No prefix. No suffix. Mention Balochistan and everybody and their uncle knows what the problem is. When it comes to the solution, the problem is restated. The latest on offer is from the top man in authority, or so he likes to believe. He lost a Baloch ally for making little headway on its six demands. As framed, the Baloch are angry. Before that, it was lack of development. The federal government would announce special development packages with great fanfare with the objective of mainstreaming Balochistan. Not many in other provinces feel any mainstreaming, nor an ordinary Baloch vouchsafes development. According to the Pakistan Social and Living Standards Measurements survey, 2019-20, the average score of districts in Balochistan in education, health, information communications and technology, and living standard is far behind the other provinces. Until 1955, Balochistan was governed as the British did — central government in ex-British Balochistan and the semi-autonomous princely states. From 1955 to 1970, there was a total loss of identity under one unit. The people in other provinces knew Sui gas from Balochistan, without knowing that Sui in Balochistan had none of it. What the official website of Balochistan says in the context of the British has not changed even long after their departure. “The defense orientation of the administration precluded development and educational outlays.” Actually, this “orientation” has magnified since the killing of Nawab Akbar Bugti.
Has lack of development caused anger? Does that require an anger alleviation programme? Just as a poverty alleviation programme never aims at reducing poverty, much less eliminating it, the announcement of the anger alleviation programme has brought in its wake various interpretations of anger. Is it foreign-based, RAW-inspired local, local but disgruntled? A special assistant has been appointed, like there is one for poverty alleviation. The choice of a barely angry person has fuelled more anger.
The problem is more political than economic. After 1947, the most empowering moment for Balochistan was its emergence as a province in 1970. Pakistan’s only fair elections in the same year threw up leadership that eventually formed the government. This government was arbitrarily dismissed, opening the doors for engineers, with development funding as the key instrument. Two major initiatives made no difference. The 18th Amendment gave the province some control over its natural resources. Under the 7th National Finance Commission (NFC) Award, area was recognised as one of the criteria to distribute the divisible pool, besides relating Balochistan’s share to projections rather than actual collections, which are usually lower. The attitude to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) explains it all. We were not consulted, is the complaint. To many, CPEC reminds the days of the Raj when the roads and railways were built for strategic purposes, with no local involvement. Rather than learning to respect the will of the people, the only lesson that seems to have been learnt from the East Pakistan debacle is to maintain massive and visible military presence to prevent secessionist tendencies. It was destined to fail. Hence another attempt to reach out to the angry Baloch.
Forget the anger. Just let Balochistan be a province like any other. Make arrangements for a fair and free election of the provincial assembly in 2023. In the run up, declare a general amnesty to allow all parties a fair chance. The military footprint should be reduced and confined to cantonments. Let the government be formed without any interference. This will permit the people of Balochistan to negotiate among themselves the rules of engagement with different ethnicities, mode of governance and resource allocation. Development packages and anger alleviation exercises have failed. Don’t let anger turn into hostility.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 16th, 2021.