Feb 22, 2010
Governance in Balochistan (draft)
By Wendy Johnson
Three images I have seen cross my website over the past
few years abide in my memory. One is a photo of students
in Quetta—dressed in white dress shirts and black
slacks, lying on the street, protesting the lack of places
for them at a university. Another is a video of a woman
with ropes over her shoulders, dragging something. As the
camera follows her, in what appears to be a desert, it
soon becomes apparent—and this video is very cinematic—that
she is laboriously drawing water from a well. This is 2009,
mind you. A third image is a photo of a woman, her face
an expression of anguish—resting her cheek against
posters depicting the disappeared and the dead in Balochistan.
What these people have in common is a desperate need for
a solution to their troubles—a decent and representative
When my friends and I interviewed Khan Suleiman Daud in
2006, he noted that after World War II, there were winners
and there were losers and that the Baloch were amongst
the losers. The Baloch, however, have endured more than
just the short-end of realpolitik. Pakistani rule in the
province has been characterized by gross human rights violations.
The disappearances and murders of Baloch citizens and activists
are all well-documented, though not common knowledge outside
of Pakistan. In addition to political loss and loss of
life, the Baloch suffer another type of turning of the
screw, as it were.
Author and activist Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur recently published
an article regarding the sale of vast tracts of farmland
in Balochistan province to Middle Eastern countries: “Reports
indicate that the Gulf States have acquired more than 150,000
hectares of land in Balochistan near Mirani Dam to begin
mechanized farming.” Mir Mohammad notes that $2 billion
will be spent to hire a security force of 100,000 men to “stabilize
the investment environment.”
Now since 1948 the Baloch have fought five insurgencies
against Pakistan in an effort to secure their rights and
gain autonomy or regain independence. So while the Pakistan
central government is supposedly negotiating with the Baloch
province to end this latest insurgency, what does it do?
It sells Baloch land to foreign investors. In the US, in
manslaughter murder cases, provocation is defined as an
act that would cause a reasonable person to lose control.
If these sales do not constitute provocation, I don’t
know what does. This sale is evidence of the depraved indifference
by which the Pakistan federal government regards the Baloch.
The Baloch are amongst the poorest citizens of Pakistan.
If the Pakistani government were actually representing
the interests of its citizens, it would’ve helped
local Baloch irrigate that land so they might instead produce
and sell food to those who need it in the Middle East.
A legitimate government would not sell the very territory
the Baloch have fought five insurgencies to secure. http://dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=2010\02\07story_7-2-2010_pg3_4)
The irony, of course, is that Pakistan is a signatory
to the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The third
paragraph of the Declaration states that human rights should
be protected by rule of law so that people are not compelled
to rebellion against tyranny. I would argue that actions
by successive Pakistani governments would compel any reasonable
person to rebel—and many of these acts are even more
provocative than those that drove the American states to “collectively
[determine] that the British monarchy, by acts of tyranny,
could no longer legitimately claim their allegiance.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Revolution)
So if Pakistan has proved incapable of claiming the allegiance
of the Baloch in its 60 years of rule, what alternatives
do the Baloch offer?
I don’t speak Balochi and my Urdu is weak. I therefore
can’t read what is being proposed as solutions within
Balochistan in the local languages. As far back as 1957,
the National Awami Party (which at various times was comprised
of members like Khair Bakhsh Marri, Ataullah Mengal, Ghaws
Bakhsh Bizenjo and Gul Khan Nasir, and Nawab Akbar Khan
Bugti), called for progressive items like land reform,
nationalization of industry, etc. And when the party came
to power in 1972, it tried during its 9 months in power
to implement some dramatic changes like abolishing the
sardari system. (Paul Titus: Knights, Not Pawns, pg. 51,
59-61) At present, In English, I see calls for full autonomy
or independence, but as an outsider, what is missing for
me is a plan for the peace—What happens when the
dust settles? What will peace look like? Producing a clearly
articulated plan is important for a number of reasons:
1) One can say ‘We are suffering a slow-motion
genocide, we want our independence back’ but that
approach doesn’t offer potential allies any clues
as to how or where their NGO or organizations might fit
in to help you realize your goals.
2) A plan for the peace gives insiders and
outsiders a reason to believe that the average Baloch will
be better off than under Pakistani rule. After all, if
this is not the case, it hardly matters who is ripping
off the Baloch. My friend who works for a labor NGO recently
returned from Nicaragua. There she met a cab driver who
was a former Sandanista guerrilla. He was adamant about
voting Daniel Ortega out of office. He said in no uncertain
terms, while waving his hands at the poverty around him, ‘THIS--THIS
is not what we fought and died for.’
3) There is a lot at stake in Balochistan,
especially with regards to untapped resources. In the absence
of a framework and an understanding of how these will
be managed, there is a chance you will find that when the
dust settles those who supported the sharing of all resources
for the purpose of development will suddenly have a different
understanding of what it means to ‘share.’
The world is rife with evidence that resources do not guarantee
development and prosperity. More often than not, resources
enrich only a very very few elites. I have just read a
fascinating article about how Mongolia plans to tackle
its newfound problems in relation to resource management
and I can share this with you later.
And the intrigue over these resources won’t originate
just from within; it will come from without, as well. Absent
a clear framework that citizens are enthusiastic to see
enacted and, more importantly, expect their leaders to
adhere to, it is very possible that in this fog, outside
forces will peel the Baloch off one-by-one, as the British
and Pakistanis have so successfully done in the past. For
since the British became involved in Balochistan in the
early 1800s, and since Pakistan strong-armed and cajoled
some Baloch areas into joining Pakistan, Balochistan has
known nothing but intrigue and subterfuge on the part of
outsiders. Every outside actor has worked directly or indirectly
to undermine any unity your largely autonomous and independent
Baloch tribes enjoyed. For English readers, these machinations
are well-documented in Martin Axman’s recent book ‘Back
to the Future,’ in Khan Ahmad Yar Khan’s ‘Inside
Baluchistan,’ in Taj Mohammad Breseeg’s ‘Baloch
Nationalism, Its Origins and Development’ and in
Paul Titus’ excellent article, “Knights, Not
Pawns: Ethno-Nationalism and Regional Dynamics in Post-Colonial
Balochistan.” (Intl. J. Middle East Studies, 32,
We witnessed just recently a very bald example of outside
pressure. When Balochistan Chief Minister Nawab Raisani
canceled an agreement with Tethyan Copper, a joint venture
with Barrick Gold and Antofagasta, within days, US Ambassador
Patterson called on the Pakistani govt to pressure the
Baloch provincial govt to honor that agreement. Now this
agreement was drawn up with a company the Swiss firm Covalence
described in a Jan 2010 report as the 12th least ethical
company in the world. The 12th least ethical company in
the world. WHY would Pakistan and the US object to the
Baloch trying to cut a better and more environmentally
sound deal for themselves?
4) Lastly a plan for the peace provides the
Baloch with a chance to introduce yourselves to the world—on
your terms. To take some control of your profile, as it
were. At present, to the outsider, the Baloch appear as
victims. Your lives and desires and characters have been
painted for the world by British colonialists and the Pakistani
military and govt—and they have willingly, avidly,
described you as a backwards tribal province that doesn’t
develop because it prefers to be ruled by autocratic sardars
who line their pockets vs. develop your province. That
this is not the case was clear even in 1957 when the NAP,
who members were comprised of many from sardar families,
called for the most radical reforms. Additionally, you
are at the mercy of the Western media who generally lumps
you in with those living in the troubled tribal AfPak theater—writing
Balochistan simply as the hideout of the Quetta shura.
Balochistan has the misfortune of being surrounded by countries
with no human rights records of note. At least Haiti’s
proximity to the US ensures that social and political activists
have often visited and are aware of what has transpired
in that country. When Haiti suffered its earthquake, activists
were quick to jump on board to monitor how the shock doctrine
advocates would try to take advantage of the situation.
You have no one in your backyard to do this for you.
B. Raman writes that the US is being sucked into Pakistan’s
world of illusions. (Bahukutumbi Raman, Feb 8, 2010, South
Asia Analysis Group). The question for the Baloch is how
to do a creative end-run around those illusions that the
Pakistani govt weaves for the US? How to land on the world
stage and reveal to the West that you are PLU—people
like us? The world by now has a better picture of the Pakistan
government and military’s duplicitous nature vis
a vis the Taliban, but it has an incomplete picture of
Balochistan. It does not understand what the Baloch are
trying to escape. You can paint this picture for them.
A couple months ago in NY I attended a lecture by the
famous Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek. I’ll paraphrase
what he said: ‘We are really living in cynical times,
forced to act as if we are free. We have choice, but no
background. In other words, most of us don’t have
access to the full information needed to make the best
decisions.' Nevertheless, I think it is possible to reach
some general agreement on the overarching goals of an autonomous
or independent Balochistan which can then be communicated
to the court of world opinion.
How to craft such an agreement?
My suggestion would be to hold a convention
in Balochistan. A type of shahi jirga, if you like—as
Khan Suleiman Daud called in 2006 to discuss the ICJ case.
I would not draft a Declaration of Independence—you
don’t want to invite a military crackdown. Rather
this should be a convention designed to discuss issues
related to a constitution, rule of law and resource management.
All of these are legitimate topics of discussion given
that negotiations are already ongoing in the province with
the Pakistatn central govt over issues of autonomy.
I would invite representatives from each and every political
and armed group to speak—all chiefs, activists, lawyers,
labor leaders. Every single village should have an voice
at this convention, whether it be through a political party
or a municipal organization. The diaspora leaders and groups
can phone in via Skype or internet conferencing. Each
representative in this roundtable should have a chance
to present his ideas related to the agenda. This meeting
should be held over a period of days so that at the end
of each day, representatives can report back to their respective
groups via phone or internet regarding what was said.
After all have spoken, each representative should have
a second chance to speak, having heard all the presentations
and had time to consult with party members, villagers at
home, etc., in order to gather additional data to bolster
his message, or to throw his weight behind better ideas.
At the end of this process, the convention should elect
a team of lawyers to draft a working agreement for wide
dissemination and discussion. At a later date, regroup
to offer amendments, and follow this with a vote.
At that point, I am assuming we will all be looking a
quite progressive document. How do you take it to the court
of world opinion when so far you haven’t been able
to get the media to come to you? Publish this text. Take
out a full page ad in the New York Times. Tell the readers
of one of the most widely read newspapers in the world
what you are trying to accomplish in the mess that is AfPak.
This would win the attention of honorable international
players. It educates. It distinguishes Balochistan from
Pakistan, on your terms.
Two of the most important elements in this agreement should
relate to rule of law and management of resources.
If Balochistan wants to develop swiftly, it can’t
have a patchwork of laws and methods of enforcing them
that vary from tribal area to tribal area. As tribal leader
Attaullah Mengal said in 2006, “A tribal system or
tribal chieftan will only help as far as the struggle is
concerned. After that it has to be again, reshaped into
the modern democratic system as prevailing in the international
world. We don’t
have to go back to the stone age again and pick up the
remains or pieces from there. We have to switch straight
away into a democratic system.”
One needs uniformity and transparency if one is going
to do business in the international arena.
I have had first hand experience with what happens when
a system isn’t trusted. When I helped Begum Jamila
Daud build a website to, in part, raise money for Baloch
internally displaced persons (IDPs), we had tremendous
difficulty finding a method for her NGO to receive donations.
Amazingly (or not) PayPal will not do business in Pakistan.
PayPal will do business in Albania, but not Pakistan. At
present, your small start-up businesses—the enthusiastic
young entrepreneurs who can help jump-start an economy—they
can’t compete in the world market. Rather, they waste
a lot of time on workarounds that cost them business. The
internet has ushered in some intriguing ways for inventors
to make money through a concept called crowd sourcing.
Without global standards related to banking and law, your
young creatives just can’t participate.
Equally important is the subject of resource management.
Chief Minister Raisani recently called for full autonomy
and full Baloch control over resources. My question as
an outsider: What does Chief Minister Raisani mean
by ‘control?’ Who will control the resources
in an autonomous or independent Balochistan? This is not
a simple question.
I have spoken to Baloch from all walks of life. There
is not one who does not envision and hope for a progressive
state with features like Social Security, unemployment
insurance, education, universities, health care, technology
centers, eco-tourism, etc. The only way this is going to
happen is with revenue from your resources. Now some Baloch
believe that all resources (above and below ground) should
be nationalized. They want to emulate a Norway which tops
every single list in the world that measures standard of
living metrics. Others believe that the control of resources
should return to those on whose land they sit, with a generous
percentage of revenue then contributed to federal coffers.
While this latter may be a practical solution, it will
probably not lead to the speediest development—the
most important reason being—it doesn’t allow
for efficient planning and it leaves negotiations in the
hands of individual property owners—many of whom
will be more or less skilled negotiators. In practical
terms, it is a transparency and monitoring nightmare. And
if the control of resources does not revert to individual
landowners--how might they he be compensated so that one
doesn’t feel dispossessed?
Such complex matters could benefit greatly from research
into how other countries have resolved these issues. How
did land use issues unfold in Norway? How were the Indian
Princely states brought on board when they joined India?
This is where Baloch lawyers, educators and students can
help. All students have to write papers—here
is an opportunity for university students to produce research
and policy papers that can help contribute to the building
of a nation.
Ultimately, no one should regard control of resources
as a means to getting rich. If not well-managed and shared,
it is possible these resources will leave a legacy of only
a few more SUVs for a few more people. And when the resources
run out, Balochistan is finished if it has developed no
options other than to rely on its land for income.
A rationale for adopting a Norwegian shared model is this: right
now a sardar or landowner may possess copper that is worth
a lot in the present market. His neighbor may have nothing—maybe
only land that is fit for grazing. But perhaps
that copper has to travel over his neighbor’s land
to reach Gwadar port. Without transit rights and
that port sitting on the property of his coastal neighbor,
that copper is useless. And one day, his copper mine will
be exhausted. For ex., it is reported that the Chinese
will empty Saindak copper mine in 10 years, vs. 19 as originally
planned. One day that copper owner may own nothing but
If, however, the resource had been managed by the state—that
landowner may now have a pension or social security that
is paid by the Baloch government. His children will have
jobs that were generated when Balochistan pushed development
into high gear. His descendents will not have to rely on
land as a source of income.
If people think long-term vs. short-term profits and gains,
Balochistan has a chance to emulate an eastern and warmer
Once there is some general agreement as to how a Baloch
government would operate, teams can be organized to reach
out to international groups who can help realize your goals.
Before coming here, I did a search on eco-friendly mining.
Not easy. Some say impossible. Nevertheless, I found a
company that is worth exploring. This company
has developed a process by which they can extract minerals
without using precious water resources. If the Baloch could
unite behind a plan for the peace and agenda, establish
teams to crunch numbers and research the issues that need
resolution, when a situation like Tethyan arises, and the
US pressures you to work with a company like Barrick Gold,
you can announce to the court of world opinion—We want to do business with an eco-friendly
company. We don’t want to sacrifice our environment
for a couple schools and a clinic that Tethyan will provide—we
can build those ourselves if we get a fair price for our
minerals and our environment isn’t destroyed in the
process. Environmental activists would jump on board. Greenpeace,
the Sierra Club, Oceana—they would all be more than
willing to help you write policy.
These research teams could also start to form relationships
with environmental monitors. Pakistan recently said in
relation to the environmental degradation and lack of oversight
at Chinese-run Saindak Copper that “The option of
engaging some international firm for the scheme was not
considered because of the high costs.” Saindak generates
billions of dollars in revenue. This argument is disingenuous
In all of this, the most important elements are transparency,
checks and balances.
And now, with technology advances, it is even possible
to engage the average citizen in a transparent way. I would
like to see a central Baloch government develop (or buy)
a database that is accessible by computer from every village.
That computer could be in a tea shop or a library, wherever
there is a central location. And I would like to see that
lady, who so laboriously drew water from that well, to
be able to type in (and have the education to type in)
a suggestion regarding her need. And this database should
be searchable by others. That way, in a village 400 miles
away, someone who has a similar need can maybe coordinate
to lobby their local and federal government to solve the
issue. Additionally, maybe this database is linked to one
of these crowdsourcing databases where people are plying
their inventions. Maybe the Baloch govt could form an entire
department populated by students who ply these crowdsourcing
databases for innovative technical solutions to Baloch
And though I believe that Zizek is right—we are
living in cynical times. There are, however, still enormous
quantities of goodwill out there. And that goodwill is
there to engage. Awhile back I got a Baloch landowner to
volunteer to contribute land for wind generation. Our plan
was to put up wind turbines on land that wasn’t
at present in use. All the profits from the wind generation
would go to build schools and clinics in Balochistan. I
contacted a friend of mine at 3M in the US. He started
to research turbines and solar technologies that could
function in the Baloch environment. That is where idealism
butted up against reality. First, it was tricky to find
accurate and current wind maps of the area. Then there
were technical issues related to wind turbines and sand.
Anyone who has visited parts of Balochistan knows that
the wind carries much more than blue skies. Beyond that—questions
of how to connect to the electrical grid—which does
NOT criss-cross Balochistan in any convenient or accessible
pattern—in order to sell the electricity. All these
problems have technical solutions, but they may not yet
be practical or they may be costly.
Developing Balochistan will take patience, diligence and
foresight. There is no get-rich quick scheme here. And
the only way this is going to happen is by returning to
your cultural roots.
I was fascinated to learn in Martin Axman’s book
that Baloch tribes, unlike Pashtun tribes, were not originally
related by blood. Rather, the varieties of ethnic groups (Jats,
Baloch, Brahui, etc.) who gathered in this area—this
no man’s land—they formed tribes. A man contributed
to a tribe—to its wellbeing and defence—and
in return, received land—a tribal version of the
Latin phrase “Unus pro omnibus, omnes pro uno "One
for all, all for one”. This type
of collaboration is what will turn Balochistan into the
modern state that so many wish for.
What is clear in Martin Axmann’s book, despite his
descriptions of individual foibles, is that the Baloch
have, throughout history, worked really really hard to
stay independent. At times, some have even been willing
to undermine the unity of a greater Balochistan in an
attempt to secure their own autonomy. What is equally clear
is that the British and Pakistan have worked very very
hard to undermine Baloch unity when it served their purposes.
Nevertheless, this is not the time to run a truth commission.
Rather, it is a time to win people over. Your tribal inheritance
makes you well-suited to concepts of majority rule and
sharing. I don’t think you need to focus at this
point on the failings of individuals. They are only one
voice in a majority rule system.
In closing, I would like to say this in relation to
the complex issues that await resolution: When reading
about Agha Naseer
Khan in Martin Axmann’s history, I was reminded of
a quote. Following the Standstill Agreement in 1947, Balochistan’s
Khan Ahmad Yar Khan issued Kalat’s
Declaration of Independence. Kalat’s constitution
called for a Lower House of Commons. There was, however,
at the time, no election machinery in place in Kalat state.
The philosopher Zizek says that when we are in a deadlock,
we are forced to invent something. So how did one creative
soul solve this problem? Agha Naseer went to each area
in Jhalawan and had local jirga elders act as the electorate.
He went to every tehsil (or district) and conducted elections
and Kalat’s first House of Commons came into being—within
a week (Axmann, ps. 228). As Ralph Waldo Emerson said: “What
lies behind us and lies before us are small matters compared
to what lies within us.” What lies within the Baloch
has the power to transform a society and educate the world,
and inspire your provincial neighbors. Many Baloch, to
paraphrase a Greek proverb, have already chosen to plant
trees in whose shade they will never live in. Let’s
do our creative best to honor their memories.