Jun 10, 2011

Balochistan and the ..................

Dr Qaisar Rashid
Balochistan is a story of broken promises. For example, in December 2009 Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani announced on the floor of parliament a 39-point package billed as “Aghaz-e-Haqooq-e-Balochistan.” Eighteen months later, what supposedly began as a process to give their long-denied rights to the people of Balochistan, and thereby initiate reconciliation in that restive province, turned out to have been a grandly announced false promise. Worse, there is little prospect that the pledges contained in the package will be fulfilled, at least not in the foreseeable future.

Under the package, all political prisoners should have been released, and the cases withdrawn against 89 Baloch political workers facing various charges. These actions were meant to create confidence in the Baloch that the central government intended to remove their grievances. A promise was made of a probe into the killings of Baloch leaders and politicians, including Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, the head of the Jamhoori Watan Party (JWP), Balaach Marri, Ghulam Mohammad, Lala Munir and Munir Ahmed. For the probe to have credibility, it was to have been held by a retired judge of the Supreme Court.

Amid the general absence of transparency in Pakistan, no one can say for certain to what extent these promises have been honoured, if they were honoured at all. What is clear, however, is that the country’s largest province in territory remains alienated from the rest of Pakistan. Aside from the package, the Baloch had been given assurances that following the 2008 elections Pakistan would be a different country, one receptive to the complaints of grievances of all its ethnic groups. To this day, the reassurances continue to be rhetoric.

The package also made it mandatory on the federal government to table a report after every three months in parliament on the implementation of the provisions of the package. But is that happening?

The package contained a pledge for a review of the role of the intelligence agencies in Balochistan. No review has taken place, or at least it has not been made public by the government, and that is something to which the disaffected Baloch cannot be expected to take kindly. They are already angrier than ever at the state’s coercive tactics through the intelligence agencies, meant to terrorise the Baloch nationalists into submission. It doesn’t happen very often for a whole people to be browbeaten into submission; if anything, the Baloch will refuse to yield on what they consider a matter of honour.

It sometimes seems as if the conflict in Balochistan were all about a clash of egos, with the state machinery and the Baloch nationalists waiting to see who blinks first. Surely the state can afford be first in extending a hand of friendship to the nationalists, an act which would be in keeping with the pledges Mr Gilani made in December 2009.

In the Seventh National Finance Commission Award announced the same month, Balochistan was favoured with the incorporation of the criterion of inverse population density. Consequently, Balochistan secured about two percent over and above the financial share it would otherwise have been entitled to receive. That was made possible by the other three provinces and the centre relinquishing some of their own shares, to compensate Balochistan financially for the injustice done to it in the past. The award, with this financial impetus to Balochistan together with the greater autonomy to the provinces, was a positive step forward. But that was about all.

The political aspect of provincial autonomy was handed over to Balochistan through the 18th Amendment to the Constitution in 2010. In accordance with Article 161 of the Constitution, the net proceeds of the federal excise duty on natural gas or oil levied at the wellhead and collected by the federal government and of the royalty collected by the federal government is to be paid to the province in which the wellhead is situated. In this way, the ownership right on provincial natural resources, such as oil and gas, was devolved to the provinces.

Under Article 270AA (Clause 6 to 9), the Concurrent Legislative List will be dissolved fully by June 30, to complete the process of devolution of the matters mentioned in the list to the provinces. The question is why the Baloch are not satisfied with those financial and constitutional bids? Perhaps the reason is that the federation’s overall attitude towards them is not conciliatory. Political devices such as dialogues, offers and agreements should be applied immediately to Balochistan if the situation there is not to spiral out of control.

Meanwhile, Balochistan will continue to bleed. Until not long ago, one of the gravest problems in Balochistan related to missing persons. Now, it has taken a grisly turn, that of bullet-riddled bodies being discovered around the province. Who is making Baloch politicians “disappear” and who is now executing them is a big question staring in the face of the federation of Pakistan. Meanwhile, the death toll in inter-ethnic violence is rapidly rising as differences between Baloch and non-Baloch mount. The threat to the federation should sound alarm bells in Islamabad, but it apparently isn’t.

“Democracy is the best revenge,” as the slogan goes. Unfortunately, democracy isn’t considered the best solution to the problems in Balochistan. If it were, the province would not have been left at the mercy of the security forces. The pretext of “national security” gives no one the right to resort to violence in a troubled region of Pakistan, not even the security agencies.

Democracy has the potential to work wonders in the resolution of long-standing contentious issues. But democracy is in sharp contrast to authoritarian tactics employed in the name of democracy. Democracy does not mean overemphasis on the application of violent measures in the name of restoration of the writ of the state.

Unless the Balochistan package is implemented in its entirety, exercises such as the NFC Award and the 18th Amendment will be of no avail.

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