Currently, Balochistan is under tremendous squeeze. Internal weaknesses have encouraged the external actors to play their provocative and disruptive role. From a behind-the-scenes role covered under the smokescreen of denials, these actors have now picked up the courage to come to the fore openly. Pakistan’s reaction has been quite appropriate. Two demarches to the American Ambassador within a week would radiate an amply strong message to others who intend to kowtow the American line on such issues. Ambassador Sherry Rehman needs to take charge of the situation and employ potent lobbyists. Otherwise, this campaign would snowball! Before long, the issue would be raised in the House of Commons and later in the European Union.
The war in Afghanistan is impacting Balochistan’s situation in a number of ways. This war has facilitated several foreign actors to influence the developments in the region and complicate the issue. Nevertheless, internal scrutiny is in order, for external seize can only be blown off through a pressure created by the political will radiated in the form of national consensus. However, the point of concern is the inability of the democratic setup to rectify the situation for over four years. That, too, when the same party governs the federation as well as the province.
The resource provision has not been an issue. A candid estimate has it that the cumulative flow of development intended cash to the province during the last four years has been of the tune of eight billion rupees. This huge funding, at the cost of well being of the people of other provinces, does not show up in the form of projects; there is hardly any measureable change on the ground. The miseries of a common Baloch have not reduced. The policy of political appeasement has not been able to buy out calm in Balochistan. A province of 30 districts has around 60 ministers, each having annual development fund of Rs 25 crores. The APC needs to find out the utilisation of these funds. The love for money and rot of political appeasement was amply visible during the passage of 20th Amendment by the Senate that has cost the national exchequer Rs 46 crores. The Senators refused to vote for the amendment, until they were prepaid on the account of PDP I and II and their lifetime VIP status was notified.
Knowing how much out of development funds are actually spent by the majority of our legislators, it is too naive to think that the pumping in of money through ministers/MPAs of Balochistan would generate the desired effects at the grassroot level. Around 70 percent hospitals in the province do not have the staff and medicines, while 70 percent schools have been closed down. In fact, most of these very MPAs are the biggest hindrance to the development of rural Balochistan. Publicly, they present a different face and propagate the deprivation of a common Baloch; whereas, privately, they obstruct any meaningful attempt aimed at the well being of a common Baloch. The situation in Balochistan has come to such a pass due to the faulty policies of successive governments, both civilian and military. For them, political expediencies and narrow legitimacy goals are the primary objectives; larger national interests are generally pushed to the backseat.
Unfortunately, we are still following the colonial model of administration in Balochistan. They used to purchase the titleholders and notables; barter terms and conditions were complete internal autonomy to them in exchange for the maintenance of ruthlessly effective law and order. The common Baloch never figured in colonial calculus; for local chieftains, a commoner had only one role and one choice: To go along with the colonial design in exchange for his right to live. Not much has changed.
Even today, for the purpose of law and order, Balochistan is categorised into ‘A’ and ‘B’ areas. The ‘A’ area - 5 percent of the total land mass - falls under the jurisdiction of police and FC, while the ‘B’ area (remaining 95 percent) is under the levies. Levies are employed and equipped by tribal chieftains. Levies personnel are paid by the provincial government through the chieftains. Through a bold decision by the previous government entire Balochistan was declared ‘A’ area, but the decision was reversed soon after the takeover of the present government mainly to appease the tribal chiefs. Since then the law and order situation in the province has taken a nosedive.
So, it is unfair to blame the FC for the woes of Balochistan, while it has partial jurisdiction over only 5 percent of the area. The IG FC Balochistan has recently stressed for collective political efforts, along with socio-economic development, to address the current precarious law and order situation. Although the present situation is largely a result of political vacuum, the IG needs to take stock of the highhandedness of his force and evolve a culture, whereby the FC could acquire a people-friendly image. He could take some cues from the Motorway Police. Though there is no ongoing army operation in Balochistan, public perception to the contrary is rather overwhelming.
The situation in Balochistan needs an immediate attention of all stakeholders; it warrants a comprehensive approach and a strategy backed by national consensus. Constitutional structures in Balochistan need to be reviewed. Indeed, the existing structures are not suited to the tribal environment of Balochistan. Maybe a bilateral legislative setup suits it better, whereby an upper house could act as a council of advisers; this house could comprise tribal elders and other people of prominence - some could be elected and some nominated, titleholders could have ex-officio hereditary representation.
On the front of economic development, the Kachhi Canal project needs revival and speedy completion. This canal could carry 6,000 cusecs of water and irrigate 700,000 acres of land in Balochistan. It was scheduled to complete in 2010, which could have provided livelihood to a large number of Baloch youth. Unfortunately, the project has been made dormant to appease the tribal chiefs because the job for youth means a decline in their influence and eventual fall of their fiefdoms.
In addition, national strategy should be evolved to ensure job availability to each youth of Balochistan. The youth are yearning to get out of the suppressive environment of tribal chiefs; therefore, the nation must support their struggle. The federal and provincial governments should not strengthen the wrong party - tribal chieftains. National leadership should recall that our visionary Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had abolished the sardari system of Balochistan back in the early seventies.
Above all, Balochistan does not belong to the Baloch community only; they represent only half of the population of the province. A workable power-sharing arrangement needs to be evolved, whereby the Pashtun population and the settlers have guaranteed representation in all spheres of life, proportionate to their numbers. Though the situation in Balochistan is deteriorating, it is also being over-projected. Out of 30 districts, only five - Quetta, Sibbi, Dera Bugti, Turbat and Khuzdar - have volatile situation, rest of the province is calm. The effort of Pak Army in bringing the Baloch youth into national mainstream need political ownership; otherwise, even its positive outcomes would continue to carry negative tags. At diplomatic front, a concerted campaign should be launched to expose the blatant involvement of CIA, RAW, Mossad, RAAM, MI5/6 etc.
The Balochistan situation is manageable; national consensus and political will can bring an early calm to the area. More so, piecemeal political appeasement must be avoided. A meaningful all parties conference could be the starting point, followed by the effective implementation of its decisions.
The writer is a retired Air Commodore and former assistant chief of air staff of the Pakistan Air Force. At present, he is a member of the visiting faculty at the PAF Air War College, Naval War College and Quaid-i-Azam University.