Balochistan: No Short Cuts

By I.A. Rehman
Thursday, 11 Jun, 2009

The prime minister’s step-by-step approach to the task of delivering justice to Balochistan is backed by good sense but it is doubtful if his government is fully aware of the urgency of its undertaking or the need for a radical approach.

More than a month ago Mr Yousuf Raza Gilani asked for the drafting of a constitutional package to meet Balochistan’s needs and demands, and for the formulation of autonomy proposals by the provincial assembly. This was believed to be in preparation for an all-parties conference.

Then Senator Raza Rabbani was charged with producing a composite study based on his own 15-point package that he had presented some time ago, the Mushahid Hussain committee proposals, the Benazir Bhutto committee report and the Balochistan Assembly resolution. This report is believed to have been examined at a meeting of the PPP high command with party leaders in Balochistan on Friday last.

Newspaper reports obviously penned by friendly scribes have mentioned the prime minister’s desire to personally comprehend Balochistan’s complex issues before the APC takes place, which is now scheduled for later this month.

While the structure of the exercise is sound it would have received greater commendation if the substance of the various reports cited above had been revealed. The reports of the committees set up to tackle Balochistan’s grievances have not been adequately publicised. The public has not been taken into confidence about the Balochistan Assembly’s latest resolution on autonomy, if one has at all been adopted. However, Mr Raza Rabbani’s 15 points are now in the public domain. These are:

  1. Initiation of political dialogue with all stakeholders;
  2. Release of political persons against whom cases are not pending;
  3. Expediting the recovery of missing persons;
  4. A judicial inquiry into the recent murder of three Baloch leaders;
  5. Rationalisation of the royalty formula and adoption of a uniform rate for all provinces;
  6. Rationalisation of the prerogative of the federal government to increases excise duty and placing it in the divisible pool;
  7. Restructuring of laws and roles related to the civil armed forces in the province;
  8. Halting the construction of new cantonments in the province until the fears of the local population are addressed;
  9. Announcement of the NFC Award in which population is not the prime criterion and in which size, revenue generation and backwardness should also be taken into consideration;
  10. Removal of checkpoints in the light of the provincial assembly resolution;
  11. Implementation of the resolutions of the provincial assembly;
  12. Withdrawal of forces from Sui;
  13. Defining the quantum of provincial autonomy the government is willing to concede;
  14. Levies to be brought in place of police, and;
  15. Mega projects to be initiated with the cooperation of the people of the province and their due share assured.

Some more proposals might have been added to the list but even these 15 points can help start a positive discourse, their author’s cautiousness and his apparent desire to avoid spelling out concrete measures notwithstanding. The need to restructure laws related to civil armed forces and define their role is pointed out but the substance of reform is not described. The federal government is advised to define the quantum of provincial autonomy it is willing to concede whereas today it is necessary to present in detail the quantum of provincial autonomy the federation must concede.

It should not be difficult to realise that concessions within the existing federal framework that could have possibly satisfied Balochistan’s aspirations a few decades ago cannot bear fruit today. As Senator Hasil Bizenjo put it recently, two forces are operating in Balochistan: one of these is prepared to accept a significant advance towards autonomy within the constitution, while the other one does not accept the constitution itself. If Islamabad wishes to defeat the latter force it must obviously win over the former with a package considerably more radical than any proposals advanced so far.

As it is the federal government’s success in attracting all political forces to its APC cannot be taken for granted. Even the nationalists who could be persuaded to join have called for the fulfilment of two conditions: one, an end to military operations and rehabilitation of affected people and, two, recovery of missing persons (thousands of people including 124 women, according to Mr Akhtar Mengal).

These demands have been before the government for more than a year. Official spokesmen say nothing about the former issue and as regards the latter they have started parroting Gen Musharraf’s excuses that the missing persons have joined the jihadis. This amounts to adding insult to injury.

It is time Islamabad realised that the only way to satisfy the Baloch people on the issue of disappearances is to set up a high-level commission with powers to investigate cases of disappearance, examine witnesses and summon any state functionary who has had anything to do with these matters. Mere statements by government representatives, unverifiable and uncorroborated by independently gathered evidence, cannot assuage Balochistan’s pain and anger.

Further, Islamabad should have a strategy to meet the situation in case the APC idea does not work. Obviously it will be expected to reveal its own plans for winning the hearts and minds of the Baloch. A necessary condition for the success of these plans will be a substantial revision of the federal arrangement.

Fortunately, there is no dearth of ideas in this area. The many proposals debated over the past few years include: removal or at least a drastic revision of the concurrent list, increase in the powers of the Senate, effective provincial control over natural resources, revision of the NFC award basis, end to land-grabbing under any guise, power to raise security forces, freedom to organise foreign trade, and due provincial say in an active council of common interest, et al.

Even bold constitutional reforms may not work if the trust deficit is not addressed. Balochistan has been bullied, humiliated and cheated so often that it cannot be blamed for a total lack of confidence in Islamabad. Strong affirmative action by the centre to demonstrate that Balochistan has the same status and privileges as any other federating unit could perhaps help it grow out of its persecution syndrome. That will take time and there are no short cuts. Stories of foreign intervention, which may not be entirely untrue, will not help.

Writing to Ms Benazir Bhutto from his death cell, Mr Bhutto had cited the spilling of blood as the obstacle to the revival of Balochistan’s confidence in the centre. Instead of removing this obstacle, successive governments have extracted from Balochistan more sacrifices in blood and tears — the senseless liquidation of Nawab Akbar Bugti, the mysterious killing of Balach Marri, the brutal murder of three Baloch leaders, and torture of illegally detained students, to mention just a few prominent cases. Only an unbroken record of goodwill over a considerable period will convince the people of Balochistan that such incidents will not recur. (Source)

I just want to put focus on the 15 points and what they reveal:

  1. Ongoing political dialogue IS NOT with all stakeholders;
  2. This is an admission that THERE ARE “political prisoners”;
  3. There is STILL NO expediency in the recovery of missing persons;
  4. A judicial inquiry into the recent murder of three Baloch leaders has STILL NOT been initiated;
  5. Royalty formula is NOT rational and there is NO uniform rate for all provinces;
  6. The prerogative of the federal government to increases excise duty and placing it in the divisible pool is also NOT rational/fair to Balochistan;
  7. The laws and roles related to the civil and armed forces in the province is all out of whack;
  8. Construction of new cantonments in the province continues DESPITE the strong opposition of  the local population;
  9. NFC Award IS UNFAIR and uses the population as the prime criterion and DOES NOT take into consideration the size, revenue generation and backwardness of Balochistan (the poverty to which NFC Award has “contributed” a great deal);
  10. The provincial assembly resolution for removal of checkpoints HAS BEEN IGNORED;
  11. OTHER resolutions of the provincial assembly HAVE SIMILARLY/ROUTINELY BEEN IGNORED;
  12. Presence of  forces in Sui IS WRONG;
  13. Government is all just talk when it comes to “provincial autonomy” and has so far failed address it practically;
  14. Having police running the show instead of levies has been counter-productive, and;
  15. Mega projects have been initiated WITHOUT the cooperation of the people of the province and their due share has NOT BEEN given them.
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