Saturday, April 18, 2009

Balochistan: Conflict and Solution - 3

-- On Tue, 4/14/09, Humanist wrote:

Why do Balochi want to split up and break Pakistan when they did not do anything for Pakistan's betterment in anytime. Why do Balochi Sardars consider national assetts as the personal property. Why do Balochi Sardars cannot see their people getting education? Why do they threat govt when govt open any school in their areas?Why Balochi Sardars kept innocent baloch masses as their slaves for centuries and want to continue this habbit? Why Balochi Sardars are earning millions and billions of dollars and arms from USA,India and Russia?

Baloch and their sardars By Anwar Syed [The writer is professor emeritus of political science at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, US]

GENERAL Musharraf would have us believe that the current insurrection in Balochistan is primarily the work of a few self-serving tribal sardars. They hold their tribesmen in utter subjection, exploit them, and force upon them a life of ignorance and misery. They oppose the government’s moves to bring modernization to the province, because they fear that the resulting awakening of the people will make for their (sardars’) eventual demise.

Khan of Qallat with Muhammad Ali Jinnah

Actually, there is a lot more to the situation. Baloch grievances are well known, and I do not wish to repeat them here. I shall instead explore the Baloch political culture.

Baloch society is largely tribal. Beyond the family, tribe is the oldest social unit in human experience, and it continues to exist in several regions of the world. It is usual for a tribe, wherever it may be, to have a headman or chief and some sort of a council of elders to settle disputes and manage its collective affairs. It has been the same way in Balochistan.

There are nomadic tribes that go from place to place in search of pasture to feed the animals they raise. The difference of possessions (goat, sheep, etc.) between members is not substantial. All are nearly equal, and all may participate in deciding how any particular problem is to be handled. The tribe is thus democratic in its ethos. There is little scope for the sardar in this situation to become a tyrant.

Sardar Ataullah Khan Mengal, Former Cheif Minister Balochistan.

Then there is the “sedentary” tribe. It is pretty much settled in one place. Some of its members may still roam around, looking for grasslands for their sheep and goat, but many of them may also do a bit of farming. Differences of possessions, and the resulting gradations of status, here can be substantial. Disputes among members are more frequent and so is crime. The sardar is likely to become more a ruler than a first among equals. There is also the opportunity for him to become a tyrant. Tribes in Balochistan used to be largely nomadic, but that does not appear to be the case any more: most of them are now sedentary.

Tribes in parts of Africa are inclined to be pacific. But more often, and in most places, they tend to be warlike. Even if violence within a tribe is controlled, inter-tribal warfare is common, and that remains the case in Balochistan as well. In speaking of the Baloch in this regard, I shall rely on Justice Khuda Bakhsh Marri’s eminent work, entitled Searchlight on Baloches and Balochistan (1974).

“The principal occupation of Baloches” he says, “has been, and to a great extent still is, constant inter-tribal and clan warfare. If, however, opportunities for such indulgences are not available, a Baloch will occupy himself with a family feud.” This “wild drama of blood-letting” may subside as social conditions change, “but the pace of progress is painfully slow.” In the same vein a characterization of the Baloch written by Sir Charles Napier around 1848 (which Justice Marri says still holds good for the most part) may be instructive for our present policy makers:

“The Baloochee, though fierce and habituated to acquire property by violence, is shrewd, and has a strong, though savage, sense of dignity and honour. A combination of coercion, respectful treatment, generosity and temptation, may therefore bend him to better habits. To fight and plunder is his vocation. The Baloochee warrior loves his race, his tribe, not the general community which he regards but as a prey and a spoil. With men of his temper a change of dynasty (government) will be little regarded if their own dignities and possessions are respected.”

Late. Sardar Akbar Bugti.

(If the Baloch have always been, and still are, the fighting sort, one may wonder why they have no noticeable presence in Pakistan’s armed forces.)

Generally speaking, each tribe possesses a specific tract of territory, originally taken by conquest or through bargaining with the neighbouring tribes. The sardar, whose office is hereditary, is assigned a portion of the land that is the tribe’s common property, but he cannot sell it. He and heads of clans within the tribe (“Mukkadams”), also hereditary, constitute a council that settles issues, including those of war and peace. The Mukkadam is assisted by a “Wadera” in each clan and by “Motabars” in the sub-clans or groupings of families.

As the British saw it, Balochistan had strategic value in that it provided gateways to Afghanistan and Iran; otherwise it was a vast but barren, unyielding, and unprofitable region. They did not want to put money into building the infrastructure needed to govern its small population. They opted for a system of indirect rule. They moved to strengthen the tribal system and its hierarchy. They gave the sardars and mukkadams stipends, pensions, grants, and other privileges and sought to control the tribes through them.

The Frontier Crimes Regulation Act (1901) recognized the sardars and other functionaries in the tribal hierarchy, and allowed its customary law to prevail. The government did not interfere with its operation. The council of elders (‘jirga’) settled disputes subject to the British political agent’s approval, which he gave routinely except in politically sensitive cases.

A sardar retained his office on condition of loyalty to the British government. Doubt on that score could result in his removal and replacement by one of his more trusted relatives or tribesmen. The sardars were, in return, expected to maintain peace and order in their respective tribes. They were left free to burden their tribesmen with heavy taxes, and they were under no obligation to provide education, health care, or any other amenities to their people, who remained ignorant and economically deprived.

Their deprivation did not abate much even after independence. Steps should have been taken to disestablish the sardari system. Successive governments denounced it, and some of them issued declarations that it was about to be abolished. But nothing of the kind ever happened. The ruling politicians, both civil and military, and the higher bureaucrats, partook of the British outlook and attitude towards Balochistan: too large an area, too few people, too expensive to develop and modernize.

The system of indirect rule continued in parts of Balochistan, and so did the British practice of dispensing funds to tribal chiefs and other notables in the expectation that they would keep the peace, which sometimes they did and other times they didn’t. The Frontier Crimes Regulation, under which the jirgas administered justice, remained in operation, and the laws of Pakistan did not apply, in territories designated as “tribal areas,” for instance, the lands occupied by the Bugti and Marri tribes. I gather that even at this time regular police establishments and courts are missing in 14 of the 28 districts of the province, and that qazi courts function in Gwadar.

The foregoing should not be taken to mean that no social change whatsoever has taken place in Balochistan during the last 50 years. A university in Quetta has been functioning for quite some time, and numerous new colleges and schools have been established, even though the level of literacy here is still the lowest in the country, quite a few among the younger generations have had college education and become politically aware. Un-fortunately, most of them have nowhere to go, because the economy has remained stagnant, and jobs have been hard to find. The sardars, when they are dissatisfied with their receipts from the government, or when their dominance is threatened, proceed to make alliances with the educated, but frustrated, younger folks, as they are doing at this time.

How is the sardars’ alleged opposition to economic development and modernization to be overcome? The sardari system is still with us because those in power did not have a strong enough interest in abolishing it. I see no evidence to suggest that the present government wants to do away with it. Musharraf only wants the sardars to stop making trouble for him.

There are scores of tribes in Balochistan and as many sardars. The larger ones (e.g., Marris, Bugtis, Mengals) and their sardars are politically significant: they constitute centres of power not only because of their numbers but because they are armed with modern weapons. Many observers are telling us that resort to military force is not a viable strategy for dealing with the Baloch sardars and dissidents. It has not worked in the past (1973-77), and it will not work now. They warn also that the attempt to suppress the Baloch dissidents may take us to a replay of the tragedy of 1971.

What is then to be done? It may be useful to revisit Sir Charles Napier’s prescription quoted above. Leave coercion out, and take the rest: respectful approach, generosity and temptation. In other words, the government could compensate its opponents for their acquiescence without hurting their sense of honour and dignity. It may be said that the government has indeed been following this approach, but that the sardars now say its offerings are not good enough. Moreover, their alliance with the politicized classes calls for a different modus operandi.

Two other approaches come to mind. The more notables of the sardars, or their designees, and leaders of the dissident groups may be inducted as participants in the making and implementation of development and modernization plans for Balochistan. Let them be the ones to award contracts, sell or allot plots of land, direct the hiring of the needed workforce, and generally supervise the implementation process. If gains are to be made for those who manage it, let them be the ones to make those gains.

Dissidents in Balochistan and elsewhere complain that they were cheated out of power through rigged elections. That the elections were rigged is generally conceded. The resulting estrangement from the present political system acts like a cancer that threatens to destroy the body politic. If its health is to be restored, free and fair elections must be held as soon as possible. No individual’s notion that his continuance in office is essential to the country’s well-being, and no group’s lust for power, should be allowed to stand in the way.

Sardars and the nationalists By Kunwar Idris [Former Chief Secretary Sindh]

THE grievance of Sindh and Balochistan against Punjab and the army (both are viewed as one and the same) for their stranglehold on political power and natural resources is as old as Pakistan itself. The discontent, never far from the surface, at intervals erupts into a loud protest emanating from Sindh and a low-level insurgency in Balochistan as is the case now.

The grievance is nurtured and _expression given to it by the sardars, or tribal chieftains in Balochistan, and in Sindh by the youth, writers and lawyers. Mumtaz Bhutto, perhaps, is the only sardar among them. Quite understandably, then, the thrust of the struggle in Balochistan is on political power but on economic rights in Sindh.

In Balochistan, the most influential among the sardars and their tribes (Marri, Bugti, Mengal and Achakzai Pathan) have little say in the administration of the province. The governor doesn?t belong to the province (in the other three provinces they do) and the chief minister, too, belongs to a subsidiary tribe. In Sindh, the primary concern is about the lands being grabbed and industry and business being dominated by people who are not sons of the soil or even permanent inhabitants of the province.

Sardar Khair Bux Marri.

The causes of discontentment and its intensity may vary but, assuredly, they reinforce the cultural and lingual affinities that already exist between the people of the two provinces. Only their leaders, because of their diverse backgrounds, interests and aims have not been able to harness it to their common advantage.

In dealing with the occasional outbursts of violence or sabotage in Balochistan, the federal authority, or the Punjabi-army juggernaut as the sardars and nationalists call it, has to rely entirely on the paramilitary forces or on the military itself. The elements opposed to the sardars are too weak to rally round and help the government and the clerics wield no influence on the fiercely secular tribes. Such has been the strategy in the past and it is no different this time round. In fact, the reliance on the use of force is increasing as the authority of the political agent and his levies is on the wane.

The sardars may have been sidelined politically but their hold on the tribes remains intact. They may not be doing much for the welfare of their isolated, primitive folks but government officials do even less while extorting more. That is why the sardars last and rule. The brief army forays or long-lasting garrisons, thus, have not made much of a dent in the tribal structure nor impaired the authority of the sardar, although when the troops camp in his area he himself might be camping in Karachi or in London.

In Sindh, on the other hand, hardly ever is the use of force necessary to deal with nationalists whose protest seldom goes beyond fiery rhetoric. They do not have the leisure, money or armed retinues of the Baloch sardars. Most among them are always able to reconcile their nationalist fervour with a role in the government. They might be ardent nationalists but suffer no qualms of conscience when working as ministers in a highly centralized system.

If insurgency in Balochistan is a recurring phenomenon which can be easily quelled and if Sindhi nationalists are generally peaceable in pursuing their agenda, why put this issue under the spotlight now? There have been some recent developments which should induce Punjab, the army and indeed all mainstream forces of the country to sit up and take notice.

After a long and frustrating effort, Mumtaz Bhutto seems to be succeeding in bringing Sindh?s well-known nationalist thinkers, and rabble-rousers on to one platform under the name of the Sindh Qaumi Ittehad. The sardars and other nationalists of Balochistan, too, are engaged in a similar enterprise. The nationalists of the two provinces plan to forge a united front. Time and emerging issues are on their side.

The nationalists should not be treated as mavericks or secessionists but as exponents of regional identity, rights and powers. Their demand for a confederation or restricting the centre to three or four subjects may be on the extreme but in the present situation the provincial governments are no more than field offices of the federal authority and that is also wholly untenable.

The situation calls for a compromise. But a stray remark recently made by the president that opposing the army amounts to opposing democracy is an invitation to confrontation. No less confrontational is a statement by Makhdum Amin Fahim that if the Kalabagh dam is built the smaller provinces would secede from the federation.

When a cool-headed and committed Pakistani like Makhdum Amin Fahim is driven to talk of secession, Punjab and the army should not remain indifferent. He may be reacting to frequent and insulting insinuations made by some ministers against those who oppose the dam but his statement mirrors the dissatisfaction of the intelligentsia and also of the common people with the legal and administrative position of Sindh in the present federal arrangement. The provincial leaders, indeed, feel insulted when Information Minister Sheikh Rashid challenges them (the source of his confidence should be in no doubt) that ?we? will build not one but three dams on the Indus. And another minister, Sher Afgan, tells them that it is not the people but the big landlords of Sindh who are against the dam because the surplus water flowing down the Indus irrigates their illegally occupied (kutcha) lands in the riverine tract. Both ministers seem to be unaware of the depth of public feeling against the dam or are insensitive to it. If they are not perturbed by what Makhdum Amin Fahim says they should ask Illahi Buksh Soomro or any other Sindhi considered more moderate than him that they may know of.

Similar ministerial disdain marks the attitude of the federation when Balochistan asks for greater say in control over its natural gas and coastal waters. It hardly has any other resource. Defiance is in the blood and in the bones of the Baloch and nationhood is still a dream with them but the battle hardened sardars are getting weary. One of them, Ataullah Mengal, said in private the other day that they do not want to leave the federation but are being pushed out of it.

The president and his men might still insist that reason is on their side. But has reason alone ever held a country together? We ourselves reasoned with the Bengalis for 24 years but never spared a moment for their sentiments.

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