PPP’s strategy for Balochistan

A strategy for Balochistan (Daily Times)

The secretary of the Shaheed Benazir Bhutto Reconciliatory Committee on Balochistan, Senator Babar Awan, says he has a strategy for a solution to the problems of Balochistan. He has it narrowed down to “three Rs”: reconciliation with all political forces, rebuilding national institutions and reallocating resources. The roadmap will have “five steps” and it will kick off with a jirga of intellectuals and other stakeholders from Balochistan on October 31 in Islamabad. After that another jirga comprising all the political parties of the province would be held.

Let us admit one thing straightaway. Islamabad today is in a good position to address the Balochistan problem. The PPP government has been able to tone down the insurgency that showed no signs of abating during the tenure of the previous government. Credit must also go to the PPP chief minister of the province, Nawab Aslam Raisani, who has established his credibility among the major players in the politics of Balochistan by rising above partisan politics and taking a pro-Balochistan stance. Now this development places on Islamabad the onus of going much farther ahead of the advances made in the past to bring Balochistan back on board the federation.

This point of time in the history of Pakistan is least suitable for a radical devolution to the provinces. The state is hardly in control of its territory elsewhere, its institutions are weak to the point of non-delivery, and there are foreign elements freely challenging the writ of the state. Yet the pledge to devolve has been made time and again and is now inevitable when the jirgas convene to examine the demands of those who represent Balochistan. But any effort to meet the demands of Balochistan will have to be done under the Constitution. And if the Constitution no longer helps in its present shape — and this is what the Baloch point out — the government should be prepared to muster the kind of parliamentary consensus needed to carry out amendments in the Constitution.

If the situation in Balochistan is unique to it, the solutions proposed for the resolution of its problems will have to apply to all the provinces. The quantity of devolution acceptable to the people of Balochistan should be applicable to all the provinces although under this devolution a certain degree of preferential treatment can be apportioned to Balochistan because of its special conditions.

We hope that the jirga will highlight as well as compress the long tally of demands that appear in the media; and that the Balochistan Assembly is able to formulate a final list that is acceptable to all, including elements that have fled into the mountains and are engaged in what they see as some kind of “liberation struggle”. Most demands related to administration are aimed at reducing the interference of the federal government in the province. This applies not only to the bureaucracy but also to such forces as the frontier constabulary and the police. The biggest “nationalist” demand grows out of what modern-day textbooks call “resource-based” nationalism.

The “feelings” of the Baloch must be understood with sympathy. Their focus on the resources of the province has become sharp over the years because of lack of development in the province. Had Balochistan been developed into a modern self-sufficient province, no one would have become conscious of what Pakistan extracts from its soil and how it is disposed of. But now the law that guides the control of the natural resources and their royalties and ownership will have to be revisited. A survey of what the Baloch leaders have highlighted in the past will give us a measure of the scale of the task lying ahead of the federation.

Economic backwardness hounds areas in Ormara, where Pakistan’s modern naval base is constructed; Chaghai and Kharan, where the nuclear test was conducted and where copper and gold are being mined; Lasbela, where an industrial town and strategic facilities are located; Dera Bugti, known for its gas wells; Quetta and Bolan, where coal is being mined. And so on. Balochistan is 78 percent without electricity; and 79 percent of its population is without the facility of gas. Balochistan has just 3.4 percent of all gas consumers, as compared to 64 percent of Punjab.

If peace is arranged in Balochistan, much can be given to Balochistan in return for a lot of new land that can be opened for exploration to enhance Pakistan’s national capacity to produce energy. But the final solution must attract the people of Balochistan. Because its population is relatively small, constitutional provisions can be made to create this attraction so that the rest of the provinces can collectively benefit from Balochistan’s natural endowments without making the people there feel cheated. In return Balochistan must make itself governable by strengthening the writ of the state in its territory. (Daily Times)

Balochistan matters (Dawn)

THE Shaheed Benazir Bhutto Reconciliatory Committee on Balochistan that was formed last April is finally showing signs of stirring. On Sunday, it revealed a roadmap incorporating among other things a plan to work on reconciliation, reconstruction of national institutions in the province and the reallocation of resources. A jirga is scheduled for later this week to discuss the strategy that has President’s Zardari’s approval. It is to be hoped that there are no delays and its composition will be inclusive of all opinion. The government, in all sincerity, should attempt to implement the proposals aimed at dispelling Baloch grievances and bringing back the alienated people of the province into the national mainstream. True, there is some doubt on this score considering that some very concrete proposals made by a parliamentary committee in 2005 to address Balochistan’s woes fell by the wayside. But unlike the previous political dispensation, this government is the outcome of a popular mandate and there is greater pressure on it to turn in a better performance.

This is the right time to strive — and to be seen as doing so — for Balochistan’s uplift. The ceasefire declared by Baloch militants last month has largely held while the army has scaled back its operations. It may be difficult to effect a reconciliation among the various aggrieved segments of society at the moment, especially in view of the thousands of ordinary civilians who were made to feel the military’s wrath during an intense operation against the militants. But it is imperative that the path leading to reconciliation is paved with positive actions involving major development in the province, greater provincial autonomy, more equitable resource-sharing and job opportunities for the Baloch many of whom feel that outsiders are being given preference in employment.

Promises have to be translated into reality to make the Baloch have a real sense of ownership in their province. These include making the necessary constitutional amendments envisaged by the roadmap and promised earlier by the prime minister who said after the February polls that the Concurrent List would be abolished within a year to allow the provinces more autonomy in their affairs. It is equally important to give a fair hearing to Balochistan’s demand for more equitable resource distribution. It is incumbent on the new National Finance Commission to ensure that the next award guarantees satisfactory gains for the province which has long wanted factors such as poverty and under-development to be among the main criteria for distribution. Balochistan, along with the other smaller provinces, has strongly felt the injustice of a population-based formula that has favoured Punjab, and it is about time its voice was heard in this regard. Failing to do so would mean a return to militancy in the province and the consequent weakening of the state. (Dawn)