May 20, 2010

Balochistan: A Flawed Policy

Active ImageThe situation in Balochistan has reached its lowest ebb since the military operation that began in January 2005. The entire province is besieged: the provincial government has been abandoned while the centre is directing policies according to its will with the gun and the stick, terming this ‘development’ for the people’s betterment.




Below is an article published by Dawn:

The establishment has itself opened up a war inside Balochistan on all fronts. This has resulted in increasing polarisation and radicalisation of Baloch society. Though socially and economically underdeveloped, Balochistan was largely a peaceful province before Musharraf’s aggressive policy of what can only be called ‘colonisation’. Regrettably today, Balochistan is marked with nationalist, sectarian, ethnic and racial violence, which has resulted in the killings of hundreds of civilians.

Islamabad’s half-hearted efforts have failed to calm the situation. However, the central government is very quick to blame ‘foreign hands’ and ‘miscreants’ for the deteriorating situation in the province. Yet there is very little tolerance within the establishment when it comes to admitting and rectifying defective policies, which have resulted in a fully fledged war between the Baloch and the central government.

Obviously the killing of unarmed civilians by the militants and indiscriminate use of force, disappearances and torture of political activists and human rights abuses by the military and paramilitary forces are inhuman and widely condemnable acts.

But there is much to understand about the causes behind the anger and despair of the Baloch people. The absence of the rule of law, lack of justice, transparency, awful governance, endless exploitation, the centre’s unwanted control over Baloch wealth, militarisation, erosion of human resource, lack of clear and long-term social, economic, education and development strategies and denial of basic human rights is creating more insecurity among the population, instead of respect and support for the state.

Islamabad has to rethink its policies, including governing Balochistan through the outdated ‘control’ policy. Control is based on a set of mechanisms used in multiethnic states by the dominant ethnic group to contain and retain its hold over dissident ethnic minorities.

Control is based on the principle that one ethnic group takes over the state, imposes its culture on society, allocates to itself the lion’s share of resources and takes various measures, including violent means (military operations), to prevent the non-dominant group from organising politically.

Control works through three interrelated mechanisms: a) divide and rule — internally creating rifts and divisions among the non-dominant groups; b) economic dependence — making them permanently dependent for their livelihood on the dominant group and central government; and c) co-option — involving the non-dominant elite like greedy tribal chiefs, feudals, drug barons, corrupt intellectuals and politicians through dispensation of benefits and favours.

Over the years, the state apparatus in Islamabad has been endeavouring to systematically wipe out the popular indigenous Baloch leadership and replace it with loyalists. This tactic was implemented by imprisoning the top opposition leaders, carrying out a brutal crackdown against political activists and secretly bribing pro-establishment tribal notables to contest elections against the committed representatives.

Boycott by popular, secular and democratic political parties of the last general elections paved the way for ideologically shallow, politically unpopular and inherently corrupt elements to return to power. As a result, the province once again came under the control of Gen Musharraf’s cronies, the pro-Taliban Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI) and the Pakistan Muslim League.

Musharraf’s friends did not only ensure the continuity of his repressive policies, they also overburdened the provincial exchequer by promoting corruption, mismanagement and bad governance. Thus, 50 people in the 65-memebr Balochistan Assembly were inducted in the cabinet of the country’s poorest province. Absence and systematic exclusion of the genuine Baloch leadership has plunged Balochistan into a horrific crisis of governance. While bad governance, rampant corruption and exclusion of middle-class educated people is one reason for the unchanged situation in the province, some other depressing indicators further dim prospects of peace in Balochistan.

While no headway has been made on the implementation of the so-called Balochistan package, the chief minister complains that the Frontier Corps has established a parallel government in the province, which does not provide ample breathing space to the provincial government to enhance the process of reconciliation. With the governor and chief minister of Balochistan admitting that the province is not being run smoothly either due to hindrances created by the security establishment or the incompetence of the provincial government, the Balochistan policy in Islamabad needs a rethink.

While remote-controlling the province via civil armed forces may breed more resentment and violence, support for apolitical tribal chiefs as an alternative against the popular Baloch leadership will solely promote corruption, bad governance and will lead to a harmful future. The ill-conceived policies and pattern of repression may have a human cost for the Baloch people. But looking at the larger picture, Pakistan will face, in fact is facing, the political and economic consequences.