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The Baloch-Islamabad conflict


by Senator Sanaullah Baloch

The Baloch-Islamabad conflict has intensified over the years, Baloch hold Islamabad responsible for depriving Balochistan of its natural resources and the appalling state of affairs in the province.

From Liquat Ali Khan to Gen Musharaf all rulers are pursuing the establishment's unchanged "Zero-Tolerance" policy towards the province, considering Balochistan to be a permanent threat and Baloch unfaithful citizens.

Balochistan's contribution to the country is Himalayan. In fact, Balochistan's immeasurable natural wealth and strategic significant turned into curse. Islamabad's desire to control province energy resources, without sharing its social, economic and administrative benefits with Baloch, is a prime reason behind repeated military actions.

The establishment is in constant efforts to politically marginalise and disturb the very liberal and social fabric of Baloch society, by supporting religious parties and co-opting gluttonous tribal and drug barons is part of the policy to retain its unquestioning control on Balochistan affairs.

Lacking political and democratic culture, Islamabad is governing Balochistan through a system known as "control." Control, a suppressive system, is a set of mechanism used in multi-ethnic states by the dominant ethnic groups to contain and keep its control on dissident ethnic minorities.

Control is based on the principle that one ethnic group takes over the state, imposes its culture on the society, allocates to itself the lion's share of resources and takes various measures, including violent means (military operations) to prevent the non-dominant group from organising politically.

Control works through three interrelated mechanisms: a) Divide and rule, internally creating rifts and division among the non-dominant groups, b) economic dependence: making them permanently dependent for their livelihood on dominant group and central government. c) Cooptation: involving non-dominant elite like greedy tribal chiefs, feudal, drug tycoons, corrupt intellectual and politicians through partial dispensation of benefits and favours.

The military's fresh, unwarranted and indiscriminate crackdown against moderate Baloch nationalists, intellectuals, students, poets, anti-establishment tribal elders, businessman and civilians is the reflection of the "zero tolerance" policy against the ethnic Baloch people.

A poor but educated Baloch, Munir Mengal, who dreamed to set up a Baloch TV channel, was kept in a torture cell for two years without any trial. Dr Hanif Sharif, a Baloch short story writer, Mubarak Qazi, a poet, and a singer from Panjgoor were illegally detained and tortured for their contribution to the Balochi language and literature and for raising awareness against the inhuman state of affairs.

The gravity of Balochistan's problems is deep-rooted extending behind the minds of the political parties and educated youths to the masses who are experiencing inequality and injustices in their everyday life.

Each region, town and village has its own story of mistreatment, underdevelopment and exploitation. Start from Ormara, where Pakistan's modern navel base is constructed, to Chaghi and Kharan, where the nuclear test was conducted and copper and gold are being mined, to Lasbela where the Industrial town and strategic facilities are located, to Dera Bugti known for gas production, to Quetta and Bolan where coal is being mined, and you will be confronted with a wretched state of affairs.

Fuelling the national economy for years and helping to save billions of dollars of worth of foreign exchange in terms of energy import, the province ninety seven percent population lives without gas facility, 78 percent without electricity, and 62 percent without safe drinking water. Balochistan has just 3.4 percent of gas consumers, as compared to 64 percent of Punjab alone, which produces only 4.75 percent of natural gas.

Balochistan being the major coal producing province is deprived of its benefits. During the 1960s, when Lahore was of West Pakistan, 98 percent the coalmines of province were allotted to people having no affiliation with province. Today the locals in these "black-gold" regions live without water, electricity, education and health system.

The MoU signed by Islamabad with a Chinese company is a classic evidence of misuse of Baloch wealth. Islamabad and the Chinese company are taking 50 and 48 percent, respectively, and leaving only two percent profit for Balochistan. The Saindak project is no man's land for local Baloch youths. Chaghi, the gold producing district, is the poorest of the poor.

Countless MoU's of such exploitative nature are inked with foreign and local companies to aggressively exploit Baloch resources. These include the Duddar Lead-Zinc Project and the Reko Deq copper-gold project. Oil and gas exploration licenses are given without taking account of Baloch needs and demands.

All glitzy mega-projects and control developments launched in Balochistan, including those for gas development, coalmining, Gwadar port, Mirani Dam, coastal highway, cantonments, and the extraction of copper and gold deposits do not envisage any participation or direct benefit to the people and the province.

The province is of strategic importance and shares long borders with Iran and Afghanistan and a 700-kilometre-long coastline. But border and coastal security is 100 percent controlled by non-Baloch paramilitary forces. Seventy thousand jobs in the Frontier Corps, Coast Guard, Police, maritime security and the Anti-Narcotics Force are occupied by non-locals, which leaves hundred of thousands of qualified Baloch youths unemployed.

An unemployed Baloch youth feel more depressed and exploited when an unskilled soldier on their soil is brought and employed from another province to fill the position which is legally, naturally and constitutionally a right of a local Baloch youth.

Baloch bitterness by all means is genuine, and continued plunder of Balochistan's natural resources and its economic and political marginalisation and militarisation are the major causes of mounting tension between the Baloch and Islamabad . Political instability is on the rise.

Islamabad's reliance on brute force may help the central government to create short-term cosmetic calm, but unrest and frustration will further lead to growing mistrust between Baloch and Islamabad.

The establishment in Pakistan needs to radically alter its policies to get rid of Balochistan's crisis. The egoistic approach towards suppressed people is not good. Respecting the rights of ethnic groups, accepting the principle of true democracy and full participation of marginalised groups in state affairs is the only way out of internal unrests and quagmires.

The writer is a senator. Email: balochbnp@gmail.com