Syed Fazl-e-Haider
Aug 17 - 23, 2009

Unfortunately, while the nation is celebrating its 62nd independence day with traditional fervor and enthusiasm, some voices of separatism are being heard from the country's area-wise largest province of Balochistan. The patriotism of Balochis is above board, but there are some anti-state elements, who have masqueraded as the champions of Baloch rights, are acting upon some foreign agenda and conspiracy to weaken and split the nuclear-armed state of Pakistan.

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.

It is worth noting that Balochistan has witnessed four insurgencies in the years of 1948, 1958, 1965, and 1973. These insurgencies however, were largely a local militancy that remained within its set parameters of local politics and tribalism. The cause of the conflict was mainly that the province had genuine grievances against the centre. In the past, when military operations were executed, there had been no Mega development projects like Gwadar seaport underway in the province as it has presently been. The province's enormous development potential and geo-strategic location was not as streamlined in the past to the outer world as it has become today. It is noteworthy that law and order situation in the province got worse to worst after the Chinese engineers completed first phase of Gwadar seaport project in November 2004, ahead of schedule.

It is said that when Henry Kissinger (during his troubleshooting mission in Pakistan in 1962) was asked to comment on Baloch insurgency, he said: 'I wouldn't recognize the Balochistan problem, (even) if it hit me in the face.' But after 11 years (in 1973), the Baloch insurgency started and lasted for four years till 1977 and Balochistan had become one of the most volatile conflict regions for the two super powers (America & Soviet Union) in cold war era. Since 1973, the strategic planners in Washington have been keeping an eye on the strategically located Balochistan to advance their regional and global interests.

Balochistan has twice played the frontline role to serve the US strategic interests in Afghanistan. For the first time, it attained the frontline position in 1979 when US-backed Afghan Jihad against the defunct Soviet Union forces was underway in Afghanistan. And, for the second time, it emerged out to be a frontline province in the US military campaign against Taliban and Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan after 9/11 tragedy. Presently the location seems to have reversed but the player is the same. Now Afghanistan is being used as frontline base against Pakistan for fuelling unrest in its largest province of Balochistan. Afghanistan is undeniably in virtual control of the US forces.

Balochistan presents a classic case of a small and impoverished province, which has ever remained at the mercy of centre for meeting its financial needs and obligations. It is because of the dominance of central authorities in the National Finance Commission that the province feels stronghold of the centre over its natural resources. This dominance finds its full manifestation in economic planning, policy and decision-making processes in Islamabad.

Balochistan has been in throes of financial crisis since1970 when it got the status of fourth province of Pakistan. The province has been managing to run its affairs on loans and subventions, and hopes and promises. After revival of provincial status, it was faced with certain problems of key importance such as lack of physical and institutional infrastructure for governance. It is because of the less financial autonomy granted to the province that the Baloch nationalist parties resent over the Islamabad's firm control over the way the province's economy is managed. Merely loans, subventions, and promises can not get the province out of its perennial financial problems.

The social sector indicators in Balochistan are among the most challenging in South Asia.

The health indicators like infant and mother mortality are poorer than any other province.

According to an estimate, only in 5 out of 30 districts, sanitation is accessible to more than 51% of the population; in nine districts adequate sanitation is available to 26-50% of the population, and in 13 districts, household sanitation coverage is only 4-25%. Access to sewage disposal infrastructure is largely absent.

Military operations launched to quell these insurgencies intensified the sense of alienation in the province. The insurgents have been demanding their economic and political rights, which can only be achieved if the centre gives provincial autonomy to the federating units, as enshrined in the Constitution of 1973.

The undue centralism is repugnant to the spirit of the historic Pakistan resolution presented on 23rd March, 1940 at Iqbal Park in Lahore. The resolution endorses that strong federating units can only strengthen the federation. Pakistan Resolution had declared unambiguously that, "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."

The resolution 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. What to speak of a "greater autonomy", the provinces even did not enjoy discretion in matters, which are purely the provincial subjects. The long period of military dictatorship and quasi-dictatorship further empowered the centre at the expanse of the provinces.

We cannot ignore the rapidly changing geopolitical realities and new developments in the region. 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.