Saturday, April 18, 2009

Balochistan: Nothing but provincial autonomy By Shamim-ur-Rahman

Nothing but provincial autonomy By Shamim-ur-Rahman

Mr. Shamim-ur-Rahman is a Senior Correspondent with Daily Dawn - Pakistan

Welcome to a generous selection of articles from DAWN's Weekly Magazine. This page is updated every Sunday.

[This artilce appeared in 2006]

‘Whoever comes to Balochistan from outside should not have the right to vote. If this doesn’t happen, then political rights and leadership of the Baloch people will be taken over by those who don’t belong to the province. Once an outsider working in Balochistan is included in the voters’ list, he will usurp political rights of the locals along with their employment opportunities,’ says Hasil Bizenjo.

Typical Baloch Folk Singer

Violence is rampant in Balochistan. Almost on a daily basis people are being killed in the province. As the military operation is going on in the region, both sides — the government and those who are fighting against it — are seen trading allegations. The government is once again blaming the involvement of a ‘foreign hand’ in the situation, calling the attackers terrorists and law-breakers. On the other hand, the government is also being accused of committing excesses against the people as many children and women have lost their lives in the conflict.

Baloch Tribesman in Traditional Balochi Turban

Recently, Dawn Magazine put some questions related to the situation in Balochistan to the Secretary-General of the National Party, Mir Hasil Bizenjo, who believes that the current struggle is not a new phenomenon. It has been going on from the time when the British hadn’t even left the subcontinent. According to him, before partition of the subcontinent the same leadership of the Baloch people was fighting against the British. The first political platform that was formed in Balochistan at that time was “Ustama Gal” (National Party) — Mir Abdul Aziz Kurd, Mir Ghous Baksh Bizenjo, Gul Khan Naseer and Malik Yousufzai were its members.

Mir Hasil Bizenjo says that after the Union Jack was lowered in the subcontinent, three independent states emerged. Burma, the Kalat state and India, and consequently Pakistan came into being. On August 11, Balochistan’s independence was announced because it was among those states that were not under the viceroy’s rule. But when the Quaid-i-Azam, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, approached two or three smaller states which were ruled by Kalat but were not a part of it — such as Kharan, Makran and Lasbela — they acceded to Pakistan on their own and without consulting the Kalat state. The other part of Balochistan, which was then called the British Balochistan, comprised lands they had taken from the Khan of Kalat — Quetta, Noshki and Pushtoon — on lease. Marri and Bugti agencies were part of that. The Marris and the Bugtis also joined Pakistan. The Khanate of Kalat’s own parliament had all the Sardars of Balochistan as members of its upper house. And all the political activists who were then called Aalijah were members too. Both the houses rejected the proposal to join Pakistan.

The Quaid-i-Azam’s stand was that a Muslim state was being created which they should join. But in his speech Mir Ghous Baksh Bizenjo, who was a member of the lower house, took the stance that if it was the case of being a Muslim state, then Iran and some others should also be made part of it. If that was not the case, it was not necessary for Balochistan to join Pakistan. Despite that, in Karachi, the Khan of Kalat on his own announced accession to Pakistan under an agreement. It envisaged that the sovereign position of the Kalat state would be maintained and its privileges and laws would not be changed. It would not be completely merged into Pakistan.

After the sad demise of the Quaid-i-Azam difficulties cropped up when Iskandar Mirza came to power. He refused to adhere to previous agreements and said it was part and parcel of Pakistan. And thus he fired the first salvo at Balochistan. In 1958, for the first time the Pakistan Army was asked to move into Balochistan when Ayub Khan took over the reins of the country. As a result, many Balochis went into the mountains. Ayub Khan captured the Kalat state and the Khan of Kalat. Many of his family members were also arrested and killed. During this period, Ustama Gal took the form of a proper political group and it joined hands with G.M. Syed’s and Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan’s party and formed the National Party. As Molana Bhashani joined the party, it was transformed into the National Awami Party at his insistence.

Hasil Bizenjo also refers to the DAC movement against Ayub Khan that led to his and One Unit’s collapse after which Balochistan emerged as a compact entity. In Balochistan and the NWFP, the NAP formed a coalition with the JUI. The first problem the new government faced was that of framing the constitution because if the two units had not signed it, it would not have been possible to frame the constitution. When Z.A. Bhutto dismissed Balochistan and NWFP governments, the people of Balochistan again went into the mountains. This can be termed as the longest military operation in the province. It ended when Ziaul Haq took over. Bhutto was hanged and the Hyderabad tribunal was disbanded. All the allegations that are being levelled against Baloch leaders these days were levelled against them in 1973 as well.

Talking about the genesis of the current crisis, Hasil Bizenjo says since 1973, two types of political thinking in Balochistan have taken root. One was that democratic struggle should continue and through that Balochistan’s rights should be secured and protected. But the proponents of the other type of thinking advocated an armed struggle as the only solution to get rid of dictatorship. They believed that military rulers and dictators only understood that kind of language. The two approaches are different. And the federal government, particularly the military, is playing a significant role in pushing the Baloch people towards militancy. Gen Musharraf has decided that he can herd everyone with the same stick which is evident from the use of brute force in Waziristan and his attitude towards Sindh with respect to the Kalabagh dam and other sensitive issues, not to mention his policies in Balochistan. Mir Hasil Bizenjo believes that if the military continues this operation with the same intensity, then ‘resorting to militancy’ will be the most popular slogan in Balochistan.

The following are excerpts from the interview:

Q: When Mir Ghous Buksh Bizenjo was governor of Balochistan, he raised the slogan “Balochistan first”. It created a lot of tension and was used as a pretext by Bhutto to dismiss the NAP government in the NWFP and Balochistan. Even now it is said that it’s an attempt to get hold of Balochistan’s resources. And that the development projects announced by the government in the province would not benefit the people of Balochistan. How far is this argument credible? Has the process of colonization begun in the province?

A: This is not our argument alone. Sindh and the NWFP speak about the same issues. It is a totally wrong concept that we oppose development. The basic question is about the nature and modalities of development.That is why the basic demand of Balochistan’s political parties is that provinces must be given maximum autonomy. Trust them and give them the authority to undertake development projects in their respective provinces.

Balochistan’s biggest natural resource is gas. It was discovered in 1952 and the federation has earned more than 500 billion rupees from it, but not even its two per cent has been spent on Balochistan. If gas was explored in Balochistan then it’s the right of the Baloch people to be the first beneficiary of this natural resource. It is also the first right of Balochistan as far as its utility is concerned. If gas was not discovered in 1952, then Pakistan would have used some other imported source of energy and its cost would have gone up to trillions of rupees.

After the discovery of gas, development took place in the whole of Pakistan. The Saindak project is in Balochistan. Its raw material and mines are in Balochistan. Ironically, its 50 per cent profit is taken by China, 48 per cent by the federal government, and only two per cent is given to the province. The government should have spent at least 50 per cent of the revenue generated from any natural resource on the province of its origin. Gas is supplied to the whole of Punjab, Sindh and the NWFP, but till 1980 people used coal in Quetta because there was no gas supply. Even today a large portion of Quetta is without gas. We do not oppose development of ports. But the government’s claim of starting mega projects in Balochistan is misleading. They have constructed the Mirani dam costing Rs7 billion. It irrigates 35,000 acres of land. In 1993, Ghulam Ishaq Khan told us in Quetta that he had then visited the Mirani dam site. He retired as president of the country and the dam was still not constructed.

There is no mega project in the region, because the government is constructing its own buildings worth more than nine or 10 billion rupees in other parts of the country. For the first time in the country’s history they have built two roads here. One is the coastal highway, while they are constructing the Gwadar-Khuzdar road as well. These are not mega projects. These are our rights, which we should have had 25 or 30 years ago. Balochistan is almost half of Pakistan. If you can build a network of highways in the rest of the country and are in the process of building just the second such highway in Balochistan, claiming as if something unusual has been given to our people, it is very misleading. We are not opposed to building ports. We have some reservations in this regard. And we think they’re justified.

Q: What are those reservations?

A: The government treats provinces in the One Unit way. If the Nazim of Karachi can manage such a big city, then he can also take care of the port. There are many countries in the world where ports function under local governments. Therefore, we have demanded that instead of giving its control to the Ministry of Communications, it should be given to the Balochistan government. If we can manage the whole province, we can also manage the Gwadar Port. Our argument is that Balochistan is the largest province of the country. Despite this, we don’t have the right to govern and manage our province’s affairs. What will happen if the Punjabis dominate Sindh and plunders its culture or the Sindhis do the same with Punjab? You don’t introduce big industrial ventures that would cause a huge population influx. Our coastal belts are in Bela and Gwadar. If you push about three million people from Sindh, Punjab, the NWFP or Central Asia into Balochistan, then where will the Balochis go? They will be non-existent.

We went into negotiations with the authorities to tell them to respect our rights so that our cultural, linguistic, economic, political, and other identities are protected. We are not yet calling it colonization, but if the government remains stubborn, then it will be the case. We suggested that whosoever came to Balochistan from outside should not have the right to vote. Because if you don’t do that then political rights and leadership of the Baloch people will be taken over by those who don’t belong to the province. Once an outsider working in Balochistan is included in the voters’ list, he will usurp political rights of the Baloch people along with employment opportunities.

Q: But don’t you think that while performing their duties in Balochistan outsiders would spend their income on the province?

A: Those who come to do such jobs usually don’t invest in their place of duty for about 10 to 15 years. They tend to transfer the money to their hometown. Even in Balochistan if a person from Turbat works in Quetta, he will usually send his savings to his village.

Q: During Ghous Buksh Bizenjo’s tenure it was demanded that those outsiders who were serving in Balochistan should pack their bags and leave for their provinces of origin. Is there any such demand now?

A: When the NAP government was formed, all officers in Balochistan, including in the police department, were from Punjab or were Punjabis. When the One Unit was abrogated, there was a provision that such employees in the federating provinces would return to their province of origin. Hence, in Balochistan those belonging to Punjab insisted that they wanted to go back. In the meantime Bhutto, who had ulterior motives, through Ghulam Mustafa Khar manipulated those people. I remember that for the first time in the history of Quetta the police had gone on a strike. The BSO took control of the situation and managed it. Sardar Ataullah in one of his interviews said that we had not decided to throw anybody out. He had even gone to the police bara khana and requested them not to go. But the policemen said they would leave. Perhaps Mr Khar had put in their minds the wrong and baseless assumption that the Baloch people would kill the Punjabis. They were either policemen or teachers. The National Party leadership went to them and asked them not to go. But they insisted that they would like to leave. When we requested teachers not to follow the police, they refused to oblige, knowing well that it would make the education system collapse. They suffered the most in Punjab. Back then, there was no anti-Punjabi mood in Balochistan. When this was going on, Sardar Ataullah Mengal as chief minister moved a resolution in the Balochistan Assembly to do away with the domicile category and suggested that those who had spent several generations in the province should be treated as locals. Saifullah Piracha, who was close to Bhutto and was the representative of settlers, was instrumental in undoing that resolution.

Q: But right now there’s a feeling that whatever is happening in Balochistan is not just anti-government, but is also a resistance movement against Punjab. What’s your take on it?

A: Whenever any problem crops up in smaller provinces, the establishment always plays games with them. Punjab is made to believe that smaller provinces are against it, while the three federating units are made to believe that Punjab and the Punjabis are responsible for all their woes. It is not true. Poverty is rampant in Punjab as well. There are many areas in Punjab which are poorer than Balochistan. Actually, it is not an anti-Punjab movement, but it is against the military establishment, because since 1947 either civil bureaucracy or the military has ruled this country. Democracy was never allowed to function properly. If democratic forces had flourished, the people of Punjab would have been powerful. Unfortunately in Pakistan the military has always ruled, either from behind the scene or otherwise, and it never spared anyone. It has not spared the Punjabis either. Therefore, I think the basic problem here is the military. Unless the four federating units do not send the military back to barracks, these problems will never be solved.

Q: Recently, Gen Musharraf and Sher Afgan Niazi gave statements in which they said that Punjab would not let the federal government survive if it did not pay heed to its demands. Are the mega projects launched in Balochistan Punjab-specific?

A: This impression has gained cogency because the Punjabis dominate bureaucracy and the military. But bureaucracy has its own vested interests and the Sardars and the Chaudhris are its allies. I do appreciate Punjab’s intelligentsia for not supporting Gen Musharraf’s thesis that Punjab will not allow any government to function if it does not support the Kalabagh dam. I believe that the traditional establishment comprising feudals, Sardars and Chaudhris and Islamabad’s establishment (comprising civil and military bureaucracy) are the two biggest monsters of this country.

Q: Keeping in mind the present situation, is there a need for drafting a new social contract or constitution?

A: Our demand is: whether you draft a new constitution or amend the existing one, you must include new realities in it. Now the federating units will not accept absolute power concentrated in the federation. We want the social contract on the basis of the 1940 resolution in which it’s clear that issues regarding foreign affairs, defence and currency should be handled by the federal government, and all tax-collecting and other powers should be given to the federating units.

The problem is that we were not able to resolve the differences that cropped up immediately after independence. As long as the federating units are not given their proper rights, whatever you may do, it will not change the situation and marginalization of democratic forces by militant and extremists forces will become more prominent. In order to resolve the current crisis, implementing the 1940 resolution in letter and spirit is the minimum basic requirement. If you recall, soon after usurping power Pervez Musharraf had talked of provincial autonomy, but he held the local government elections through the Pakistan Election Commission and not the provincial Election Commission. It means that the federal government is directly involved in provincial matters.

Q: Is it possible for political leadership to develop a consensus on the sensitive issue of Balochistan, as it did in the case of the 1973 constitution?

A: We believe that in the situation where we have military dictatorship, consensus would remain a far cry and as long Gen Pervez Musharraf and the military remain at the helm of affairs, animosity would increase and distances between the people would also increase. What you are suggesting is not possible bearing in mind military dictatorship headed by Gen Pervez Musharraf, or any other military man for that matter.

Q: Gen Musharraf has said that only three or four Sardars are responsible for the current turmoil in Balochistan, and the focus is mainly on Dera Bugti and Marri areas. Your comments?

A: The National Party opposes tribalism and the Jagirdari system. Military rulers are not aware of our history and culture which is evident from the manner in which the regime is portraying the Sardars. In the 17th century, the concept of tribal chiefs emerged. It was not a formal institution. It was done by Sandeman. He created and transformed it into a hereditary institution, which was not the case among the Baloch people prior to him. He fixed salaries for them. Those Sardars who opposed the British refused to accept the salary. After the emergence of Pakistan, its bureaucracy continued with the institution of the Sardari system. In fact, it made it stronger. Even today the same thing is happening. Those who are with the government are safe. Bela’s Jam Sahib was in every government since Iskandar Mirza’s time. Now the issue boils down to three Sardars about whom the general is talking. There is no doubt they have their tribal forces. But even if Sardar Ataullah Mengal, Khair Buksh Marri and Akbar Bugti did not have their forces, they would still have assumed the status of legends in Balochistan. They are now our political pundits whether you call them Sardars or traitors. They are the ones who since the ‘60s have fought against Ayub Khan and Ziaul Haq and have remained a part of the political process. They have even endured imprisonment. They will always be respected not because they are the Sardars, but because of the role they’ve played in seeking the rights of the Balochis. And if they are killed by the ruling regime, they will be all the more respected among the Baloch people.

Q: Let’s discuss what is happening in Dera Bugti. Is it a fight for getting gas royalty? From where are they getting weapons?

A: When the Hyderabad tribunal was disbanded, Mir Ghous Buksh Bizenjo decided to take another course and Khair Buksh Marri went on a different track. Khair Buksh Marri’s stand was that the rulers would not understand and accept the demands of the Baloch people as long as the Baloch people did not adopt militancy. Ghous Buksh Bizenjo advocated democratic path through public meetings and rallies. Khair Buksh went to Europe and then to Afghanistan where he continuously preached militancy. He never talked about democracy. He set up his organization and now has an organized force. But in the case of Nawab Akbar Bugti, the situation is somewhat different. He had never talked of militancy. In fact, throughout his whole life he had a good relationship with the establishment. That is why he remained governor and chief minister of the province and played a significant role in the formation as well as downfall of different governments. To call him a traitor or a terrorist is the biggest mistake on the part of the ruling regime. During Zia’s rule he never opted for militant course and was a part of Benazir’s and Nawaz Sharif’s first governments. He never uttered things that could be labelled anti-Pakistan. There is an agreement between the PPL and Nawab Sahib which pertains to the rent of land and other services. He for the first time joined nationalist forces when they objected to the federal government’s taking away all the revenue generating from gas and not sharing it with the people of Balochistan. Then they started targeting him. When this happened and he held meetings with representatives of the government, we objected to the fact that why he’ talking to them alone when there’s a four-party alliance in Balochistan. Nawab Bugti said that he had discussed matters pertaining to Dera Bugti and Sui. On the Balochistan issue he’s part of the alliance. It was decided that gas installations would be jointly guarded by Bugti and FC personnel. Nawab Sahib claims that the attack on him was unprovoked and his people only responded to it.

Q: What are Farari camps?

A: I can’t say whether such camps exist. Nawab Akbar Bugti does not have such camps. But the BLA claims that it does have such camps.

Q: Who is running the BLA?

A: Khair Buksh Marri’s sons claim they are running the BLA.

Q: The government says there is foreign involvement in the situation. It suggests that perhaps India is funding militants through its missions in Afghanistan.

A: I am not aware of it. I don’t blame anyone. If anyone is prepared to give his life for a cause, he will accept assistance from whatever source it’s coming.

Q: Does it have to do with the new Great Game? Sardar Ataullah Mengal had once said that he couldn’t see Pakistan on world map in the next five years or so. Do you share his views?

A: Whenever someone talks of Pakistan’s disintegration his basic argument appears to be that Pakistan is a multi-nation country. To say that balkanization would definitely happen in our country is also wrong because it could happen anywhere in the world. But it is also wrong to assume that if we continue to adopt the same course, this country would survive the jolts of the historical process. Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq have entered a new scene. Iraq’s future is becoming increasingly uncertain. Hammas victory in the Palestinian elections also points to something that would lead to uncertainty. Similarly, Iran’s nuclear issue is pushing the region towards another kind of uncertainty. Anything can happen in such a situation.

Q: Is it happening because Pakistan is the frontline state in the war against terrorism?

A: I think that by becoming the frontline state we’ve made it a no-man’s land and Pakistan’s cause has taken a back seat. It seems that we have become another state of the United States. This implies that the rulers have no faith in Pakistan’s people.

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