West Balochistan: Plight of Balochis Overshadowed by War Against Terror
With an area of 3,47,188 square kilometers that is larger than the combined area of Punjab and Sindh and constitutes about 44 percent of Pakistan, Balochistan imbroglio has recently come to international spotlight. To an average and uninformed reader, Balochistan is a place were Pakistani security forces have been conducting war against terror against the Al-Queda and Islamic fundamentalist forces. Yet, the war in Balohistan is not simply another case of war against terror.
Following reported bids on the life of President General Pervez Musharaff allegedly by the members of the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) and Balochistan Liberation Front (BLF), Pakistani armed forces have launched full-fledged operations in Kohlu and Dera Bugti since 17 December 2005.The military has been reportedly using jet fighters and helicopters gun ships in its operations to attack suspected hideouts of combatants Marri and Bugti tribesmen in Kolhu and Dera Bugti respectively.
As many as 200 Balochis have been allegedly killed since 17 December 2005. Jamhoori Watan Party Chief and former Governor and Chief Minister of Balochistan, Nawab Akber Bugti alleged that 80 to 85% of those either killed or injured were women and children. According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), as many as 53 persons have been killed and 132 have been injured in military operations in Dera Bugti from last week of December 2005 till 8 January 2006. Eighteen people including 12 suspected members of the Balochi armed opposition groups and six security personnel have been reportedly killed from 11-13 January 2006. There were also reports of extra-judicial killings of the detainees by the law enforcement agencies.
The root causes of the conflict in Balochistan are not hard to find. On 29 September 2004, a Parliamentary Committee comprising 29 members and headed by Pakistan Muslim League, President Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain was formed "to examine the current situation in Balochistan and make recommendations thereon." The committee was subsequently divided into two subcommittees. One of the Sub-Committees headed by Wasim Sajjad was mandated to address the question of provincial autonomy, while the other Sub-Committee Mushahid Hussein Sayed was mandated to address the immediate crisis in the province.
I. The lack of provincial autonomy
The denial of autonomy has been a major cause of the ongoing conflict. The 1973 Constitution provided that the concurrent list determining the quantum of provincial autonomy would be revised after every 10 years. This has never been done. When General Pervez Musharaff assumed power in October 1999, among other things, he promised to work towards “strengthening the federation, removing inter-provincial disharmony and restoring national cohesion”. Six years later, President Musharaff failed to keep his promises. Instead, he has been sent thousands of regular troops and paramilitary forces in parts of Balochistan and South and North Waziristan, adjacent to the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, supposedly for “strengthening the federation”.
In March 2005, the Parliamentary Sub-Committee on Balochistan headed by Wasim Sajjad recommended complete revision of the concurrent list, announcement of the National Finance Commission award before budget, biannual meetings of the Council of Common Interests and distribution of federal resources on the basis of poverty, backwardness, unemployment and development level of provinces instead of the existing criterion of population. These recommendations too have not been implemented, thereby creating impression that the federal government is not serious about politically accommodating the Balochis.
II. Problem of underdevelopment
Balochistan faces the twin problems of high illiteracy and high poverty incidences. The average literacy rate of the population aged 10 years and above is only 36 percent.
Some of the Balochi political leaders allegedly play narrow local or regional issues in order to sustain their leadership where tribalism in politics is deeply entrenched, not to mention about interferences by Islamabad. Its drought-stricken pastoral economy cannot even provide food for its small population. This state of affairs has been continuing since independence and the neglect has now strengthened the ranks of the nationalists and increased their clout.
Balochistan reportedly produces about 36 percent of natural gas of Pakistan. However, the Balochis have not reportedly been benefiting from these huge reserves of mineral resources.
In its report in March 2005, the Parliamentary Sub-Committe Committee on Balochistan headed by headed by senator Mushahid Hussain, increase in gas royalty and surcharge; maximum representation to the province on the boards of the oil and gas companies operating in the province; implementation of the job quota of the Baloch; shifting of the Gwadar Port Authority head office to Balochistan; seven per cent of the gross port revenue to go to the province; training of local youth for jobs; probing of allotment of lands by a judicial body; construction of highways; announcement of National Finance Commission; taking of Confidence Building Measures such as keeping the visibility of the armed forces low; not disbanding the levy forces; holding in abeyance the construction of cantonments at Gwadar, Dera Bugti and Kohlu; harnessing water resources; maintaining Baloch-Pakhtoon parity in every respect - in terms of population and the regions.
Earlier, in February 2005, Pakistan goevrnment announced two mega projects i.e. the construction of a deep seaport at Gwadar and the Saindak copper mining project. The Balochis claim that 75% of their lands at Gwadar have been acquired by serving military officers at throwaway prices. Most jobs at Gwadar and Saindak have been given to non-Balochistanis. The mega projects furtehr alienated the Balochis who fear a possible Punjabi speaking Chief Minister in the near future because of the migration of outsiders. Though President Pervez Musharraf had reportedly accepted 27 out of 31 recommendations made by Mushahid Hussain Committee, it failed address the root causes of Balochistan.
Not surprisingly, the military cantonments being set up at Gwadar, Dera Bugti and Kohlu (the capital of the Marri tribal lands) have been viewed as outposts of repression and control. Baloch tribal leaders have reacted angrily and in January 2005 clashes broke out between the armed opposition groups and security forces.
The ongoing heavy military operations in Balochistan is well-kown
and the recommendations of the Parliamentary Committee have been thrown out
of the window. In the post September 11th period, Pakistan government has been
able to club the Balochi rebellion as another basket case of Islamic fundamentalism
and take draconian measures. Yet, there is no military solution to the crisis
and the military regime of General Musharaff is unlikely to opt for a solution
through dialogue. The Balochistan crisis is a clear example of the fact that
tribalism is stronger than religious fundamentalism. It is the identity of the
Balochis which is at stake.