Mar 29, 2010

Dilemma remains

The problems of Balochistan have not been completely understood

By Salman Abid

The dilemma of Pakistani politics is that there is no progress in social and political harmony between the four provinces and there is no consensus on different issues such as peace, security, autonomy, and many others. Currently, Balochistan has serious reservations with regard to power-based structures of Punjab and Islamabad.

A majority of regional nationalist parties have rejected Balochistan package and National Finance Commission (NFC) award. They have shown their mistrust in Islamabad. Nationalist political parties have also shown and registered their reservations on the constitutional package. According to their statement, the 1973 Constitution is totally supportive of federation only. The provinces, excluding Punjab, have been discriminated against.

Unfortunately, the issue of Balochistan has not been properly understood by the people at large, especially those living in Punjab. The whole issue has been dealt with in isolation, thereby aggravating grievances. This is because of the lack of knowledge and dependency on Islamabad and Punjab-based information. Our mainstream newspapers and electronic media have also not highlighted the Balochistan issue on a priority basis. State media has deliberately not reported much on the Balochistan issue.

During my recent visit to Quetta to participate in national conference, I had the opportunity to meet different political and social stakeholders and media persons. During my meetings, I tried to understand their concerns about national politics, especially with reference to Balochistan perspective. I strongly realised that Baloch showed lots of hatred towards the state and the ruling elite, especially after the killing of Nawab Akbar Bugti.

Balochistan has three perspectives. First, the Baloch are constantly looking for their identity in the 1973 Constitution. Second, they have rejected the 1973 Constitution and demand for a new one because the present constitution, according to them, does not provide basic human rights. And lastly, they seem to now believe in an armed struggle and raise the slogan of an independent Balochistan.

The Pakistan living Standard Measurement Survey (PSLM) 2004-5 identifies a sharp inter-provincial disparity with regard to access to safe drinking water. Several reports state that 52 percent population in Balochistan uses wells and open ponds for drinking water, compared to 3 percent in Punjab, 13 percent in Sindh, and 35 percent in NWFP. The PSLM survey reported alarming regional disparity in the education sector. According to the survey, only 27 percent of the students in Balochistan complete primary or higher education, compared to 64 percent in Punjab. Gender disparity is also a very sensitive issue in Balochistan and women are marginalised.

During the visit to Gwadar I met the fisherfolks' community. They shared their own concerns and problems. Most of the development under the Gwadar Development Authority (GDA) focuses on new colonies and basic infrastructures for the 'new' people, and not the old people living there for the last 60 years. People have serious reservations on military organisations, capturing the local land in the name of security. Baloch have strongly criticised national media many a time at various forums to protect and justify extremism in the county.

The Balochistan situation is always seen under the Baloch perspective, ignoring the Pakhtun and Hazara perspectives. The Pakhtun community is fully engaged in business and development activities in the region but lives in isolation.

More than 10 million Pakhtuns live far from their homes, especially in Karachi, to earn a living. They cite low representation in the provincial set-up and complain that they have been reduced to second-rate citizens. The Hazara community also raises its own concerns, especially the target killings and the dealing of security agencies with the Hazara people. According to HRCP report, more than 260 people belonging to the Hazara community in Quetta since the year 2003 have become victims of target killing and more than 1000 people were injured.

Another major issue is that of missing people. The controversy over the missing people still persists and no authentic data is available with political parties. According to the HRCP fact-finding mission report on Balochistan 90 people are missing as on January 9, 2010. Military data shows only 64 from the region. In 2009, 15 incidents of sectarian violence took place in which 26 men were killed and five others injured. In 2009, a total of 141 incidents of target killings took place.

After the boycott of national elections in 2008, most of the nationalist political parties believe the announcement of NFC award and Balochistan package by the government is a good initiative but this decision has been taken without consensus and consultations with nationalist parties. At this moment, there is a dire need for presenting the concerns and reactions of all four provinces at the national media, including FATA and PATA. This would help in building social harmony in Pakistan.

In my view, most of the issues can be resolved if the existing communication gap is removed between the two provinces. Our political leadership lacks the decision-making power in order to take a big decision that could resolve the provinces' woes. Having reservations on issues is understandable but to totally reject political initiatives form the Center is also not acceptable. There is always room for a dialogue. The democratic government should call an All-Parties conference on Balochistan and invite political forces, including the civil society organisations and make a new political contract. Provincial autonomy is another serious issue and the only solution lies in decentralisation.

The government and security agencies should address the Baloch people's concerns about the missing people and take affirmative action against target killings. Our national media has to give more space and time to different issues of different stakeholders. All these actions will bear fruit if our political parties act in national spirit and build a strong relationship with small provinces. Civil society organisations' role is very important in acting as pressure group and build a bridge between the state, government, and Balochistan.

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