Clearly, the past of Balochistan is haunting the present and swaying the future, as Balochistan’s is a story of broken promises and frustrated expectations
The known history of Balochistan is laden with persistent insurgency of variable intensity. The latest spike in insurgency is an artefact of the post-2000 events. The counter-insurgency launched by the state has also proved counter-productive, as the strategy has bolstered the resolve of the Baloch insurgents to rely on militancy for protection of the Baloch rights.
In fact, violence is an endemic problem Balochistan is faced with. The Balochistan version of violence has two actors: the insurgents and the security forces. The former uses the weapon of violence to instigate disorder and show its discontent while the latter uses the instrument of violence to restore peace and demonstrate its awe. The question is: can both the actors achieve their ends by resorting to violence?
Caught in the crossfire are the political forces. Matters are decided by either the insurgents or the security forces. That is how violence overrules the rest. In this militant equation, the political forces have lost their say. Neither can they persuade the insurgents to renounce militancy nor can they rein in the security forces to exercise restraint.
One of the reasons for the incapacity of the political forces is that they cannot offer any guarantee to the insurgents that the promises made with them by anyone, including the state, will be respected. That was one of the reasons that veteran Baloch politician Sardar Ataullah Mengal advised Nawaz Sharif on the latter’s recent visit to Karachi to speak instead to the Baloch insurgents hiding in the mountains. His statement alone reflects the enormity and gravity of the crisis buffeting Balochistan. Secondly, his statement indicates the scale of the cost – in terms of political and economic concessions – of neglecting and depriving Balochistan for years; the state must now be ready to pay. Third, his statement points out that hardly any broker is available in Balochistan. Clearly, the past of Balochistan is haunting the present and swaying the future, as Balochistan’s is a story of broken promises and frustrated expectations. Eventually, the political forces are waiting on the sidelines for the victor to surface to side with.
Within the political sphere, there is another quandary. The provincial government of Balochistan is not considered a true representative of the Baloch. The electoral result of the 2008 elections is considered a doctored one and the provincial government is considered a puppet one – which is always ready to dance to the tunes of the Centre. Consequently, the provincial government is failing to raise the concerns of the Baloch with the Centre. For instance, one of the concerns is the future of the Gwadar port.
The Baloch harbour an apprehension that after completion of the work on Gwadar port, people (non-Baloch) from other parts of the country would crowd it. The ensuing demographic shift would turn the locals into a minority. Secondly, the non-Baloch would buy land and property and do business while the locals would be unable to compete with them, as the locals are neither wealthy nor skilled to find their rightful socio-economic place in the Gwadar-originated economy. Third, the non-Baloch, after buying land and property would lay claim to the right to vote. Consequently, the locals would not be able to elect their own representatives while the non-Baloch would be able to hold sway over them.
There is another angle to look at the issues surrounding Gwadar port. As Gwadar is anticipated to become a mega city like Karachi in the future, the Baloch draw parallels with the Sindhis who have virtually lost representation and say in the coastline and resources of Karachi. The Baloch apprehend that in a developed Gwadar city, they would be marginalised by the non-Baloch. Secondly, the Baloch are apprehensive of the future of Gwadar city. The Baloch think that Karachi, which is a historical part of Sindh, may be declared a separate province if the demand of division of existing provinces along ethnic lines meets success. Hence, the non-Baloch populating Gwadar may follow in the same footsteps and may declare it a separate province.
In order to address their apprehensions, the Baloch nationalists are demanding a special status for Gwadar. That is, the non-Baloch migrating to Gwadar should be not only disenfranchised but also disallowed to purchase land or property in Gwadar. Secondly, there should be vocational institutes constructed to equip the Baloch with the necessary skills to secure technical jobs and earn their living. Third, the locals should be preferred in the jobs arising locally; however, only for a job against which a local is not available a non-Baloch should be employed. Fourth, the future city of Gwadar should not be carved out as a separate province. Late Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti couched these demands in a term called ‘Saahil-o-Wasail’ (coastline and resources). That is, the Baloch should be made the proprietors of their coastline and resources. Nevertheless, the word ‘resources’ used in the term also has implications for the natural resources of the whole of Balochistan.
The situation indicates that there exists a trust deficit between the Baloch and the state. Further, the Baloch want to protect their economic interests but on their own terms. Against this background, it is heartening to hear that the PML-N, one of the largest mainstream political parties, has showed its concern for the Baloch. Its call to hold an All Parties Conference (APC) on Balochistan is a good omen and the invitation should be accepted by other political parties.
Generally speaking the insurgents and the security forces are two visible actors – some analysts call them the real stakeholders in Balochistan. Finding a middle ground and making both the actors agree to it will be a great challenge for the proposed APC. Secondly, the APC will have to devise a strategy to address the apprehensions of the Baloch on Gwadar. Third, the APC should be ready to offer a guarantee to the Baloch nationalists and insurgents of fulfilment of the vows made on the APC platform.
The writer is a freelance columnist. He can be reached at [email protected]