked at the door. Brute force is never the answer and the Chief Justice realises this: Currently, he is trying to bring the IG of the Frontier Corp to court in an effort to find out who is responsible for the extra-judicial vigilantism. Maybe this is a small but important step towards winning the hearts and minds of the Baloch people. If viable efforts are made by the Chief Justice and the federal government, then the Baloch separatists should also take a step back and reevaluate the situation. Carving out a new country will not come without bloodshed. There will be opposition to the new order from within and without. That, in itself, should be a motivation to strive for a bloodless solution.

The people of Balochistan deserve sanctity of life and liberties. With honesty, transparency and flexibility on both sides, there might be a future scenario where they can come to a place of trust in the federal and provincial governments.

Balochistan’s resources are the lifeblood of Pakistan, whether used internally or as an export. Balochistan has a claim to a percentage of that — not as a pittance, but as a right. This, in turn, can then be used to bring educational and economic development in the region. No one wins when the population of an entire province is sidelined, especially not when that province holds unimaginable resources not only in minerals but also in future poets, scientists and leaders, who can help build a Pakistan that its citizens have always deserved.


The author lives on Long Island. She graduated from Bolan Medical College, Quetta and is currently working on helping out the Pakistani community in New York. She can be reached at ansari.zeba@gmail.com


The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.