BALOCHISTAN'S CRISIS POSES A THREAT TO NATIONAL INTEGRATION

SYED FAZL-E-HAIDER
(feedback@pgeconomist.com)

Mar 26 - Apr 1, 20
12

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 subcontinent 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 unrest in 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 have 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 six 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 underdeveloped 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.

Each year, Pakistanis enthusiastically celebrate the 23rd of March to commemorate the most outstanding achievement of the Muslims of the subcontinent who passed the historic Pakistan Resolution on this day at Lahore in 1940.

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. A declaration of historic Pakistan resolution presented on 23rd March, 1940 in Iqbal Park Lahore said,

"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."

There has been a tussle between center and the provinces on the issue of provincial autonomy since the creation of Pakistan. 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.

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.

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.