Last week, the Pakistani nation celebrated its 71st Independence Day with national enthusiasm and fervor. Balochistan, the country’s largest province with respect to area, is still facing a law and order problem in some of its remote areas due to separatist groups, who are engaged in a violent struggle against the state and its institutions. Some separatist elements backed by foreign forces have been trying to ban singing the national anthem or hoisting national flag in schools. Though situation has changed and is more better today, yet a need is direly felt to address the root causes of Balochistan conundrum. The factors that fueled feelings of discrimination and alienation in the province also include the denial of provincial autonomy for a long time, discriminatory policies and a military approach of the rulers in Islamabad to resolve the problem in Balochistan.
Each year, we enthusiastically celebrate the 14th of August as Independence Day to commemorate the great achievement of the Muslims of the subcontinent in the shape of an independent and sovereign Pakistan. Pakistan resolution presented on March 23, 1940 in Lahore crystal-clearly presented an independent and sovereign federal state for the Muslims of the subcontinent in which the constituent units or provinces would enjoy greater autonomy. The historic resolution declared, “No constitutional plan would be workable or acceptable to the Muslims unless geographical contiguous units are demarcated into regions which should be so constituted with such territorial readjustments as may be necessary. That the areas in which the Muslims are numerically in majority as in the North-Western and Eastern zones of India should be grouped to constitute independent states in which the constituent units shall be autonomous and sovereign”.
Political disharmony and tussles between the provinces and the Federation are detrimental to national integration. The major grievance of the smaller provinces against the centre has been about transferring the subjects on the concurrent list to the provinces. Over-centralism, unitary type of governance and arbitrary nature of decision-making has actually alienated the smaller provinces and strengthened their demand for provincial autonomy. The undue centralism is repugnant to the spirit of the historic Pakistan resolution presented on March 23, 1940. The resolution endorses that strong federating units can only strengthen the federation.
Fortunately, the situation has improved over the past few years after the approval of 18th constitutional amendment and reconstitution of National Finance Award. But, there has been a tussle between center and the provinces on the issue of provincial autonomy since the creation of Pakistan. All the powers, which the constitution had given to provinces, were vested with the centre. This power grabbing by the centre weakened the provinces and strengthened the central authorities. Balochistan presents a classic case of a small and impoverished province, which remained at the mercy of centre for meeting its financial needs and obligations. It was because of the dominance of central authorities in the National Finance Commission that the province felt stronghold of the centre over its natural resources.
The province has witnessed at least five insurgencies since the creation of Pakistan. Military operations launched to quell these insurgencies intensified the sense of alienation in the province. The poor state of affairs in the province came to the limelight after the political crisis continued to deepen and a military operation was launched in Bugti and Mari tribal areas in December 2005. The Baloch nationalist leader, Nawab Akbar Bugti was killed in August 2006 in a military action in Mari tribal area. The killing of veteran Baloch further intensified the feeling of alienation among the Baloch people.
The insurgents have been demanding their economic and political rights, which could only be achieved if the centre would have given full provincial autonomy to the federating units, as enshrined in the Constitution of 1973. The members of National Assembly from Balochistan had signed the 1973 Constitution on the condition that the concurrent list of subjects would be reviewed after 10 years in 1983. But what to speak of 10-year period, even after lapse of 36 years, the concurrent list was not reviewed and transferred to the provinces.
Today, the separatists, who are pursuing their agenda outside the country’s constitutional framework, are fueling the fire of a struggle for an independent Balochistan. Today, we direly need to realize and implement the vision of a federal state as presented in the Pakistan Resolution instead of celebrating the Independence Day. The long period of military dictatorship and quasi-dictatorship further empowered the centre at the expanse of the provinces.
National integration is rooted in the ideology of Pakistan, which is based on the Two-Nation Theory – the proposition put forward in pre-partition India that the Hindus and the Muslims were two separate nations, and so should be able to live in separate homelands. The theory united the Muslims into a strong pressure group and forced the hand of the British into partitioning the subcontinent in 1947. By invoking the ‘Ideology of Pakistan’ to portray Muslims as a monolithic group, the State has ensured that being a Muslim becomes simultaneously an individual and a collective identity, one that transcends all class, race, ethnic and even national boundaries.
Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah had a clear vision of Muslim nationalism in the subcontinent and he presented it in crystal-clear words when he said, “We are a nation with our own distinctive culture and civilization, language and literature, art and architecture, value and proportion, legal laws and moral codes, customs and calendars, history and tradition, aptitudes and ambitions; in short, we have our own distinctive outlook of life and on life. By all canons of international law, we are a nation.”
The Muslims of the sub-continent unanimously struggled for a separate homeland where they could flourish their distinctive national features, as given by Quaid-e-Azam. The national integration is in fact a force, which emanates from these distinctive features and binds the Pakistani people speaking different languages and belonging to different ethnic groups, into a compact body.
Today, Pakistan is beset by multi-dimensional challenges. The nationalism must replace sectarianism and parochialism. Similarly, peace and tolerance should replace terrorism and extremism. These miracles are possible if all segments and institutions of society stand unanimous and united on one national agenda of strengthening Pakistan. Military solution to the Balochistan crisis is not viable. It is a proven fact that the use of military might has been ineffective in bringing about a political or social change in the province.