BALOCHISTAN CRISIS-A THREAT TO NATIONAL INTEGRATION
Aug 18 - 24, 2008
Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah had a clear conception of the Muslims as a nation and he presented it in crystal-clear words in his presidential address on the occasion of Pakistan resolution in 1940 at Lahore, 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."
Undoubtedly, this is the comprehensive definition of Muslim nation as a compact body which distinguishes it from other nations of the world. The Muslims of the sub-continent unanimously struggled for a separate homeland where they could flourish their distinctive national features, as given by Quaid-i-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. Political disharmony and tussles between the provinces and the Federation are detrimental to national integration.
The political unrest in different areas of Balochistan indicates a volatile political situation in the province. The long history of neglect and discrimination against the province and the military operations undertaken in the past has turned it into a mega sensitive province. Local people still feel socially alienated, economically frustrated and politically discriminated. The poor state of affairs in the province came to the limelight after the political crisis continued to deepen during last three years and a military operation was launched in Bugti and Mari tribal areas in December 2005. The veteran Baloch nationalist leader, Nawab Akbar Bugti was killed in August 2006 in a military action in Mari tribal area. The killing of veteran Nawab Akbar Bugti further intensified the feeling of alienation among the Baloch people.
Balochistan has suffered mainly because of the arbitrary and discriminatory policies of the successive governments in Islamabad. The remote rural areas of the province still present the picture of medieval Age. The health indicators are poorer than any other province. Balochistan nationalist parties criticize the federal government for ignoring the people and the Baloch leadership and not taking them into confidence while it signed accords with various international firms. The nationalists say that the Reko Dik mineral project and the Gwadar port project are of great importance for Balochistan after Sui gas and Saindak projects but the government has along been ignoring the people of the province and their leadership in this regard. They call the federal government's decision of transferring the management of Gwadar port to the Singapore Port Authority as an infringement of rights of the Baloch people. They have demanded that all agreements signed by the federal government with international firms for exploitation of mineral and other resources of Balochistan be presented in the Senate and the Balochistan Assembly.
Balochistan has been in throes of financial crisis since1970 when it got the status of fourth province of Pakistan. After revival of provincial status, it was faced with certain problems of key importance such as lack of physical and institutional infrastructure for governance. In the second phase of its development that started in 1977, the province witnessed long-term planning pattern like five-year plan. This phase culminated in October 1999 when Pakistan Army took over ousting the Nawaz Sharif government in Islamabad. While the federal government has been arbitrarily subsidizing the sale of natural gas from Balochistan to consumers in other provinces without the province's consent, the province was left with no funds to finance its annual development program. It has no say in decision making process at the centre. The centre has not yet resolved the contentious issue of sharing the Gas Development Surcharge (GDS) in the case of Balochistan. It is the important issue that has also kept the province economically under-developed and poor. Although the gas revenue surcharge has been diverted to the province, the situation is not much different, as the federal budgetary grants had been made non-obligatory in NFC 1991. The Award had resulted in an increase in the federal tax assignments to the province from federal divisible pool.
The current crisis needs to be seen in the perspective of rapidly changing geopolitical realities of the world. If Pakistan enjoys geopolitical importance in the region, it is largely due to the Balochistan's geo-strategic location that marks the confluence of south Asia, west Asia and central Asia. Even the British were cognizant of the geo-strategic importance of the province and they deliberately kept it backward, underdeveloped and a dark region to the external colonial forces. Hence, the province was denied all forms of reforms under British rule. In the present scheme of the things, the Balochistan coast has become the focal point of attraction for international export, import, trade, commerce and industry for the land locked Afghanistan and Central Asian Republics (CARs).
For some players of geopolitics, the developed, open and stable Balochistan is a threat to their interests and so they are engaged in sabotaging the ongoing Rs.140 billion development process in the province. The target killings of three Chinese engineers in May 2004 in Gwadar were the part of their "sabotage plan'. Some observers believe that the arms and ammunitions are coming into Balochistan from Afghanistan where an Indo-US nexus has been established. Keeping the Americans 'in' and Chinese 'out' of Balochistan is the name of the game. A volatile Balochistan does serve their strategic interests, as the unrest in the province not only preempts Chinese but also discourage development activities and foreign investment in the province.
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. The nationalist parties resent over the Islamabad's firm control over the way the province's economy is managed. On the other hand, the perception of a rapid economic progress poses a threat to centuries-old feudal status of tribal chiefs under which they have been enjoying power and exploiting the people. The only way out from the current Balochistan crisis is developing the province economically. The army garrisons cannot secure any project, but it is the local stakeholders that can ensure real security for the smooth execution of the ongoing mega projects and other development schemes planned for the province.
Drastic administrative and infrastructural reforms need to be carried out in the province, followed by more powers and autonomy to all provinces. Steps should be taken for reviving the National Finance Commission and the Council of Common Interests and limiting the federal government's share in revenue to what was mutually agreed between the provinces and the center in the past. Our national interest demands an early resolution of conflict and restoration of peace and stability in Balochistan. What is immediately needed is to assuage the local people's grievances and resolve all issues through a political reconciliation.