Balochistan: the Gwadar aspect

BY: Dr Qaisar Rashid


Clearly, the past of Balochistan is haunting the present and swaying the future, as Balochistan’s is a story of broken promises and frustrated expectations

The known history of Balochistan is laden with persistent insurgency of variable intensity. The latest spike in insurgency is an artefact of the post-2000 events. The counter-insurgency launched by the state has also proved counter-productive, as the strategy has bolstered the resolve of the Baloch insurgents to rely on militancy for protection of the Baloch rights.

In fact, violence is an endemic problem Balochistan is faced with. The Balochistan version of violence has two actors: the insurgents and the security forces. The former uses the weapon of violence to instigate disorder and show its discontent while the latter uses the instrument of violence to restore peace and demonstrate its awe. The question is: can both the actors achieve their ends by resorting to violence?

Caught in the crossfire are the political forces. Matters are decided by either the insurgents or the security forces. That is how violence overrules the rest. In this militant equation, the political forces have lost their say. Neither can they persuade the insurgents to renounce militancy nor can they rein in the security forces to exercise restraint.

One of the reasons for the incapacity of the political forces is that they cannot offer any guarantee to the insurgents that the promises made with them by anyone, including the state, will be respected. That was one of the reasons that veteran Baloch politician Sardar Ataullah Mengal advised Nawaz Sharif on the latter’s recent visit to Karachi to speak instead to the Baloch insurgents hiding in the mountains. His statement alone reflects the enormity and gravity of the crisis buffeting Balochistan. Secondly, his statement indicates the scale of the cost — in terms of political and economic concessions — of neglecting and depriving Balochistan for years; the state must now be ready to pay. Third, his statement points out that hardly any broker is available in Balochistan. Clearly, the past of Balochistan is haunting the present and swaying the future, as Balochistan’s is a story of broken promises and frustrated expectations. Eventually, the political forces are waiting on the sidelines for the victor to surface to side with.

Within the political sphere, there is another quandary. The provincial government of Balochistan is not considered a true representative of the Baloch. The electoral result of the 2008 elections is considered a doctored one and the provincial government is considered a puppet one — which is always ready to dance to the tunes of the Centre. Consequently, the provincial government is failing to raise the concerns of the Baloch with the Centre. For instance, one of the concerns is the future of the Gwadar port.

The Baloch harbour an apprehension that after completion of the work on Gwadar port, people (non-Baloch) from other parts of the country would crowd it. The ensuing demographic shift would turn the locals into a minority. Secondly, the non-Baloch would buy land and property and do business while the locals would be unable to compete with them, as the locals are neither wealthy nor skilled to find their rightful socio-economic place in the Gwadar-originated economy. Third, the non-Baloch, after buying land and property would lay claim to the right to vote. Consequently, the locals would not be able to elect their own representatives while the non-Baloch would be able to hold sway over them.

There is another angle to look at the issues surrounding Gwadar port. As Gwadar is anticipated to become a mega city like Karachi in the future, the Baloch draw parallels with the Sindhis who have virtually lost representation and say in the coastline and resources of Karachi. The Baloch apprehend that in a developed Gwadar city, they would be marginalised by the non-Baloch. Secondly, the Baloch are apprehensive of the future of Gwadar city. The Baloch think that Karachi, which is a historical part of Sindh, may be declared a separate province if the demand of division of existing provinces along ethnic lines meets success. Hence, the non-Baloch populating Gwadar may follow in the same footsteps and may declare it a separate province.

In order to address their apprehensions, the Baloch nationalists are demanding a special status for Gwadar. That is, the non-Baloch migrating to Gwadar should be not only disenfranchised but also disallowed to purchase land or property in Gwadar. Secondly, there should be vocational institutes constructed to equip the Baloch with the necessary skills to secure technical jobs and earn their living. Third, the locals should be preferred in the jobs arising locally; however, only for a job against which a local is not available a non-Baloch should be employed. Fourth, the future city of Gwadar should not be carved out as a separate province. Late Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti couched these demands in a term called ‘Saahil-o-Wasail’ (coastline and resources). That is, the Baloch should be made the proprietors of their coastline and resources. Nevertheless, the word ‘resources’ used in the term also has implications for the natural resources of the whole of Balochistan.

The situation indicates that there exists a trust deficit between the Baloch and the state. Further, the Baloch want to protect their economic interests but on their own terms. Against this background, it is heartening to hear that the PML-N, one of the largest mainstream political parties, has showed its concern for the Baloch. Its call to hold an All Parties Conference (APC) on Balochistan is a good omen and the invitation should be accepted by other political parties.

Generally speaking the insurgents and the security forces are two visible actors — some analysts call them the real stakeholders in Balochistan. Finding a middle ground and making both the actors agree to it will be a great challenge for the proposed APC. Secondly, the APC will have to devise a strategy to address the apprehensions of the Baloch on Gwadar. Third, the APC should be ready to offer a guarantee to the Baloch nationalists and insurgents of fulfilment of the vows made on the APC platform.

Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani :Facing contempt charge


A seven-member bench of the Supreme Court (SC), obviously irritated by the lack of response from the government regarding its December 16, 2009 and January 10, 2012 orders in the National Reconciliation Ordinance case, has issued a show cause notice to Prime Minister (PM) Yousaf Raza Gilani to explain why contempt of court proceedings should not be instituted against him for failing to implement the SC’s orders. The PM was ordered to appear in person before the bench on January 19. During the proceedings, Justice Asif Saeed Khosa clarified that media reporting of the January 10 order was misplaced and that he had not dubbed the PM dishonest or corrupt. He went on to iterate the court’s respect for the office of the PM while pointing out that the order stated that prima facie the PM may not be honest to the oath of his office. While the clarification spares the PM further personal blushes, it nevertheless can be read as an indictment of the behaviour of the PM in the instant case. The context of this exchange of course lies in the insistence of the SC that the government write to the Swiss authorities to reopen the case against President Asif Ali Zardari, something the government has been reluctant to do on the grounds that the president enjoys immunity while in office. That has been countered by the SC’s insistence that immunity has to be applied for from the court. The PM has said he will appear on the 19th as a mark of respect for the SC, but the question of the Swiss letter still hangs fire. This despite the perception of even PPP legal luminaries that no harm will come from writing the letter since it is unlikely the Swiss judicial authorities will accept the request to reopen the case on two grounds: that Swiss law does not allow reopening a case without new substantive evidence and that a sitting president enjoys immunity under international law. It is now to be seen what position the PM adopts before the bench on the 19th regarding this ticklish matter.

The contempt notice also found resonance in the National Assembly (NA) during the session called to pass a pro-democracy resolution. The resolution did go through, but by a majority rather than consensus after the opposition’s two out of three amendments were rejected despite two hours of negotiations between the treasury and the PML-N, triggering an opposition walkout. True to character, the JUI-F voted for the resolution at the last minute despite being in talks with the PML-N for an opposition grand alliance. The coalition allies and FATA parliamentarians voted for the resolution unanimously. Leader of the Opposition Chaudhry Nisar’s parting remark that they would definitely bring a no-confidence motion as soon as they had the required strength did not sound very convincing to objective observers, given the arithmetic of the NA.

With the backing of the core committee of the PPP, the PM’s speech in the NA oozed both defiance and confidence. He argued that neither the judiciary nor the army were interested in derailing the system. In this context, the reported efforts at the presidency to mend fences with the military appear to be making headway. At the present conjuncture, when the government is under pressure from various directions and on the two burning issues before the SC (the NRO and Memo cases), this is to be welcomed. However, it cannot be denied that the PPP may be suffering from some heartburn that its going out of its way to support the military on the Osama bin Laden raid and the Mehran base attack has not been reciprocated in the same spirit. In fact, it is arguable that the ‘reconciliation’ policy of the PPP has often strayed into ‘appeasement’ instead, without any return on such investment. Of late the government’s tone, particularly that of the PM, has taken on a harder edge, but this could well be a case of too little too late. Given the deeply entrenched civil-military imbalance in Pakistan, the tactics of keeping the military on board may have backfired in the shape of the perceived weakness (amidst increasing public criticism of performance in office) of the PPP-led government. What its critics should take note of are the cautionary words of the PM in the NA when he argued that those keen on seeing the back of this government at the earliest by any means possible should not ignore the possibility that such a departure may well envelop the political class as a whole.