Balochistan: The Balochistan 'package'
In fact, the struggle in the resource-rich but poverty-stricken region is political: it aims at ending Islamabad’s exploitation, oppression and colonial control over Balochistan.
The centre’s endless desire to control the province’s natural wealth and its continued suppression of the people through ethnically-structured military and paramilitary forces are the prime reasons behind the uneasy Baloch-Islamabad relations. Since the time Pervez Musharraf took over in 1999 and after, the term ‘Balochistan package’ has been used repetitively to confuse and distract debate and attention away from the province’s genuine political, social and economic issues.
If the current regime in Islamabad is sincere, willing and authorised by the establishment to indisputably resolve the prolonged Baloch-Islamabad conflict, then they have to agree to address the crux of the matter: the rulers should come up with a more political and long-lasting solution, rather than packages. However, their silence on the aggravating situation in the province is proof of their aloofness.
In the last six decades the Baloch people have been governed like a subsidiary. Islamabad is ruling Balochistan through a system known as ‘control’. Control is a suppressive and outdated system based on a set of mechanisms used in multi-ethnic states by the dominant ethnic group to contain and keep its control over dissident ethnic minorities.
It is based on the idea that one ethnic group takes over the state and its institutions, imposes its culture on society, allocates to itself the lion’s share of resources and takes various measures like military operations, suppression, etc to prevent the non-dominant groups from organising politically for their due rights.
Control works through three interrelated mechanisms:
a) Divide and rule: creating internal social and tribal rifts and divisions among the non-dominant groups.
b) Economic dependence: controlling and exploiting resources and making the non-dominant group permanently dependent for its social, cultural and basic livelihood on the central government (dominant group).
c) Co-optation: involving the non-dominant elite like greedy tribal chiefs, feudals, drug tycoons and corrupt politicians through partial dispensation of benefits and favours.
First, the central government has to end its colonial control over the destiny of the people of Balochistan. The province’s politics, economy and security set-up must be Balochistan-oriented rather than imposed from elsewhere. Islamabad has to ensure an end to political suppression, ‘disappearances’ and the intimidation of the Baloch.
Perhaps it is too early to say so, but it appears that the PPP’s package may not be different from the packages announced by previous regimes. I am also uncertain whether the package is going to be attractive enough to end growing Baloch anger. The package will aggravate Baloch dissatisfaction if it does not address the root causes of the tension and genuine demands of the Baloch people. The central government needs to be very fair when dealing with Baloch demands.
The package will only be appreciated as a confidence-building measure if it includes stopping the daylight robbery of Balochistan’s natural wealth, and includes the termination of all MoUs signed by the Musharraf regime with regard to Saindak and Reko Dik copper-gold projects and an end to the half-century old exploitation of Pakistan Petroleum Limited, known as Balochistan’s East India Company.
The package should include provincial control over the civil armed forces (CAF) and replacement of more than 50,000 aliens of the CAF by unemployed local youth and should include the termination of countless military and paramilitary facilities and their transformation into education and health centres.
Also, the intelligence agencies’ meddling in Balochistan’s social, tribal and political affairs, including killings and disappearances of Baloch nationalists, should stop. There must be reliable assurances to the victims of the military operation that Musharraf and his close associates involved in gross human rights violations will be tried for their official and unofficial crimes, including the killing of veteran Baloch leaders.
Last but not least the package must offer a clear political roadmap to end Islamabad’s colonial control over the province and accept the Baloch people’s demand for the right to self-rule. Any bureaucratically drafted announcement would be useless to appease the politically conscious Baloch. Rather than being promise-oriented, the Balochistan package should be action-based.
The Baloch people have witnessed enough pain, promises and packages. Their demands are crystal clear: a peaceful Balochistan, ruled, governed and controlled by them. The Baloch have given 60 years to Islamabad to change the fate of the region but have, instead, been showered with bombs and bullets. Political, economic, social, educational and cultural values have been all but destroyed in the province. An end to the Balochistan conflict is not a simple task. The mistrust between the Baloch and the establishment has intensified after repeated killings and intimidation.
Fair and unbiased policies towards Balochistan will gradually pave the way for sustainable peace and security in the region. This can only be done by allowing experienced and neutral international mediators and experts to devise a strategy for conflict-resolution and management. The establishment must come forward and wholeheartedly demonstrate its willingness to grant self-rule and political autonomy to the province.