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Balochistan on the brink
By Zulfiqar Shah
THE absence of a democratic dialogue between the people of Balochistan and the authorities in Islamabad has resulted in protracted violence, widespread human rights abuses, mass internal displacement and the deaths of hundreds of civilians and armed personnel.
Due to Islamabad’s attempt to impose a ‘national identity’ upon the Baloch and the latter’s long-standing resentment towards federal policies the four major insurgencies in 1948, 1958, 1963 and 1973 have become a part of the political history of Pakistan.
The first guerilla movement ended in July 1960, when Nauroz Khan, commander of the movement, died during his detention and five of his companions were hanged. Thereafter, the Pakistan army started building new garrisons at key points in the province, triggering another guerilla movement.
The armed Baloch revolt comprised left-leaning militants led by Sher Mohammad Marri who set up a network of base camps spread from the Mengal tribal areas of Jhalawan in the south to the Marri and Bugti areas in the north. The sporadic fighting ended in 1969, when General Yahya Khan withdrew the ‘One Unit’ plan and the Baloch agreed to a ceasefire. In 1970, Balochistan was granted the status of a ‘province’.
In 1972, Baloch nationalists and the National Awami Party allied with the Islamist Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam to oppose President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. In 1973, Bhutto dismissed the Balochistan government on charges of treason and governor’s rule was imposed on the province.
A large number of Marri tribesmen and Baloch students fought against the government and attacked Pakistani and American oil companies leading to the halting of drilling and survey operations. The Pakistani army deployed 80,000 soldiers, used helicopter gun-ships provided by Iran and $200m as financial and emergency aid, to put down the revolt that continued until 1977 in which more than 5,000 Baloch and 3,300 army men lost their lives.
In the post-1988 democratic phase, the Baloch tribes were represented in the governments of Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, and ethnic tensions subsided. Baloch nationalist parties were given an opportunity to articulate their grievances through national and provincial legislatures. In the 1988 elections, Akbar Bugti led the Baloch National Alliance — a coalition of tribal leaders and left-wing nationalists that won a number of seats in the provincial assembly.
Sui gas, which was first discovered in 1953, was first supplied to Multan and Rawalpindi in Punjab in 1964, but Quetta, the capital of Balochistan, waited until 1986 for its own supply. This too was possible only after the federal government set up a corps headquarters in Quetta. Dera Bugti received gas in the mid-1990s when a paramilitary camp was set up there. Even today only four of the 26 districts of Balochistan are supplied with gas from Sui.
Sui accounts for 36 per cent of Pakistan’s total gas production. However, Balochistan receives only 17 per cent of the gas produced in the region. The remaining 83 per cent is sent to the rest of the country. Moreover, Balochistan receives no more than 12.4 per cent of the royalties due to it on gas. The province supplies more than 40 per cent of Pakistan’s primary energy needs. The example of the Saindak copper project illustrates the discrimination Balochistan is being subjected to. The Chinese manage the project with 50 per cent of the share going to them, 48 per cent to the federal government and only two per cent to the government of Balochistan.
In 1992, Nawaz Sharif’s government decided to build a seaport at Gwadar on the Makran coast. Initially, Baloch nationalists supported the project but subsequent developments like the creation of a land market, a planned military base and the expected massive inflow of non-Baloch in a province with a total population of six to seven million, disturbed indigenous political elements.
These issues had not been discussed in the Balochistan Assembly. The small population of the province means that a massive influx of outsiders will swamp the locals, deprive them of a share in the opportunities created by these mega projects, and wipe out their identity from the face of the earth.
Gwadar has only one intermediate college and no technical school. No major steps have been taken to improve health facilities or access to safe drinking water. Most of the locals rely on fishing for a livelihood and have lost prime fishing grounds after the port was constructed.
According to an estimate, 89 per cent of rural Balochistan and 49 per cent of Sindh’s rural population live in high-deprivation areas. Over 50 per cent of the population subsists below the poverty line in the province. According to the Labour Force Survey 2003-2004, urban unemployment is 9.7 per cent in Pakistan, and 12.5 per cent in Balochistan.
Between 2001 and 2003, unemployment decreased from 8.3 to 7.7 per cent in Pakistan but went up from 7.8 per cent to 8.2 per cent in the province. The literacy rate is low in Balochistan as compared to the rest of the country. According to the Economic Survey of Pakistan 2006-2007, in Balochistan 54 per cent men and 20 per cent women (with a total of 38 per cent) are literate.
Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, as the interim prime minister in 2004, had constituted a parliamentary committee on Balochistan. There were two sub-committees to look into current as well as constitutional issues. The current issues committee led by Mushahid Hussain dealt with issues such as the building of military cantonments, mega development projects and violence, whereas the constitutional committee led by Wasim Sajjad dealt with issues related to provincial autonomy.
The sub-committees recommended a 15 to 20 per cent increase in gas royalty, 20 to 30 per cent resource allocation for local development, and 5.4 per cent quota for Baloch workers in the federal government. Moreover, they recommended social sector development and constitutional changes for providing greater provincial autonomy to Balochistan.
The Wasim Sajjad Committee also recommended a complete revision of the concurrent list and distribution of federal resources on the basis of poverty, backwardness, unemployment and the development level of provinces, instead of using the criterion of population.
Conflict between the army and the insurgents has taken the lives of Nawab Akbar Bugti and Balach Marri further alienating the Baloch from Islamabad. The uprising in Balochistan goes on unabated. It is rooted in the structure of the federation. The recommendations of both the committees mentioned above and the 15 points communicated by Akbar Bugti during his talks with Tariq Aziz have still not been addressed.
Today, the danger of the dismemberment of the country is greater than ever before. The time has come for Pakistan’s civil-military establishment to change its attitude towards the people and their problems. Let the federating units be given provincial autonomy so that a just socio-economic contract may be implemented.