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Letters to the editor in response to Ejaz Haider's opinion piece: Insight: Balochistan needs a rethink, DailyTimes.com.pk, Jan 7, 2009 (Mr. Haider's full article below):

(Note from thebaluch editors: We are told that in the Mekran region, Panjgur district to be precise, there has not been a Sardari system for decades. The district does still not have good hospitals, schools and basic amenities of life.)

Jan 7, 2009

Dear Sir, 

In his article "Balochistan needs a rethink" (Daily Times, January 7, 2009) Ejaz Haider states: Is it possible, before the Baloch nationalists begin to talk about democracy and rights and resource allocation, that they could show themselves up to be "modern" rather than celebrating one of the worst tribal structures one can find anywhere?" 

This is similar to what we have been hearing from successive military rulers of Pakistan about the country's politicians. The army officers justify their coups by billing the politicians as corrupt, incompetent and insincere. Similarly, in Balochistan's context, the government and scholars supporting the establishment keep saying the same about the Baloch sardars that they should "show themselves up to be "modern". What is the modernity that Ejaz Haider expects from the Baloch political leaders? 

Let's not for God's sake confuse the Baloch issue with its tribal set-up. The current insurgency, just like the previous ones, is not about the tribal system. It is about fair treatment of a federating unit in a modern federation. Every federation is expected to treat its federating units with respect, not to look at them as colonies. Balochistan, on the other hand, as been treated by Islamabad merely as a colony. 

The people of Balochistan did not pick up guns five times in the last 60 years during their existence with Pakistan not because they were dissatisfied with their tribal chiefs. Instead, they rose against Islamabad against the injustices of the successive rulers based in Islamabad. Furthermore, Mr. Haider must know that Sanaullah Baloch is no Sardar. He is a middle class educated Baloch leader. Similarly, the whole leadership of the National Party (NP), another leading nationalist outfit, does not have a single Sardar in its ranks. The NP entirely comprises of modern, educated, liberal and secular leaders. It is bad regrtable if you offend them by suggesting them to "show themselves up to be "modern". 

It is not the Baloch tribal elders who killed a large number of Baloch population in repeated military operations. But it was the Pakistani military that killed hundreds of innocent people, subjected thousands of them to enforced disappearances. The Baloch nationalist leaders of the National Awami Party (NAP) continued to languish in the jails under Hyderabad Conspiracy case for years in 1970s while rest of the so-called modern, secular Pakistani leaders were engaged in supporting the autocratic regime of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. 

Mr Haider is affronting the Baloch sentiments when he fails to give any solutions except holding the Baloch nationalists responsible for the backwardness of the province. The so-called tyrant sardars of Balochistan have not been demanding powers for themselves or legitimacy for their hold on their respective tribes. They have been seeking constitutional reforms. They have their political parties, abided by the Constitution of Pakistan and always respected the political process against the popular insurgency. All they are asking for is complete provincial autonomy, not only for the Baloch sardars but for the Sindhis, Pashtoons and the Punjabis living in the remaining three provinces of Pakistan. How would one describe them wrong when they are not talking about the protection of their tribal system but for constitutional reforms that ensures a just distribution of the national resources in the National Finance Commission Award?

Kanwal Gichki
Turbat, Balochistan


The letter in full:

Dear Sir,

I am not sure if Ejaz Haider has any evidence when he says " The late Akbar Khan Bugti not only ruled his area like a medieval tyrant, Dera Bugti even today has the worst human development indices in Pakistan." (Balochistan needs a rethink, Daily Times, January 7, 2009). This is simply putting the old wine in a new bottle. Blaming the Baloch tribal elders as the root cause of Balochistan's backwardness is an old joke that no one agrees to buy anymore. Everyone knows that there is something with Balochistan and these excuses have not convinced any of us. After all, Sardars, Chaudharies, feudal lords, Zardaris and Sharifs continue to sit in all four provincial assemblies and the Parliament. They are everywhere. Their approach is the same everywhere.

Balochistan's issue is not its Sardars but Islamabad's brazen refusal to confess its exploitative designs.

If Nawab Bugti was truly in control of everything in Dera Bugti then I wonder how the government managed to establish a huge gas plant in Sui as early as 1950s. The government could easily establish a gas plant to exploit the Baloch gas, recruit non- Baloch in these gas companies, establish check posts of the Frontier Corps and supply this gas to the whole country on the cost of Baloch deprivation, except developing the local infrastructure. The government did everything to exploit the Baloch resources except for establishing schools, colleges and hospitals in the area. If Akbar Khan was a "medieval tyrant" then how did he allow the government to pursue its exploitative agenda?

I wonder if Mr. Ejaz Haider knows how many people in Balochistan have access to gas? Even the residents of Sui, as documentary shown in People Power program indicated, are still obliged to cut woods to make a fire? The gas companies have made high standard schools inside the colonies where the employees of the gas companies live to educate their children but the same facility is denied to Baloch kids.

If the government could successfully pursue its exploitative agenda of usurping the Baloch gas to fuel the industries of Punjab for sixty years, how could it not undertake a development program comprising of construction of schools, colleges and hospitals? Secondly, I do not understand what is the yardstick for measuring the democratic credentials of a Baloch nationalist leader? Akbar Khan Bugti could surely rule his area as a "medieval tyrant" but despite this he still formed the Jamori Watan Party (JWP), a purely democratic party, which forced him to seek people's votes. If he were a "medieval tyrant" then his son would not get killed on broad day light by the supporters of the Establishment.

I think as long as intellectuals like Ejaz Haider even fall victim of false official propaganda and avoid seeing things objectively, Balochistan issue will further be complicated.


From DailyTimes.com.pk with Ejaz Haider's answer (below): http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=2009\01\08\story_8-1-2009_pg3_7

Rethinking Balochistan

Sir: With reference to Ejaz Haider's article “Balochistan needs a rethink” (Daily Times, January 7), I am not sure if the writer has any evidence when he says: “The late Akbar Khan Bugti not only ruled his area like a medieval tyrant, Dera Bugti even today has the worst human development indices in Pakistan.”

Blaming the Baloch tribal elders for the province's backwardness is an excuse that no one accepts anymore. After all, apart from the sardars, feudal lords hold power in other provinces as well, and follow the same approach. Balochistan's problem is not its sardars, but Islamabad's refusal to confess to its exploitative designs. Consider that if Nawab Bugti was truly in total control of Dera Bugti, how did the government manage to establish a huge gas infrastructure in Sui to supply the rest of Pakistan while denying development to the Baloch? The government used Baloch gas to fuel industries but did not undertake a development programme in Balochistan. Also, Akbar Bugti formed the Jamhoori Watan Party, which was a purely democratic party that forced him to seek the people's votes.

As long as intellectuals continue to fall victim to false official propaganda and avoid objective analysis, the Balochistan issue will remain unresolved.

Ejaz Haider replies: The last comprehensive HDI data compilation at district level is contained in the UNDP's National Human Development Report 2003 for Pakistan. Jhelum was the top district with an HDI of 0.703, while Dera Bugti was the lowest with an HDI of 0.285. As for Ms Baloch's contention about how the government could set up a huge infrastructure at Sui, the less said the better about the quid pro quo involved and who benefited from it at the expense of the people of Sui. Ms Baloch has also resorted, deliberately and arbitrarily, to conflating feudal, tribal and other categories to fudge the issue. I think she needs to re-read the article to see what I have written about Islamabad. But, if as a woman she is satisfied with the Baloch social-tribal structure, who am I to object?


INSIGHT: Balochistan needs a rethink —Ejaz Haider

Negotiations are a function of a secular conception of the state, not a theological one. The Baloch nationalists may be involved in some excesses but they can still be dealt with through a combination of strategies. Not so the Islamists

The Balochistan National Party (BNP) Information Secretary and former senator Mr Sanaullah Baloch has told this newspaper of a presumed policy by the federal government “to pit the religious elements against the Baloch nationalists”.

Just in case anyone thought Mr Baloch was being mealy-mouthed about the identity of the “religious elements”, he referred to the “supporters” of the Taliban who have allegedly “captured land worth Rs2 billion in the eastern and western parts of Quetta” to “undermine the Baloch nationalist movement”.

Mr Baloch also “wondered why the state had not carried out military operations against these elements while it was still attacking Dera Bugti and Sui areas”. He also referred to the problem of the Afghan refugees and called them “a burden on the economy of Balochistan and the biggest cause of lawlessness and terrorism in the country’s largest province”.

Since Balochistan is strategically immensely important for Pakistan, Mr Baloch’s allegations cannot be brushed aside lightly. Let’s try and go step by step.

Mr Baloch has referred to “Baloch nationalists” and the “supporters of the Taliban”. His first categorisation means two things: one, there is a presence of elements in Balochistan who are not fully subsumed in the larger national identity; two, these elements, traversing the spectrum from the moderate to the hard-line, are opposed to what can broadly be called the status quo.

Since we have referred to the moderates at one end and hard-liners at the other, it is safe to assume that the tactics adopted to compel the state to change the status quo would range from negotiations to a resort to violence. Not only that, we can also assume that changing the status quo itself may vary in terms of expectations and definition from the moderates (minimalist) to the hard-liners (maximalist).

For instance, the moderates may, both in terms of tactics as well as expectations, want greater autonomy for the province and greater control over its resources (changing the terms of the National Finance Commission Award and the Council of Common Interest, for instance). This would mean reviewing the issue of provincial autonomy in the 1973 Constitution, not just in relation to Balochistan, but across the board, besides revisiting the formulae for the allocation of resources etc and adjudication for provincial grievances.

Leaving aside the modalities, and there are many, this would still boil down to the acceptance of a federal arrangement, though with less centralised powers for Islamabad. And, this is a negotiating position, one in which staying within the system and working it to one’s advantage would be considered better than opting out and subverting the system.

Rising higher on the conflict ladder, we reach the demand for a confederal arrangement. Confederations are usually created by treaty and adopt a common constitution. The central government only deals with such critical issues such as defence, foreign affairs, a common currency etc while letting the states be and providing equal support to all member-states. Essentially, it is, according to modern terminology, a permanent union of sovereign states for common action in relation to other states.

In theory, confederal arrangements allow smaller, sovereign state-units, to enjoy their freedom of action at one end and the binding support of a central structure for joint defence at the other.

This is generally unworkable. The confederation of German States (1815-66) and North German States (1866-71), as well as other such instances, show the difficulty of such arrangements, both at the conceptual and functional levels. Such arrangements are always dogged by the problem of where sovereignty rests and with whom, and from that flows functional problems of effective control, support, allocation of resources etc.

A demand by federal units for a confederal arrangement is thus a covert euphemism for breaking away, not exactly a negotiating position for reviewing a federalist structure.

On the other hand, autonomous units that seek to come together under such arrangement either break up (several examples) and go back to exercising state sovereignty or, as roughly may be the case with the European Union, retain the core of sovereignty while relinquishing some aspects of it on the periphery.

The last rung on this ladder is of course secession — overt breaking away. This is not a negotiating position at all. It leads to conflict, usually armed. The secession of East Pakistan is a case in point. But precisely because of that experience, the Centre of the Pakistani state is likely to come down hard, and ruthlessly, on those elements that might start with such a position — or even arrive at it.

However, in the case of Balochistan, simmered as it has for a long time, it would be safe to argue that unless the situation is resolved, we may see more movement from the moderate end of the spectrum towards the hard-liners.

If Mr Baloch is right then it seems the state has decided to neutralise the “secular” Baloch nationalists with their parochial, ethnically-grounded agenda through the use of “religious” elements who may not be ethnically parochial but want to sacralise the state and link it up with a mythical pan-Islamism.

And pan-Islamism, while being expansive in terms of rejecting parochial identitieswithin Islam is nonetheless reductionist in terms of how it views the out-groups and conceives its modes of interaction with them.

Here we run into two problems then.

The first has to do with the Baloch nationalists. If it is about peoples’ representation then we have unfortunately not seen such movement so far in that province. The province’s leaders, for all the clamouring about rights etcetera, have woefully fallen short of reforming their social structures. The late Akbar Khan Bugti not only ruled his area like a medieval tyrant, Dera Bugti even today has the worst human development indices in Pakistan.

The same is true of other sardars who claim to speak on behalf of the people of Balochistan.

Is it possible, before the Baloch nationalists begin to talk about democracy and rights and resource allocation, that they could show themselves up to be “modern” rather than celebrating one of the worst tribal structures one can find anywhere?

This, let it be said, is as important, if not more, than the issue of devolving powers to the provinces which must be done as per the original spirit of the 1973 constitution. Even so, without internal social reformation, no amount of provincial autonomy will help the Baloch develop meaningfully or join the development mainstream.

In fact, this is just the point which may help clinch the argument in favour of allowing development to go through, something the Baloch nationalists have not allowed so far, opting instead to cut their nose to spite their face. This social reformation should be the agenda of the moderates who must also negotiate with the Centre for greater rights.

On the part of the state, pitting Islamists against a “threat” that can be dealt with through negotiations is the worst possible policy because it is likely to view tactical victories as a strategic, long-term plus which such victories, if there might such be, definitely are not.

The state must remember that negotiations are a function of a secular conception of the state, not a theological one. The Baloch nationalists may be involved in some excesses, but they can still be dealt with through a combination of strategies.

Not so the Islamists.

Ejaz Haider is Consulting Editor of The Friday Times and Op-Ed Editor of Daily Times. He can be reached at sapper@dailytimes.com.pk