COMMENT: Balochistan quagmire —Amit Ranjan
Objectively, this is not a situation in Balochistan only; most of the post-colonial states either have faced this sort of a problem or are still facing it
Balochistan is Pakistan’s restive province, where a movement for the right to self-determination and independence is going on since 1948. Last month in a hearing of a US Congressional Committee on foreign affairs, focusing on Pakistan, at least five members of the US congress belonging to both the Republican and Democratic parties supported the demands of the Baloch. That led to a war of words between Islamabad and Washington. Pakistani spin-doctors came out to defend the state establishment, blaming the US for interfering in Pakistan’s internal matter, which they considered as an attack on its sovereignty. Contrary to the Pakistani state establishment, the Baloch welcomed the attention paid by the US and the international human rights organisations to their plight.
Who is right and who is not and what is happening and what is not, would take pages after pages to discuss, argue and counter-argue, with no conclusion. However, of course, one thing everyone, including the establishment’s spin-doctors, has to accept is that the Baloch have tons of real grievances against their state. People from that region have fought five real wars against the Pakistani army and are still at virtual war with the establishment. The separatists’ leaders from that region never miss a chance to express anti-Pakistan sentiments from any platform they get. They want to have a sovereign Balochistan by taking the province out of Pakistan.
Objectively, this is not a situation in Balochistan only; most of the post-colonial states either have faced this sort of a problem or are still facing it. The reason for this is what Hamza Alvi said, “Overdeveloped state, underdeveloped civil society.” The colonial states after their independence came out with hefty promises but failed to fulfil them, which led people to rise against their ruling elite. Also at that time, the decision to choose people’s nationality was forced upon them by the colonial powers and the colonised native elite, without any consideration given to their choices. As independent countries came into being, the responsibility to build a nation fell on the shoulders of the ‘constructed’ majority, who took minorities for granted and instead of addressing their grievances, carried out atrocities to silence their voices. A lucky few, after making sacrifices and with the help of outside powers, got independence — erstwhile East Pakistan and now Bangladesh is a good example.
Coming to Balochistan, what options does the Pakistan government have to address the current impasse there? The incumbent government has done the right thing by formulating the 18th amendment to the Pakistani constitution, which has granted provincial autonomy by devolving 39 concurrent subjects to the provinces. Also under the National Finance Commission (NFC) Award, the share of Balochistan in the national resources has been raised to 10 percent from 4.3 percent. These are positive steps but not sufficient to address the decades-old grievances of the Baloch against their ruling elite.
That would require a tremendous amount of psychological and physical redress to the persistent anti-state feelings in the minds and hearts of the Baloch. The crimes carried out by anyone on anyone’s instruction must be taken seriously and the guilty must be punished for his crime. The Baloch are still seeking justice for the lady doctor who was raped by an army officer posted in the Sui area. That was just one reported case; many cases remain unreported and unknown, and justice remains elusive.
There is a concept of demographic change to resolve crises like this one — by settling people from the so-called mainland to the disturbed areas. This tactic is used by almost all states to check the growing anti-state feeling in disturbed areas. This should be stopped and let people maintain their uniqueness and enjoy cultural autonomy, without any sort of intervention from outside. They must be granted extra rights and should be protected at every cost by the state establishment. Constitutional arrangements concerning disturbed areas in India can be studied by Pakistan. Although problems have not been fully resolved through those arrangements, they are still useful in addressing and redressing people’s grievances to some extent.
The presence of the armed forces in the streets makes the people of that region feel unsafe because they have a psychological fear of men in uniform. The better option is that the armed forces are removed from that area, giving people a sense of relief from having guns pointed at their heads. It is the responsibility of the federal government to provide security to its citizens and not to compel them to leave their homes out of fear.
The onus also lies on the leaders who are heading the secessionist movement to change their political demands. Instead of separation, it makes more sense if they focus on leading people to demand more autonomy and more viable economic packages from the government. They must acknowledge the fact that the last six decades of fighting has given nothing but suffering to their own people. Notwithstanding that ‘self-determination’ and ‘independence’ are beautiful words to conceptualise and debate, but in reality, they are very difficult to follow up on practically. External forces seldom support the secessionists unless they have their self-interest in doing so. In today’s world, it is seemingly impossible to carve out an independent country from a geographically contiguous area. The former Yugoslavia’s case is an exception because the US, due to its vested interest and under a cold war hangover, was ready to leave no stone unturned to weaken members of the erstwhile eastern bloc.
To conclude, both the Pakistani state establishment and the separatist forces must sit together and try to resolve this decades-old problem in Pakistan. People’s pain needs a soothing balm, not bullets.
The writer is a PhD student at the South Asian Studies School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University. He can be reached at email@example.com