Balochistan Crisis Essays

Pakistani tribal people protect themselves from the downwash of a Pakistan Army helicopter after receiving relief goods for the first time at the mountainous village of Chittarwatta in Balochistan province, western Pakistan, Thursday, Aug. 26, 2010. – AP Photo

It is not for nothing that the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has used the term “blinkered vision” when referring to the state's handling of Balochistan’s problem.

The problem in Balochistan is not just political or strategic – it is humanitarian. A vast majority of the people in the province – mainly in its Baloch-dominated central and southern regions – live below poverty line with next to no means of earning a livelihood. They have minimal access to education, health, roads, electricity and other means of communication. Most of them have never heard about a flush toilet, a sewerage disposal system and running tap water. Their ramshackle abodes are as basic as the temporary shelters in a badly run refugee camp and their belongings as nominal as those of any asset-less group of people in a war-ravaged African country. If this is not a humanitarian crisis, what is?

Those who see the trouble in Balochistan from the prism of politics – separatist groups, Balochistan-based politicians and political parties and the intellectuals mainly based in Quetta – refer to the humanitarian aspect of the problem only as much as it advances their arguments for greater political and economy autonomy or freedom. Same is the case with those for whom the trouble in the province is inexorably linked to Pakistan’s territorial integrity, national defence and the country’s place in the regional chessboard – read, the federal establishment, the armed forces and agencies as well as the intelligentsia based in Pakistan’s strategic, political and economic never centers. They cite the humanitarian issues in Balochistan in so far as these help them to discredit the separatists/insurgents and discount the social set up in Baloch areas of the province that revolves around tribes and their chieftains.

The sad part is that taking a tunnel view is not the exclusive domain of just one side to the problem. Both the sides, in fact, suffer from it when it comes to recognising, understanding and resolving the numerous and multifarious issues in the province in humanitarian terms.

Here is the nub of the flaw in the approach of the two sides: They treat the humanitarian angle of the trouble in Balochistan as an effect – either of the lack of political and economic freedom which hinders the Baloch people from taking ownership of their own development or of continued conflict that hampers the government and the state from investing in social sectors.

Consequently, the two camps are focusing their arguments in a zero-sum relationship between the resolution of the humanitarian problems and political and economic autonomy/freedom on the one hand and investment in a social infrastructure and control over the Baloch lands on the other. While the former demands autonomy ahead of development, the latter underpins the setting up of schools and hospitals and construction of roads with an end to insurgency, violence and conflict.

Any meaningful search for an effective solution should actually start from treating the humanitarian issues as the cause of the problems in Balochistan. The Baloch people remain beholden to their chiefs and indifferent towards the existence and the imperatives of the state because they do not know if trying to change these conditions would entail any change in the physical and social circumstances of their lives.

The reason that they are suffering under their hidebound tribal traditions as well as due to the excesses of an oppressive security state are not that they are not autonomous in conducting their political and economic affairs or some of their chieftains are too stubbornly troublesome for the general good of the Baloch society. They live as they do because they have never known, let alone experienced, anything other than their poverty, illiteracy and poor health. These appear to be the only conditions of life they have known since ages. They do not know if they have other options and nobody seems willing or bothered to let them know about those options. Without any meaningful and productive encounters with a school, a hospital and a road, they end up getting the worst of both the worlds – a tribal system that keeps them under the yoke of their chiefs and a state unwilling to change anything for the better for the Baloch people before it gets a firmer grip on their territory.

If the state wants to resolve the problem in Balochistan, it needs to do things differently from what it is doing now. Firstly, it must ensure that its security and intelligence personnel are not the first ones to get in touch with the young and the old in the Baloch society. secondly, it needs to raise the living standards of the Baloch by providing them education, healthcare, roads, electricity and clean drinking water – not as a political bribe to force them to take an oath of allegiance to Islamabad but as a genuine, sincere effort for their socio-humanitarian uplift so that they realise that there is a different life awaiting them if they refuse their chieftain’s control over their lives. Thirdly, it needs to continue devolving political and economic power to the Baloch people with an uninterrupted regularity including the holding of free and fair elections at the national, provincial and local levels. Lastly and most importantly, it should stop treating Balochistan only as a territory with strategic significance with no mentions to millions of people living in it and the precious mineral and hydrocarbon resources under their feet.

The champions of political and economic freedom should also understand that autonomy under the existing social indicators in the province will be meaningless for most Baloch people. Tribal chieftains and a small contingent of middle-class government officials and intellectuals will continue dominating the Baloch society in the foreseeable future as the tribe-based politics, security forces and the settlers do now.

If they are looking for a feasible change, they first need to heavily focus on the social transformation of the Baloch society. To achieve that, they should complement their struggle for political and economic rights with a large scale civic activism to educate the Baloch, raising the level of their socio-political consciousness and educating them about the need for acquiring the modern amenities of life. Only when such a socio-political consciousness exists can the Baloch political leaders and intelligentsia expect a mass following for the causes of freedom. Otherwise, their efforts towards these goals will be of the few and by the few which, even if they succeed, will achieve political and economic autonomy – even freedom – that will be only for the few and by the few. It is, therefore, in the field of humanitarian development of the Baloch people that the battle for their hearts and minds should be waged – and lost and won.

Badar Alam is editor of the political monthly magazine, Herald.

Written by: JWT Deskon April 8, 2016.

The Baloch problem has so far mostly been seen from the lens of the classic realist angle of national security. The pathologies identified and the remedies suggested for resolution of the crisis also, therefore, bear a strong imprimatur of a security-centred approach.

It is time the simmering discontent was doused with a human-security-centric approach appealing directly to the public weal of a disenfranchised and disempowered population suffering from a ‘de jure-de facto’ paradox of a weakly-governed province.

The de jure reality of Balochistan features an electoral process and the representative institutions that promise inclusiveness and plurality but the reality is different. The low voter turnout in the Makran belt and the captive voters paying obeisance to entrenched tribal hierarchy elsewhere reflect the de facto reality where the tyranny of geography combines with the apathy of the leadership at the expense of the hapless populace.

Why Baloch issues have not been addressed as per a human-centric paradigm should be an interesting question to begin a debate on the causes, consequences and remedies of the conflict. Our policy planners and security analysts associated with the policy prescriptions in the province have for far too long wrestled with the political dimensions of the issue, to the exclusion of a socioeconomic strategy that could have ameliorated the lot of the common people.

There has been little focus on human security while framing the parameters of the security debate on the Baloch conflict in the past. The human security concept that espouses the safety of humans from myriad threats, like hunger, disease, violence, poverty and joblessness, runs against the grain of our accumulated security wisdom weaned on the classic security precepts defined by scholars like Barry Buzan, who amongst the trinity of security referents — individuals, state and the international system — privileged the state over all others.

What badly needs to be understood is that state security is a consequence, and not the cause of human security. Social constructivists like Ole Waever have tried to challenge the above state-centric concept of security by presenting a new concept of human security where poverty, disease and violence replace the wars and revolutions in the threat matrix of security debate.

If we carefully analyse the history of Baloch discontent that found violent expression in 1948, 1962-63, 1973-77 and 2003 onwards, a clear pattern of socioeconomic deprivation coupled with a strong narrative of resource-exploitation is discernible; this was capitalised upon with varying success by different armed uprisings. Countering all past uprisings with the kinetic instrument the underlying causes of the discontent have not been addressed by the state of Pakistan.

Sustainable peace through solid state building requires a very high degree of statesmanship as well as empathy with public grievances. In a very perceptive commentary, ‘An Agenda for State-Building in the Twenty-First Century’, by Ashraf Ghani, et al, the authors point out the need for removing the root causes of the conflict, as well as for investment in human security without which post-conflict stability will invariably relapse into instability. As per social scientists Collier and Hoeffler, the interplay of four variables — per capita income, natural resource endowment, inequality and ethno-linguistic fragmentation — magnifies the chances of a civil war.

With income per capita as low as $400, 52 percent of households living below the poverty line, unresolved feelings of provincial resource exploitation and ethno-linguistic fragmentations like Baloch-Punjabi, and Pakhtun-Baloch, the province’s witches’ brew of grievances presents propitious conditions for an intractable conflict.

The provincial political scene presents a structural malaise with the usual political jockeying for key appointments while a vast swathe of politically conscious population in the Makran belt is effectively under the thrall of ethnic particularists. What are the reasons of public disenchantment with the government? Why is the separatist narrative, though externally abetted, still holding public imagination?

The answer to the above questions lies in the seven elements of human security — physical, food, health, community, political, environment and economic security. Economic security’s most important dimension is job creation which is directly linked with poverty. According to a World Bank-sponsored Balochistan Economic Report, the province needs 158,000 jobs and a growth rate of 6.5 percent annually to lift a significant percentage of the poverty-affected population above the poverty line.

The demographic realities of a fast increasing, yet young, population present job creation challenges to a government that relies more on politics of patronage than merit or equity. Poor utilisation of large disbursements by the federal government for poverty alleviation and development has exacerbated the socioeconomic inequalities in the province. With large development funds gobbled up by a hungry political and administrative machinery, the people are left at the mercy of fate and a tyrannical geography. Due to large distances and poor communication network the scattered population finds it difficult to integrate with the mainstream of the provincial economy.

The uncertain security situation has significantly diminished the prospects of foreign investment and resource exploration of a mineral- and-energy rich province. There is no doubt that due to the remoteness of locations and low population, the cost of service delivery is very high in Balochistan but the will to deliver is also woefully lacking. With a bloated and poorly skilled bureaucracy having the largest sanctioned strength of officials compared to all provinces overseen by a political leadership concerned more with their perks and privileges the odds are heavily stacked against the common people.

Balochistan requires significant resource allocation for bringing meaningful changes in living standards due to its vast geography and dispersed population. A disproportionate investment in terms of infrastructural development is required compared to other high-density compact provinces like Punjab and Sindh to make any impact on the socioeconomic life of people.

When translated into electoral gains, the recompense for the development initiatives of the political leadership is minimal in Balochistan as compared to other provinces. This has been the tragedy of this geographically largest province so far. Socially segmented, politically excluded and economically marginalised, the new Baloch generation has risen up in revolt.

Small wonder then that the effect of the non-Sardar-led armed uprising is the greatest in the Makran belt known for its relatively high literacy rate and political consciousness. But amidst all this doom and gloom, a silver lining illumines the path towards progress. That silver lining is the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, which if properly handled can act as a game changer for Balochistan.

Here is a chance for a government whose development initiatives in Balochistan were hamstrung by lack of political dividends to synergise the province’s infrastructural development with the CPEC in order to improve the connectivity of this province with the lowest road length per kilometre in the country.

The infrastructural development should be coordinated with job creation and improved access to public amenities like safe drinking water, health and education. Political reforms to break the stranglehold of Sardars and clans are also needed for wooing back the estranged sub-nationalists of the BLF in the Makran belt.

People-centred equitable development and inclusive polity is, therefore, the scarlet thread that would bind state and human security into a symbiotic relationship for the survival and prosperity of the federation as well as Balochistan.

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