DAWN 19 February 2009
Baloch demands still unmet By Sanaullah Baloch
Islamabad's recent move to grant religious self-rule
to the Taliban in Swat and the denial of political
autonomy to the people of Balochistan are obviously
The establishment's unwillingness to end the costly
conflict in the resource-rich, strategically significant
region is a clear sign of the undemocratic approach
towards resolving the Balochistan crisis.
The Government of Pakistan has signed several peace
deals with religious groups in the NWFP and Fata, but
the political crisis in Balochistan has been totally
ignored and no serious effort has been made to end
The elite in Islamabad is flexible when it comes to
dealing with violent religious groups but displays
an intransigent attitude towards justified Baloch demands.
Balochistan's political demands do not contradict
social, religious and democratic ideas. In fact, they
include a) the governance of Balochistan by exercising
the right of self-rule in the province, the ownership
of resources, political participation and control over
the local economy; and b) security arrangements, including
control over the paramilitary forces and the police.
These are very practical and justified issues and in
tune with international political norms.
Last year's Feb 18 polls and the PPP's takeover of
power created some hope in the desperate Baloch community
that the new government would heal the province's wounds
and bring an end to the misery of the Baloch population.
They were Baloch population hoping that the sun would
shine again and that the clouds of conflict would dissipate,
the strains of happiness would fill the air and the
days of requiem would end forever.But unfortunately,
the PPP and the establishment failed to capitalise
on the Baloch hope for positive change.
There was rhetoric and no action on the part of the
rulers. This increased the frustration of Baloch activists
about a negotiated settlement of the Baloch-Islamabad
The PPP leadership also underestimated the complex
Baloch-Islamabad relations based on the establishment's
unchanged policy that sees Balochistan as a permanent
threat and the Baloch as disloyal citizens.
True, Asif Ali Zardari tendered an apology to win
the hearts and minds of the distressed people of the
province and his move was cautiously welcomed by the
Baloch nationalist parties. However, the insistence
was that negotiations could only be held with the ruling
coalition if the establishment's notorious policies
vis-à-vis the province were overturned.
The PPP government has not been able to change Islamabad's
elite perspective on the deprived Baloch, and over
the past year has not been able to fulfil promises
made to the people.
These include a) completely ending the military operation
and halting the construction of military and paramilitary
cantonments, b) withdrawing security forces, c) repatriating
and rehabilitating displaced persons, d) cancelling
civil/military land allotments, e) demilitarising the
area, f) ensuring equal wellhead prices for Balochistan's
gas, and h) abandoning torture camps and establishing
a 'truth and reconciliation commission' for the trial
of those involved in killing veteran Baloch leaders
Nawab Akbar Bugti and Balach Marri, and other human
During the Musharraf regime the Balochistan situation
was shocking enough. Today, it is more frightening.
Thousands of displaced families are living in dreadful
conditions and arbitrary arrests, disappearances, blockades
and restrictions on freedom of movement have not ceased.
As observed by many Baloch politicians 'the troops
are still active; their intelligence networks are still
operational and hounding people struggling for their
The last eight years of conflict have not only resulted
in the physical and social breakdown of Baloch society,
they have also badly affected the economic framework
of the province. Poverty has increased, unemployment
has surpassed all limits, provincial GDP is on a constant
decline, government spending on law and order has mounted,
industrial and economic growth is bungled and investment
levels are low.
In addition, aggressive action on the part of the
law-enforcement agencies and intolerance towards moderate
Baloch political activists have provided an opportunity
to criminal gangs, banned sectarian groups and religious
fundamentalists to regroup and flourish, resulting
in an increase in kidnappings, ransom cases, sectarian
killings and robberies.
The military's reliance on brute force produced a
short-term victory for Islamabad in 2006, but in reality
the central government has lost its moral, political
and physical authority in the region.
The situation will also have serious economic and
strategic implications for Islamabad. Balochistan has
been Pakistan's energy basket for years. Policymakers
have to rethink their current strategies and demonstrate
their willingness to grant substantive political and
economic autonomy to the people to ensure Pakistan's
energy and strategic security.
There is no doubt that a mistrust of Himalayan proportions
exists between the Baloch and the establishment, and
that this is one of the major causes of conflict. The
Baloch have given 60 years to Islamabad to change the
fate of the
region but have, instead, been showered with bombs
and bullets. Political, economic, social, educational
and cultural values have been all but destroyed in
Now it is Islamabad turn to trust the Baloch vision
about governance and to deliver the goods. Without
granting political authority and economic freedom this
will not be achievable and prolonged conflict in the
area will be to no one's good. Weapons will only add
to miseries and breed hatred.
The PPP-led government should take sincere measures
for a rethink of Islamabad's policy on Balochistan.
This is essential to turning the situation around for
the Baloch who are currently unable to break out of
the vicious cycle of frustration and despair. They
have witnessed enough apologies, enough promises, enough
excuses and enough sufferings. They now want a peaceful
Balochistan which is ruled by them.