Between Sardars & Sarkars
SYED FAZL-E-HAIDER, Quetta
July 09 - 15, 2007
Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah once in response to some demand of Quetta Municipal Committee in August 1948, said:
"You know I take special interest in Balochistan because this province is my special responsibility; therefore, I want that it should play its role in Pakistan affairs like other provinces".
Unfortunately Balochistan, the Quaid's special responsibility, attracted nominal attraction or no attention from successive military and democratic regimes in Islamabad. The backwardness rules supreme across the province. The people have run out of civic facilities and job opportunities at large. Even in the 21st century, Balochistan presents a gloomy picture of tribal vendetta and exploitative traditions, clasping inhospitably the lives of the people. Tribal feuds and vendetta have claimed thousands of precious lives in Balochistan for the past two decades. The people are still bearing the brunt of primitive tribal animosities, which frequently break into recrudescence of sanguinary violence confining them to their tribal zones of influence.
The people of Balochistan were left at the mercy of sardars (tribal chiefs) by successive sarkars (regimes) in Islamabad. While former continued to exploit, the latter facilitated this exploitation through policy of neglect and discrimination. Both the sarkari(official) and sardari (feudal) systems developed somewhat a symbiotic relationship that resultantly put the common masses on receiving end. Whether there has been concurrence or friction between the two systems (sardari & sarkari), miseries and grievances of the people could not come down. Presently too, it is the exploited and discriminated masses of the province that are bearing the brunt of the ongoing clashes between tribesmen and paramilitary forces and its subsequent retaliation- bomb blasts, acts of sabotage and terrorism.
The decision making, both at local level by tribal chiefs and official level by the politicians and bureaucrats, ever remained vital to the state of socio-economic life of the people in the province. While locally the people were oppressed, tyrannized and deprived of their basic rights and freedoms, officially they were discriminated and neglected. Have ever these decision-makers made plans or even thought of benefiting the common man of the province? The prevailing socio-economic conditions in the province and the level of deprivation of common masses negate any such welfare planning in the said decision-making circles. Both, Sardars & Sarkars, were actually motivated by their sole agenda of perpetuating their rule, hence they ultimately developed somewhat a symbiotic relationship that resultantly put the common masses on the receiving end.
Ethnic or tribal identity remains a potent force for both individuals and groups in Balochistan. The society is predominantly patriarchal. and is structured on kinship bases. One can find polarization among different ethnic groups. While each group is attached to a particular tradition and founded on different rules of social organization, most of these have undergone numerous transformations over time.
The system of tribal responsibility is most characteristic social pattern in rural Balochistan. Under the system, each tribe is responsible for the action of any one of its members. The code of honor which has prevailed among the tribesmen for centuries still influences their actions including (a) to avenge blood, (b) to refrain from killing women, (c) to either pardon an offence on the intercession of the women of the offender's family or to dismiss the women by giving each of them a dress as a token of honour, (d) to punish an adulterer with death and (e) to cease fighting when a Mullah, a Syed or a woman bearing the Holy Quran on his or her head, intervenes between the parties.
In the tribal system, major disputes are solved through convention of jirga. In Balochistan too, 'Jirga' is still convened to resolve the tribal conflicts. Tribals consider jirga justice system more effective than the official system. No doubt, it will only dry out if the judiciary works and provides due process of law.
Given the socio-economic, political and tribal milieu of Balochistan the poor are not able to exercise their rights guaranteed under the law and to protect their property from being taken away by the powerful tribal, bureaucratic or political elite. People abstain from going to the courts in tribal setup. The tribal chiefs or sardars mostly decide the cases that should have been decided by the courts of law. The people for being poor and vulnerable are unable to resort to the court for administration of justice. The high costs of judicial services such as legal advice and advocacy are not affordable to the poor. Resultantly, the poor remains deprived of the legal protection. The poor are denied their legal rights and cannot even protect the few assets that they own. Ultimately, they have to rely upon the justice as administered by the tribal authorities.
During the tenure of Z. A. Bhutto the National Assembly had passed a "System of Sardari (Abolition) Act" in 1976 which prescribed three years' punishment to anyone exercising the right of sardari. The institution of the sardar was formally abolished in the System of Sardari (Abolition) Act, 1976 which says in the preamble:
"The system of Sardari, prevalent in certain parts of Pakistan, is the worst remnant of the oppressive feudal and tribal system which, being derogatory to human dignity and freedom, is repugnant to the spirit of democracy and equality as enunciated by Islam and enshrined in the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and opposed to the economic advancement of the people."
Unfortunately, the system still exists and operates without legal authority. What is needed is to investigate into the history and circumstances, policies and mistakes committed on the part of ruling elite that led to strengthening, prevalence and practice of the sardari system and tribalism in Balochistan.
It was the British colonial system that provided full support to the tribal ruling class and after independence same British policy was pursued by successive governments in Islamabad. What contributed to the perpetuation of tribalism in Balochistan? Firstly, After independence, the same British policy of keeping Balochistan backward was followed by successive governments in Islamabad. Under General Zia regime, the people were encouraged to vote for ethnic and tribal considerations through non-party elections. This policy also strengthened the sardari system in Balochistan.
Secondly, the politics in the province largely centre round the tribal chiefs and this also strengthened tribal hierarchy in the province. The hierarchical system of authority flows downwards from the Sardar to the other end of the family. The political organisation is seen to be built upon two principles; hereditary authority and a personal bond of allegiance in which protection is exchanged for loyalty. The persistence of tribal politics and the continuing power and influence of local chiefs or Sardars are seen to effect and alter the working of the established parliamentary system. Many of the elected representatives are tribal chiefs and Sardars.
Thirdly, the absence of middle class and urbanized leadership also provided rich ground for growth and prevalence of tribalism in the province.
And finally, the weak civil community also promoted tribalism and feudalism, as the government did not take such measures, which could encourage the growth of a powerful civil society. Civil society covers a wide spectrum of individuals and groups, ranging from private sector bodies, trade unions and farmers' organizations, to mosques, community organizations, organized pressure groups and the media. At a more advanced stage, the participation process becomes institutionalized when bodies such as municipal councils, for example, are created, for which citizens may elect their own representatives (Nazims and councillors).
The sardari-sarkari symbiosis finds full-scale reflection and manifestation in the prevailing socio-economic backwardness, poverty, regional disparity and vulnerability in the province. The social scientists are of the view that social sector indicators in Balochistan are among the most challenging in South Asia. Balochistan is the poorest and most backward province of the country. Territorially, it is the country's largest province, with a thinly dispersed population of around 6.5 million. Female primary school enrollment is not more than 20%. The rugged and inaccessible terrain, limited water resources for irrigation, large illiterate population, ethnic diversity, and traditional women's status are added challenges to economic growth and human development in Balochistan.
Research studies show that Balochistan has continued to fall behind the rest of the countries during the last two decades. In Sindh, all districts except Karachi and Hyderabad are at low or middle levels of development. The districts in Punjab have generally moved up and improved their position in development rank ordering. Out of 12 districts in the high development category in the country, 8 are from Punjab. The situation in NWFP seems encouraging with 1 district at high and 8 middle levels of development. According to an estimate 89 percent of population in rural Balochistan and 49 percent in rural Sindh resides in high deprivation areas. The entire urban population in Balochistan resides in high deprivation districts and the province's share in low as well as medium deprivation districts is zero. The provincial capital, Quetta does not even qualify for medium deprivation status.
Both Sardars and Sarkars had no development agenda for socio economic uplift of the people, hence Balochistan continued to lag behind in all spheres of socio-economic life. Today, it has gone almost a century behind the other developed regions of the country. The entire urban population in Balochistan resides in high deprivation districts and the province's share in low as well as medium deprivation districts is zero.
(PERCENTAGE OF POPULATION BELOW THE POVERTY LINE)
Source: Pakistan Integrated Household Survey 2001-02
FINANCING OF PROVINCIAL DEVELOPMENT PROGRAMME FY 2004
Source: Explanatory Memorandum on Federal Receipts 2004-05
OVERALL DEPRIVATION RANK ORDER- BALOCHISTAN
PROVINCIAL RANK ORDER
NATIONAL RANK ORDER
Source: Pakistan Development Review (Journal)
Syed Fazl-e-Haider, firstname.lastname@example.org, is a Quetta-based development analyst in Pakistan. He is the author of six books, including The Economic Development of Balochistan, published in May 2004.