Mar 29 - Apr 4, 2010

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 six decades. Today, the province is under attack of target killers who have killed at least 20 people during last two weeks.

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.

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. 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.

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 7.5 million. Female primary school enrolment 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.

Both Sardars and Sarkars had no development agenda for socioeconomic uplift of the people, hence Balochistan continued to lag behind in all spheres of socioeconomic life. Today, it has gone almost a century behind the other developed regions of the country. The entire urban population resides in high deprivation districts and the province's share in low as well as medium deprivation districts is zero.

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 beyond reach of the poor. Ultimately, they have to rely upon the justice as administered by the tribal authorities. Had the official (Sarkari) system of justice meant for the poor, weak and the vulnerable of the society, the Jirga justice (Sardari) system would have died its natural demise.

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 organization 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.