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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 government.


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, 2001, 47-69)


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 of 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 desert.


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 Norway.


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 at best.


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 problems.


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.