Sep 15, 2009

Balochistan: Initiative Towards Political Solution

Active ImageThe federal government, at last, seems to have recognised the true nature of Balochistan’s problem, that it is basically a political issue, which can be settled only through a political approach.




Below is an article published by The Nation:



The federal government, at last, seems to have recognised the true nature of Balochistan’s problem, that it is basically a political issue, which can be settled only through a political approach. As reports appearing in the national press suggest, the government has persuaded the army to put on hold the construction of the new cantonments in the areas of Dera Bugti and Kohlu - the two areas worst hit by Baloch insurgency. It is further learnt that the government has decided to withdraw cases against Baloch leaders and grant general amnesty to political prisoners and those who are in exile or allegedly involved in anti-state activities. There are also reports that the authorities are trying to bring back the Baloch leaders who went into exile because the government has realised that without bringing these distinguished leaders back home, permanent peace in Balochistan cannot be established. In this regard Interior Minister Rehman Malik, it is reported, is likely to visit Kabul and meet Brahamdagh Bugti with a view to winning him over. Through these announcements the federal government has made its intention clear that it is prepared to do anything required, including engaging the Baloch nationalist leadership, for diffusing the situation, which if not tackled immediately would pose grave danger to the unity, solidarity and sovereignty of the country.

Ban on the construction of new cantonments in the province, withdrawal of cases against the Baloch leaders and political activists, and general amnesty for those allegedly involved in ant-state activities were some of the demands put forward by Four Party Alliance of Baloch nationalists before the special Parliamentary Committee constituted in September 2004 by Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain. The other demands included: stoppage of work on mega projects till a detailed feasibility report on political, economic and administrative implications are made known, withdrawal of plan for merger of Levies into the police, cancellation of all land allotments in Gawadar, confinement of FC only to the border and custom duties, acceptance of the right of Baloch people over their natural resources, employment of locals only in the development projects and cessation of all military operations in Dera Bugti and Kohlu areas. Later, due to the assassination of Nawab Akbar Bugti in August 2006 followed by large-scale military operation in Dera Bugti and Kohlu areas, more demands were added. These demands were: registration of murder case against former President Pervez Musharraf, rehabilitation of internally displaced families and compensation for the loss of properties incurred during the military operations.

The problem of Balochistan is a longstanding and complex problem. The failure of the past governments to pay proper attention to the grievances of the people of the province is directly responsible for aggravation of the situation that poses threat to the federation of Pakistan. There is no doubt that the present government has from the very beginning taken a serious view of the Balochistan problem and took a number of steps to meet the demands of the province. These steps included the announcement of a development package of Rs 46.6 billion in March this year. The package was announced by President Asif Ali Zardari during his visit to Quetta. But the doling of money is not the right way to redress the deep-rooted grievances of the people of Balochistan accumulated over more than six decades. It was, therefore, not surprising that nationalist parties rejected the offer of President Zardari, claiming that their struggle was a political struggle aimed at securing their rights, including the right over the natural resources. Since then the situation in Balochistan has continued to deteriorate. In March this year Governor Balochistan Nawab Zulfikar Ali Magsi stated in Quetta that the law and order situation in the province was alarming and it would get out of control if the federal government did not take immediate corrective measures. Balochistan Assembly in March also took note of the law and order situation in the province and termed it alarming and said that it needed to be tackled immediately. The assembly criticised the provincial police, which had failed to check the target killings in the province, particularly in and around Quetta. In response to this alarming situation, Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani assigned senior PPP leader Senator Raza Rabbani to prepare a set of proposals on Balochistan. The 15-point package of recommendations prepared by Senator Raza Rabani also includes the recommendations to abandon the construction of new military cantonments in the province, an inquiry into missing persons, judicial inquiry into the murder of three Baloch leaders in April last, a multiple formula for the next NFC award, initiation of mega projects with participatory development approach and levies to be brought back in the place of police. The announcement of decision to halt the construction of military cantonments and other measures seem to have been based on the recommendations of the Rabbani Committee.

The people of Balochistan have a long list of grievances, ranging from lack of development, unfair mechanism for sharing income from the natural resources of the province, threat of demographic shift in favour of outsiders, land grabbing in Gwader and military operations; however the main crux lies in the trust deficit between the centre and the province. This trust deficit is the product of a series of broken promises and the humiliating treatment meted out to the leaders of the political parties in Balochistan by the previous governments. The mistrust is so deep -rooted that every initiative taken by various governments, including the present government, for redressing the grievances of the people of Balochistan is received with scepticism or is outrightly rejected by the nationalist parties. The announcement of development packages and initiation of development plans have, therefore, failed to make any headway towards normalising the situation in the province. What is needed is the restoration of trust through a series of Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) that the federal government must take immediately and unilaterally. These CBMs have been identified by Baloch nationalist leaders in their statements, which include halt to military operation, re-settlement of displaced persons and abolition of checkposts. Various committees so far formed to look into the grievances of the Baloch people, such as Mushahid Hussain Committee, Benazir Bhutto Committee and Raza Rabbani Committee that have also recommended a number of CBMs. The Balochistan Assembly has also through a resolution suggested some corrective measures to diffuse the situation. The federal government would do well to consider the reports of all these committees along with demands contained in the Balochistan Assembly resolution, to formulate a comprehensive plan for action on Balochistan, instead of doling out money or announce measures in a piecemeal manner.

Last but not the least the federal government must demonstrate consistency and seriousness in its efforts to redress the grievances of the Baloch people. In the past, the government was accused of being not serious about responding to the demands of the Baloch nationalists. The special Parliamentary Committee formed in 2004 was not able to finalise its proposals until 2006; and one of its sub-committee on ‘constitutional changes’ headed by Senator Wasim Sajjad has yet to complete its work. The inordinate delay in implementation, lack of consistency and the absence of a sense of urgency characterising the previous proposals on Balochistan has much to do in enlarging the credibility gap between the centre and the province of Balochistan. It is hoped that the present dispensation with undisputed democratic and representative credentials would avoid this pitfall.