By S. M. Hali
Tackling the Balochistan imbroglio is tantamount to cleaning the Augean Stables. According to Greek mythology, Hercules was set twelve labours to serve as penance. The fifth was to clean the stables where King Augeas kept 3000 oxen. The stables had not been cleaned for 30 years and its stench and filth was unbearable. Hercules diverted the River Alpheus through them and cleaned them in a day. Unfortunately no Hercules will come to save Balochistan, where the turmoil and strife is of more than six decades accretion, now posing serious threats to the state of Pakistan.
Volumes have been compiled on the causes of the morass that Pakistan’s largest province is submerged in despite being the richest in minerals, yet inhabited by the poorest and most backward citizens in terms of education, health, infrastructure and development. Successive regimes have dealt with the province with criminal neglect, while international forces have exploited internal dissensions leading to insurgency and conflict. Enough military action has been taken, which has only aggravated the situation instead of stemming the rot. The issue needs political solution.
In order to save Balochistan, a strategy must be evolved on war-footing, taking all the stake-holders into confidence and focusing on the core issues disregarding party line or personal interests if any. The problem must be addressed through practical steps rather than making false promises or just paying lip sympathy as has been done in the past. It is important to ensure that egoistic notions are set aside and the real purpose of retrieving Balochistan is kept in mind. Total and unbiased focus is the order of the day. Pakistan has already suffered the loss of its eastern wing in 1971, which broke away to become Bangladesh. Narrow nationalism, callous disregard and extreme prejudice drove the Bengalis away from the federation although they were in the forefront of the Pakistan Movement. One of Pakistan’s pioneering and brilliant bureaucrats Qudratullah Shahab, in his memoirs “Shahabnama”, writes when he was serving as undersecretary with Pakistan’s first Minister for Economic Affairs, Labour, Works & Rehabilitation, I.I. Chundrigar, during a meeting being held in the office of the Commerce Minister, Ghulam Muhammad, the agenda was to discuss the import of sanitary fittings for the official buildings under construction. There were four Ministers present, including Maulana Fazal-ur Rahman, the lone cabinet member from East Pakistan and a number of high officials attending the meeting. After prolonged discussions, the quantity, quality and quota of the sanitary fittings was decided. Maulana Fazal-ur-Rahman, who was the Minister for Information, Interior and Education, proposed that some quota for sanitary fittings for East Pakistan or at least the provincial capital Dhaka should also be allocated. The other participants at the meeting, who were all from West Pakistan, burst into laughter and one Minister coldheartedly remarked that “you Bengalis relieve yourselves in fields and behind banana trees, why do you need sanitary systems?” Qudratullah Shahab sadly comments that perhaps the foundations of Bangladesh were laid that day.
Unfortunately, we do not appear to have learnt any lessons whatsoever. We heartlessly look down upon the Balochis, consider them uncouth and uncultured and are not willing to give them their due role in the government or society. If some of them have taken up arms by their own conviction or at the behest of others, instead of labeling them terrorists, we should make concerted efforts to stop the targeting of settlers in Balochistan and reduce the grievances of the Balochis, by talking to them and trying wholeheartedly to bring them in the fold of development.
Foreign intervention in Balochistan is a reality, which must be condemned by all and sundry while Baloch loyalists should be motivated to come forward and play their role. However, it is more important to address the grouse and complaints of the Balochis, most of which is genuine but is being exploited by external sources. Alleged Indo-US designs to create independent Balochistan contiguous to US War Theater in Afghanistan, need to be analyzed objectively. The coastal region of Balochistan, which includes the port of Gawadar, is of prime interest to many foreign powers including the erstwhile USSR, which had invaded Afghanistan in its quest to reach the warm waters of the Indian Ocean through Balochistan. The support of China in building the port of Gawadar is eyed with suspicion by both India and the US, who would like to deny the facility to China. Moreover, the proximity of Iran makes Balochistan a lucrative launching pad for the elements, which have stakes in Iran. Foreign involvement in sectarian killings presents a blueprint of their designs.
Domestic media must be objective in its coverage of events. It must not project the desires and standpoint of dissident elements and must discourage the notion of separatism. There is also a need to dispel the impression that Law Enforcement Agencies alone are to be blamed for missing persons/tortured and mutilated bodies. The youth in Balochistan feels frustrated as it has not been given its due economic share to improve its living by the Baloch Sardars, and hence displays a tendency to deviate from traditional loyalty to Sardars. If the youth can be approached, guided and enabled to become the fresh generation of politicians, it could pave the way for a more developed Balochistan. However, the wrath of the Balochi youth can only be subsided if it can be reasoned with. The youth with will not pay credence to promises, it has to be brought on board with concrete actions and a participation in the development process. In the past, Baloch MPAs have misused the funds provided to them for the growth projects in their province, but they pocketed the budget of Rs. 25 Crores per year) failing to spend these funds on the people of Balochistan.
The Armed Forces have made some modest contribution to the development of Balochistan but it is too little and too late. The Central and provincial government needs to get its act together before Balochistan too severs its links with Pakistan.