The problem is that there has never been transparency, no real representation of people across all ethnic groups populating Balochistan.
Balochistan: Can Indonesian model work to end violence?
Despite the recently elected government having in place in Balochistan, the province continues to pose serious and growing threat to national unity. Apparently, there seems to be no let out in violence and the sense of frustration at public level over the governments, inability to provide protection to hapless minorities and human rights vocalists. The nationalists and anti-federation elements initially welcomed the move of the new Prime Minister Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif not to press the candidature of his party for the post of chief minister despite considerable chance of success. Those who rightly appreciated this act of statesmanship are now unnecessarily seeking flaws in the decision.
Balochistan presents deadly mix of national commitments, unfulfilled promises and betrayals. The corruption and incapacity of local leadership have added lethal sting to the mix. The outside forces and their vested interests have complicated the already unmanageable situation. A casual glance will reveal the ill-effects of all kinds of incursions made by the past national governments and its institutions including military. There
have been operations, starting from 1950s and installation of politically convenient governments headed by tribal chiefs. As always, outside hostile powers contributed to spoil the broth, cooked by military, civilian bureaucracy and tribal chiefs.
The situation is now grim. People hostile to Pakistan have published maps, regrettably forecasting disintegration of the province from the body of Pakistan. This wishful prophecy was falsified by the decision of the people of Balochistan when they rejected the call to boycott the recently held general elections. Even those national leaders who had been wronged and left the country put their trust in democracy and the rule of law by joining the elections. There have been many packages to provide economic incentives to pacify disgruntled citizens and narrow the development gap between Balochistan and other parts of Pakistan. All efforts to instill a sense of ownership in the confederation of Pakistan seem to have failed. Sincerely, Pakistan cannot afford democracy to get devalued in the perceptions of people as a flawed mode of governance. Serious as the new government of Mian Nawaz Sharif is, the need to open fresh communication channels with extra nationalists living inside or outside the country. This process would help stem the ongoing violence and subversion in Balochistan.
What is happening in Balochistan is not a new phenomena. Many countries, even in Asia Pacific, have experienced similar turmoil and violence. Their experiences are worth revisiting, though no two situations fully match in complexity and possible solutions. Do we remember the story of Singapore entry into Malaysian Federation and its exist out of it. The only difference is that Singapore was more developed and more populated than other constituents of Malaysia when it formed the Federation. Had Malaysia then not granted greater weightage to rural electoral districts on the theory that the communication was primitive in rural areas which were too large and voters were hard to reach, Singapore could still be part of Malaysia. This policy worked to reduce Singapore’s power but at the same time enticed new states like Sabak and Sarawak to join the Malaysian Federation. The city state of Singapore left the Federation in 1965, just after three years of merger.
Pakistan’s Constitution offers quota system in employment to ensure participation of underdeveloped regions and provinces in state machinery. Even military has embarked on such schemes to remove the sense of deprivation. These measures are time barred but time lines are never enforced. The problem is that there has never been transparency, no real representation of people across all ethnic groups populating Balochistan. If all development plans including Gwadar Seaport and the related infrastructure development projects, Iran-Pakistan Suigas Pipeline and solar energy generation fail to remove the distrust of the common man in the ability of the provincial leadership, it is time for the national leadership to come up with an out of box solution.
In the context of the above, the federation, after national consensus, can offer greater weightage to Balochistan in Senate linking it to some timeline. It is easier said than done. But every one should know that with the passage of time, the situation will get more grim. Another solution could be the Indonesian model to deal with the decades long insurgency in the province of Aceh, the only state where Shariah based government is allowed. Like Pakistan, the country experimented with military operations, dialogue with pro-independence elements, with and without prior conditions and curfews with massive arrests and abuse of human rights. The country also involved Geneva based think tanks and foreign governments (US, Japan and EU)to effect reconciliation with dissidents.
Aceh which was once designated as the Military Operation Area (DOM) and where Military could arrest and kill suspected radicals, after lots of twist and turns, agreed to be part of Indonesia. Now it is a flourishing province with distinctive identity and special status. In the settlement of Aceh, there are explicit and implicit lessons for our policy makers and hardliners who had ruthlessly tried to suppress the rebellion which had been simmering for the past 60 years and brought the largest landmass of Balochistan in the polity of Pakistan to almost non-governable stage. No authority has the capacity now to mollify the disgruntled armed pro-independence elements, basking in continued turmoil and lawlessness. It must be realized that Aceh or Balochistan type movement do not end easily. Many Indonesian friends who keep a watch on developments in Pakistan and are interested that the country should progress sometime suggest Aceh model for adoption to end low level violent movement for independence in Balochistan.
Can Aceh provide a model for resolving the years old insurgency in Balochistan? In all fairness, the situation perhaps has not yet worsened to that extent, at least, as the security agencies and the Army do not believe that the situation is out of their hand. They still appear confident of overcoming the challenges. But the point is how long the country should suffer human carnage. Time has come to deal with the issue squarely and honestly. There is perhaps no harm to talk to dissidents, if they so desired, at neutral place outside Pakistan in order to bring peace and stability. In such a scenario, Aceh solution can serve as a model. The new government of Muslim League-N can do it as it enjoys better credibility with the people of Balochistan than the previous government. Without peace and stability in Balochistan, all its mega projects are likely to remain unrealized. Hence, there is a dire need for a quick start on this national issue.
The writer is Pakistan’s ambassador to Indonesia