Jan 07, 2011

Balochistan: “Democratic Struggle” to Resolve Conflicts

Despite anger and shock at the violent governmental oppression in Balochistan, which reached a high point in 2010, Baloch political activist Mr. Sanaullah Baloch, emphasises the need for continuing the Balochistan National Party’s “democratic struggle”.

Below is an article published by Viewpoint:

There are nearly three hundred and fifty arms manufacturing factories in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) [of Pakistan]. The government endorses, encourages and legalizes those factories by recognizing them as the source of income for the tribal people.

Former Senator Sanaullah Baloch is among several top Baloch nationalist leaders who have fled Balochistan because of increasing targeted killings of Baloch leaders and political activists. As former information secretary of the Balochistan National Party (BNP), Mr. Baloch is widely respected as an argumentative champion of Baloch national rights through newspaper articles, interviews and presentations at national and international conferences.

In an exclusive interview with the Sanaullah Baloch, Viewpoint spoke about the Balochistan imbroglio and possibilities of rapprochement with Islamabad. [Below are excerpts from the interview:]

How would you evaluate year 2010 for Balochistan?

The situation in Balochistan has been disconcerting since 2001. But the last three years have been very painful for Balochistan’s politics, economy and society. Violation of human rights has reached its nadir in the province. The year 2010 was the darkest and the worst year of the outgoing decade for Balochistan because more political workers went missing and were subsequently killed. Federal security forces converted Balochistan into a semi-cantonment and curtailed all basic human liberties and rights.

Who is responsible for this situation, Islamabad or Quetta?

Actually, the onus lies on the federal government. I would specially hold the establishment, which comprises the military, bureaucracy and policymakers, responsible for maintaining a pugnacious approach towards Balochistan. Their policy is not much different from colonial policies. They want to control Balochistan politically, economically and socially.

In order to control the society and politics of Balochistan, Islamabad has unleashed a policy of divide and rule under which it is pampering some pro-establishment sardars, nawabs and criminal groups.  The prevailing state of poverty, lawlessness, anarchy and disappointment is in fact the fallout of federal government’s deliberate policy of negligence and suppression.

No doubt, successive provincial governments are equally responsible for these wrongdoings but you have to understand that their role has not been more than that of pawns in the control of the establishment.

What do you think were the reasons for the failure of the Aghaz-e-Haqooq-e-Balochistan Package which the government initially claimed was intended to improve the conditions in Balochistan?

When the Balochistan Package was prepared, it was one-sided. The process of conflict resolution or management does not succeed until all players of a conflict are taken into confidence. The package was only meant to fool the international community and the regional powers which want the stability of the region by telling them that Islamabad was seriously working for the Balochistan conflict’s resolution.

Political conflicts mainly originate from social and economic deprivation. The main cause of unrest in Balochistan since 1947 is the political oppression and people’s deprivation. The province is economically controlled and a special security apparatus rules the province. The official narrative is that they want to develop Balochistan but the Baloch do not accept their model of development. Therefore, they justifies the use of brute force against the Balochs.

In fact, the Balochistan Package was flawed and replete with defects. Significantly, Baloch nationalists, who are the real actors of the conflict, were not a part of the package.  Nowhere in the world does conflict resolution take place in the absence of facilitators and guarantors.

One of the apparent reasons for the exclusion of the nationalists in the decision-making process was your absence from the existing parliamentary structure. Do you now realize that boycotting the general elections was a blunder the nationalists committed? Would the negotiation process succeed if the nationalists had contested the polls?

We are democratic people and want to utilize all forms of political struggle. Unfortunately, circumstances in 2008 were so adverse in Balochistan that it was not possible for the nationalists to participate in the general elections. While some Baloch leaders had been killed, the others, such as our party president Sardar Akhtar Mengal, were imprisoned. We were all forced to live in exile. Thousands of cases were registered against our political activists while the senior ones were on the government’s hit-list. How could we contest elections when harsh circumstances did not permit us field candidates, run election campaigns and mobilize public support?

The same situation still exists in Balochistan.  The federal government has deliberately continued this undemocratic policy so that the genuine Baloch representatives are kept away from the electoral process and assemblies where key decisions are made. If the current situation of insecurity and oppression continues, perhaps we will not participate in future elections either.

Some people believe moderate nationalist parties like your BNP and the National Party are finding it hard to continue parliamentary politics because of the internal polarization within the Baloch society where the armed groups, headed by the disillusioned youth, are hostile toward parliamentary politics. Is it really a reason for BNP’s escape from elections and parliamentary process?

Well, there is difference of opinion (among the nationalists) on some matters. The Balochistan National Party purely believes in democratic struggle. We have never approved of resolving problems on gunpoint. We have criticized Islamabad for the same reason because it has endeavored to usurp Balochistan’s resources and rule it on gunpoint.  We morally backed people who defended themselves. However, we discouraged the new trend of excessively applying violence to resolve political issues.

It is better for politics to control guns not for guns to control politics. This is one issue on which we have a difference of opinion with the armed groups operating in Balochistan. However, I believe we are all political forces and must respect each other’s right to have a different opinion and approach on various issues.

Therefore, the Baloch political parties and armed groups must respect each other’s approaches. I do not think that the armed groups have created any problems for us so far. We predominantly hold Islamabad responsible for distancing us from the political process.



What do you suggest as confidence building measures (CBMs) to deescalate tensions?

We had been negotiating with the government since 2004. Unfortunately, it is the federal government, not the Balochs, who waged a war on us. We have always recommended that the people of Balochistan should be respectfully treated like equal citizens of the land. The federal government should clarify its expectations from Balochistan. On the other hand, we Balochs are clear about our reservations and demands.

First of all, we believe our very existence is in danger. The Baloch geography, language, culture, population and demography are all jeopardized. Our majority population is being converted into a minority. These are very genuine concerns which Islamabad should address transparently.

An unstable Balochistan will lead to more chaos in the entire region. This region is not only important for Pakistan but for many other countries of the world. They must not overlook the Baloch conflict. The international community should not see Balochistan solely as an internal administrative problem of Pakistan. Understanding the significance of the conflict, we invite the international community to mediate and facilitate conflict management between Balochs and Islamabad.

Both sides should be given a chance to state their stance and then proceed toward a win-win solution to our problems.

Agreed, Islamabad is currently using a militaristic approach to silence the Baloch dissents, I do not see the majority of Balochs giving in to such a tactic in the 21st century. A lot of Balochs may be killed in resisting this approach but I am sure our people will resist Islamabad’s belligerent style of grappling with Balochistan. We want the cycle of bloodshed, enforced disappearances, targeted killings, increase in two-sided hatred to stop for the sake of our coming generations.