By Brig Asif Haroon Raja
Balochistan despite being the richest province of Pakistan in terms of natural resources has remained backward and neglected. There have been sporadic spurts of violence unleashed by the Baloch nationalists who are convinced that their resources are being plundered by other provinces and resource-rich Balochistan would be better off independently. This feeling germinated in their minds after the discovery of natural gas reserves at Sui in 1952 and its denial to them till as late as 1979. Extreme poverty, lack of education and health facilities make the province a fertile area for foreign hunters to fish in troubled waters of Balochistan and exploit the simple and gullible people for their vested interests. Tyrannical hold of the Sardars, Nawabs and Mirs over their respective tribes in the tribal belt is yet another factor of impoverishment and backwardness of the province. Those defying the commands of the Sardar are either put in dungeons to rot for the rest of their lives or are brutally killed. Successive governments in Pakistan, both civilian and military have been leaning on the Sardars to keep Balochistan in control. Not only Sardars were bribed with cash and high office, their inter-tribal rivalries were exploited by pitching one Sardar against the other to meet political ends.
Previously, Afghanistan, former USSR and India were the trouble makers who would support the Baloch dissidents. Now the US and its allies India, Britain, Israel, Afghanistan and few other countries are meddling in Balochistan in a big way since 2002 and have succeeded in destabilizing the province to quite an extent. There are reports that even Russia may be having a finger in the pie. The harmony between the locals and non-locals has been disturbed making it extremely difficult for the settlers, mainly the Punjabis to stay in Balochistan, particularly in Baloch dominated districts. The Persian speaking Hazaras originally belonging to Afghanistan are also the target of Baloch nationalists and religious extremists.
Both the democratically elected civilian and military governments failed to remove the sense of deprivation of the people of Baluchistan. Rather than removing their grievances and bringing about reconciliation, they resorted to force to solve the Balochistan tangle. While ZA Bhutto dismissed Balochistan and Frontier governments in 1973 and provoked insurgency, and then initiated a prolonged military operation against the insurgents, the decade old democratic era under Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif from 1988 to 1999 did little for Balochistan which gave reason to the Baloch nationalist parties to foment sense of disillusionment among the Baloch by crying out that they were being exploited and neglected.
However, none can deny that military regimes did a great deal better than civilian regimes to remove the socio-economic inequities of the backward provinces. Maximum development work was done by Field Marshal Ayub Khan in former East Pakistan and even Gen Yahya Khan allocated greater development funds to remove East-West inequities. Had 1965 war not taken place and had East Pakistan crisis fuelled by India not spun out of control in 1971, the imbalance to a large extent could have been corrected. When Gen Ziaul Haq took over, he defused the 1973 insurgency by releasing political leaders undergoing trials under Hyderabad tribunal, initiated development works and generated greater economic activities. Border with Iran was opened up for free trade which flooded markets with cheaper Iranian goods and made the business community prosperous. Removal of ZA Bhutto and later his hanging in April 1979 together with start of Afghan war in December 1979 which flooded NWFP and Balochistan with Afghan refugees were other factors which distracted the nationalists and brought calm in Balochistan. All mega projects were initiated by Gen Musharraf which included Kachhi Canal, Mirani Dam, Gawadar Port, Makran Coastal Highway, Saindak Copper Project and Quetta Water Supply Scheme. Over 300% increase was made in the national budget for development programs. His uplift and welfare policies are being pursued by the present government though at a decreased pace and undertaken by the armed forces.
Had the development works which started in 2001/2002 in Balochistan and system of free education to the youth in best schools together with host of other welfare programs and induction of Baloch youth in armed forces and other government departments which commenced in 2007/2008 been undertaken in mid 1970s, the situation in Balochistan by now would have been quite different. The youth couldn’t have been exploited by external forces and disgruntled elements within the province in the name of sense of deprivation.
The PPP led government made a beginning with an apology by President Zardari and an assurance that the grievances of Balochistan will be addressed. All high profile political leaders were released and those in exile were pardoned and asked to return. The Army was returned to the barracks in May 2008, military operations of all sorts were stopped and the security was handed over to the Frontier Corps. No covert or overt war has been conducted since then and the troops of 12 Corps are confined to seven cantonments. Not single Army personnel are on any operational duty in that province. Even Kohlu and Sui towns approved to be converted into military garrisons are being developed as educational cities. Thousands of students have been enrolled in the schools and colleges of Sui and in Cadet College of Kohlu. Establishment of modern medical institute in Quetta Cantonment is a gift for the Baloch people. In this, the Baloch students will avail 80% quota. After the passage of 18th Amendment in the Constitution, the question of provincial autonomy stands resolved. Aghaz-e-Haqooq-e-Balochistan package was announced and NFC Award revised to grant greater share to Balochistan.
Although PM Raja Ashraf has extended an olive branch to the estranged Baloch leaders by opening the doors for talks but he categorically stated that this offer is for only those who believed in the constitution and respected the national flag. This is notwithstanding that the government is trying to woo Brahamdagh Bugti and Harbyar Marri, the two chief proponents of Baluchistan’s independence. Raja Ashraf urged all estranged Baloch leaders to take part in the coming general elections and assured them that it would be free, fair and transparent. He solicited all practical ideas that could help in improving the situation in restive Balochistan.
Situation in Baluchistan is going through a critical stage which warrants positive contributions from all and sundry to avoid another debacle. Foreign powers governed by their strategic and commercial interests are hell bent to detach Balochistan from the body of Pakistan. Their designs need to be defeated through collective efforts. Foremost requirement is to ensure good governance in the province. Since it is not within the capability of provincial ministry to govern, there is a need to oil up the administrative machinery by posting honest, upright and efficient officers. The chief secretary should be a go-getter who should run the show particularly when the chief minister spends most of his time in Islamabad and other ministers are disinterested and involved in criminal activities. All ongoing developmental projects must be completed with speed.
Media should play a role in highlighting the pitfalls of separatist agenda and the dangerous designs of foreign powers wanting to plunder the mineral resources and enslaving the people of Balochistan. Media should also expose the real face of Sardars, particularly the dissident Sardars leading high-heeled life abroad and sacrificing the commoners. The patriotic fervor of the Baloch youth should be aroused through well-conceived cultural programs, dramas and talk-shows on stage, radio and TV. Provision of free education to the Baloch students and their enrolment in armed forces and jobs in government departments must continue to remove sense of deprivation. Education, justice and prosperity alone will curb extremism and arouse patriotism.