The resolution in the American Congress seeking right of self-determination for the people of Balochistan has sent shockwaves throughout the nation and has perturbed both the civil and the military establishment. The American government has distanced itself from the resolution and clarified that it is not a depiction of its foreign policy. Nevertheless, as a consequence of this resolution, various segments of the Pakistani society have finally started discussing an issue, which has long been wilfully ignored. Slowly, yet surely, we as a nation are beginning to recognise that the situation in Balochistan is of a serious concern and is not merely an irritant.
Balochistan is the largest province of Pakistan with a huge potential of mineral produce. Despite its natural wealth, it is by far the most backward province in terms of economic prosperity and development. Most analysts attribute the voice of separation in Balochistan to economic deprivation. It was, therefore, a welcoming development when the incumbent government started the Agaaz-e-Huqooq-e-Balochistan campaign, although it is unfortunate that the Agaaz of Balochistan’s rights came some 65 years after independence. Even then, the campaign has failed to deliver to the masses and the feeling of economic deprivation has continued to prevail.
The cause of negative sentiment in Balochistan, however, is not limited to economic deprivation. It is also ignited by the general sentiment amongst the Baloch people that their human rights, cultural rights, and social rights are violated, and they are not in a position to make decisions about their own destiny. This feeling is so intense that the Balochis feel that the so-called “Punjabi establishment” is imposing its culture on them and the interest of Pakistan in Balochistan is limited to plundering the wealth of the province, particularly its mineral resources. The Baloch are also critical of the role of Pakistan’s armed forces. Such assertions appear to be far from the truth and it is simply inexplicable why the armed forces will actively work against the interests of its own people. Even if there are instances where blunders have been committed by the military and civilian establishments, attributing them to a concerted effort against its own people, perhaps, compromises the intellectual integrity of the whole argument.
Similarly, arguments about lack of participation in decision-making also rest on rather shaky grounds. This province, despite being the least populated in Pakistan, has active representation in Parliament, particularly in the Senate where all the provinces have equal representation. In fact, the Deputy Chairman of the Senate is now from Balochistan. Similarly, the Balochistan Provincial Assembly is an elected institution and all the members except one are currently part of the cabinet, and therefore part of the provincial government.
Moreover, the 18th Amendment to the Constitution of Pakistan has resulted in increased provincial autonomy, as well as increased access to the province’s mineral resources. Therefore, the accusation that Balochistan is governed like a colony and its resources are abused by Islamabad lacks veracity. What is true, however, is that the economic as well as the political power in Balochistan is in the hands of a selected few, and the participation of masses in political and economic affairs is minimal. This is precisely what is driving the negative sentiments in the province. Not that, in the rest of Pakistan, the masses are any better off, nevertheless, the deprivation of masses is significantly higher in Balochistan and needs immediate attention.
There is obviously no simple solution to the Balochistan crises. As a first step, it is important to comprehend that the situation in the province, if not adequately and immediately addressed, will result in disastrous consequences for Pakistan. It is both easy and fashionable to put the blame on Indian security agencies and armed forces for funding and promoting the militancy in Balochistan. Even if this is correct, we only have ourselves to blame. First, we are unable to militarily tackle the Indian manoeuvres. Secondly, such uprising cannot be sustained, unless there are genuine issues on the ground.
The need of the hour is an affirmative action plan comprising a sound economic package oriented towards the masses and not designed to fill the pockets of a select few. Similarly, widespread reforms ensuring wider public participation in political affairs is critical. Unless the military and civil establishment appreciates that there is genuinely an economic and political problem at hand, the situation in Balochistan will continue to remain grim. Ultimately, while militancy will have to be crushed, it will have to be accompanied by widespread economic and political reforms so as to address the underlying grievances.
Pakistan’s integrity and stability is not only important for its own people, but is also critical for regional security and prosperity. It is also in the interest of United States to promote a stable Pakistan; a country that can maintain its territorial and geographic integrity. It is quite unfortunate that some members of the American Congress have tabled a highly irresponsible resolution, which is not only a direct interference in the internal affairs of Pakistan, but is also set to adversely impact the already precarious relationship between the two countries. Although the US government has distanced itself from any such proposition regarding Balochistan, it is hoped that the matter will not proceed further in the Congress. Exactly what are the motives and the players behind the resolution, and surely there are some, are yet to surface. Needless to say that a couplet by Ghalib truly encapsulates the situation:
“Bay khudi bay wajah
Kuch tau hai jis ki parda daari hai.”
(This uneasiness is not without reason Ghalib; Surely, something is simmering behind the curtains.)
On the positive front, this resolution has finally jolted the Pakistani civil society, which now recognises that Balochistan is a major problem and needs immediate attention. One hopes that sanity will prevail and the powers that be will attend to the grievances of Baloch people through negotiations. One also wishes that in future, we as a nation will start openly discussing, deliberating, and debating about our pressing issues much before a bill exposing our fallacies is tabled in the Congress of the United States.
n The writer is a practicing barrister based in Karachi where he also teaches law. The thoughts expressed herein are solely his own and not those of the institutions he is associated with.