By Murtaza Razvi
10 Sep, 2009
IN a series of recent TV interviews, Shah Zain Bugti, the grandson of the late Nawab Akbar Bugti, has spoken eloquently on what needs to be done to end the insurgency in Balochistan.
The crux of his argument is that Balochistan minus the Baloch is a grossly flawed policy — one that Islamabad has been pursuing all these years. The young Jamhoori Watan Party leader has restricted his demands to three points: the trial of Gen (retd) Pervez Musharraf, the provision of gas royalty arrears to Balochistan and provincial autonomy. As the aggrieved heir to the slain Baloch leader, he has all the right to ask for the general’s trial.
It was almost pitiful to watch the Baloch leader being repeatedly grilled by anchors on the conduct of Baloch sardars, that too in response to his overtures when he emphasised that he sought a solution to the Balochistan predicament within the ambit of the 1973 constitution. The sardars’ anti-people policies, tyranny and support for terrorist attacks on vital installations in the province kept coming up. The construction of the coastal highway and the Gwadar port were also cited as development projects which have been opposed tooth and nail by Baloch nationalists.
There may be some merit in such counterpoints raised by self-righteous journalists. But what one fails to understand is why are the Baloch singled out for this harsh treatment. The Pakhtuns, too, have a tribal system which is taken as basic law by many communities. Clans in Sindh and biradaris in Punjab also practise tribal customs, some of them truly despicable.
Likewise, cult politics continues to be the norm within the country’s so-called democratic parties, whose ‘representative’ leaders often bury their heads in the sand when even a gross violation of the law takes place. In a country full of historical injustices and abuse such as that of Mukhtaran Mai, the burning of Christian homes in Gojra, Karachi’s May 12, 2007 street violence, to name a few, how can any objective observer single out Baloch sardars for censure?
The Baloch are not half as well integrated with the rest of Pakistan as, say, those hailing from Sindh. Their elected leaders at the centre and in the province do not enjoy the same representative status as do leaders from other provinces. The reason is that when the 2008 elections took place, Balochistan was in the grip of turmoil and Baloch nationalists had boycotted the polls.
As for the building of Gwadar port and the coastal highway by the Musharraf regime, nationalists allege, with some weight in their argument, that these projects have largely bypassed local communities. Sliding law and order has kept the Baloch at bay from job opportunities created at the port and the labour employed at the port is mostly from Sindh. The transporters whose vehicles ply the coastal highway are Pathan; the law enforcers operating across Balochistan are all Pathan and Punjabi.
If a Baloch villager is found carrying a few cans of unauthorised Iranian petrol in order to sell it to make a living, he is harshly punished and without due process; even his vehicle is impounded. He has to bribe his way out. This despite the fact that most of the petrol sold in Balochistan comes illegally from Iran, transported by petrol barons for whom the law enforcers conveniently look the other way. The same goes for the smuggling of ration provisions, liquor and other contrabands by non-Baloch smugglers.
The grievances of the Baloch are real and not imaginary. In his own homeland an average Baloch is treated like a man colonised by the many arms of the state which only know how to twist his arm. Little wonder then, that nationalist leaders, mainly highhanded sardars, should find resonance for their own causes with the Baloch people.
The Makran region comprising the coastal belt and areas bordering Iran, where much of the wrongdoing goes on and smugglers make millions a day, has no sardari system. The socioeconomic system in this Baloch-majority region is cooperative rather than competitive. No cruel, depraved sardars exist here. But there is widespread resentment and frustration among the people, hence their support for the sardars as their sole spokesmen.
Whenever in the past the sardars struck deals with Islamabad, not a drop of honeydew coming their way trickled down to these utterly impoverished Baloch. If Gen Musharraf, and rulers before him and those that have followed him, had established a somewhat equitable distribution of the wealth generated by this region, the situation today would be very different. But the people have been left at the mercy of the highhanded state machinery on the one hand and Baloch sardars, who now claim to be their messiahs, on the other.
What Shah Zain Bugti has been saying makes much sense. Even under these extremely extraordinary circumstances, he is not demanding extraordinary measures for Balochistan but pleading for provincial autonomy, which will benefit the other federating units equally. It’s the myriad government agencies operating in Balochistan which have no Baloch representation and which routinely break the law when it comes to penalising the Baloch that are the biggest hurdle in the way of resolving the crisis.
The Baloch must be given due representation in state institutions; in the vast security apparatus as well as development projects that, emanating from Balochistan, continue to benefit everyone but the Baloch. Couple this with provincial autonomy and subject the operations of law-enforcement agencies to scrutiny and the crisis will be over. All it takes is will in Islamabad to survey reality and move to correct the many wrongs done to the Baloch in their own homeland.