May 25, 2007

A social dimension of Balochistan problem

By Robina Ali Zaidi
Thu, 24 May 2007, 13:49:00

The current conflict in Balochistan is as much social as it is political. The traditional sardars, in order to keep their tribesmen under their control, are generally not interested in their educational, social and political uplift. Likewise, the past governments did not pay the required attention to socio-economic development of the province. Except for the settled areas described as 'A' areas, such as Quetta, Zhob, etc., Sardari System has persisted in Balochistan ever since country's independence. The tribal chief holds the power of life and death over the whole of the tribe. There is no appeal against his decisions. He decides all the disputes of the tribe himself; inter-tribal disputes he settles with the help of other tribal chiefs. He is supposed to provide his flock with collective security and pursues their grievances with the government or with other tribes. When the aggrieved party approaches him, he is mandated to provide them with accommodation, food and shelter. His justice is supposed to be speedy and there is no beating about the bush. His decisions have supposedly only one orientation; to provide satisfaction to the aggrieved party.

The punishment of the guilty is only secondary. More so, the Sardar has the power to levy taxes, up to any amount. He can send his tribe hurtling into war or retire it in peace, back to their hearths, homes and families. He shares the tribe's sorrows and happiness alike and remains a part of it and at no stage alien. And every year he sends out his men to collect his share of goods and services, cash or kind; livestock, sheep, goats, camels; his share in the crop. In addition, he is entitled to get percentage in the fines imposed in cases, civil or criminal.

Balochis are a proud people and have good traditions and traits such as honesty, brotherhood and belief in the purity of their system, inherited from their forefathers. They have 'big egos' and would not accept new systems easily. Any attempt to change it, will be resisted. At the same time, the emerging educated class, the return of expatriates, the influence of electronic and print media and increased trade activity and development in the province is bound to change the feudal culture. Already, there have cropped up political parties representing the emerging middle class.

As the matter of the fact, Sardari system, entrenched since centuries and strengthened by the colonial powers could not be terminated overnight but it could not be allowed to perpetuate indefinitely. It is however, not in the interest of the masses. Unfortunately, the system is persisting owing to illiteracy, economic backwardness and feudal dominated governance. Various governments in Pakistan thought it convenient to maintain the status quo. Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto announced its abolition but could not implement it. Whenever there is a change in the status quo, there is an opposition from those vested interests, who are likely to be adversely affected. Interested external forces normally tend to exploit the internal dissensions. The government seems to have correctly adopted a two-pronged approach to deal with the present situation in the province, i.e., to seriously address the political, economic and social concerns of the people, and to use security forces in areas where there are armed insurgent elements. The Constitution of Pakistan does not allow the prevalent sardari system, maintenance of private armies or militias. These need to be disarmed and abolished. Similarly, the acts of sabotage or damage to public or private life and property cannot be permitted. No person can be allowed to take law into his own hands. The disturbed areas should be given 'A' status on priority. The unlawful activities should be effectively dealt with primarily by the civil armed forces, which need to be strengthened. However, if, in an emergency, the local or provincial authorities are unable to control violent disturbances with the help of civil armed forces, and request for help from the federal government, the armed forces can act in aid of civil power, as stipulated under article 245 of the Constitution of Pakistan.

In any case, peace and security is vital for the development of the province and welfare of the people. The representatives of the people, law-abiding sardars, elder statesmen and the intelligentsia need to be taken on board and a wide range of common people should be involved. The educated Marris, Mengals and Bugtis can match the influence of their traditional tribal chiefs. Any foreign help to militants can be denied through a meaningful engagement with the neighbouring countries. Sustained and solid economic development on a very large scale should be expedited.

If Pakistan has to progress in the competitive world of twenty-first century and follow the internationally accepted norms, the human development index has to be raised and the masses are to be given basic necessities of life, i.e. education, healthcare, jobs, etc. Balochistan cannot be kept away from the national and international influences in a world that has become a global village; expatriates are returning from abroad with an international outlook; and there is explosion of knowledge through media. It seems that the social and economic development in the province will create and strengthen a middle class, which will be the rivals of feudal leaders. There should, therefore, be a conscious effort to eliminate feudalism and sardari system through sustained efforts and solid economic development and reforms. In course of time, the archaic feudal order will be replaced by a modern egalitarian society. If the citizens have basic necessities of life and are provided with equal opportunities for education, health care and employment, the status quo will be changed. The sooner it is done, the better for the people of Balochistan. Although Balochistan has not been given the attention that it deserved in the past, there seems no doubt that under the new thrust and orientation of national policies, Balochistan is set for a change for the better.

© Copyright 2003 by The New Nation

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