Balochistan’s Unaddressed Grievances
By Rahil Yasin
19 April, 2009
Normalcy returns to Balochistan. The latest wave of violence erupted in strategically important and resource-rich province of Balochistan after the killing of three leaders of Balochistan National Party (BNP), a nationalist political party which believes in national right of autonomy for Balochistan through a peaceful and democratic struggle.
The brutal slaying of these nationalist leaders proved to be another addition in the long list of grievances suffered by the Baloch people. The incident will also be helpful in scratching the past wounds like Gen Musharraf’s army operation, the killing of Nawab Akbar Bugti, Nawabzada Balaach Marri, and the disappearance of hundreds of civilians etc.
Among the many grievances expressed by the Baloch nationalists, the most persistent and long-standing has been that the resources, including coal as well as gas, have been exploited by the central government without adequate compensation to the province. Poor handling of Balochistan issue by the past governments fed a sense of alienation in the minds of the Baloch.
Balochistan is a transit site for major proposed natural gas pipelines that would carry gas from either Iran or Turkmenistan to Pakistan and from there potentially to India. One of many obstacles to the implementation of these pipeline projects has been the threat of Baloch militant attacks to disrupt gas supplies.
Balochistan is the site of a major port facility and energy hub at Gwadar on the province’s coast. Gwadar is the terminus of a projected interstate transport corridor that is to link Pakistan by road, rail, air, and, to some extent, pipeline with both China’s Xinjiang province and, via Afghanistan, with the energy-rich Central Asian Republics (CARs).
Baloch nationalists have complained that the government has developed the port and corridor without consultation with, involvement of, or benefit to the Baloch people. The anger of Baloch nationalists has sometimes been directed against China, whose investment in the Gwadar project and in other Balochistan-based ventures has been substantial.
A number of Chinese nationals have been the target of five violent attacks in Pakistan in recent years, with three of these attacks taking place in Balochistan, two of which resulted in fatalities. And recently, the Baloch nationalists abducted UN official John Solecki asking the government to fulfill their demands in return of his release. But later, Mr Solecki was released with the help of the three deceased leaders. These acts of belligerence cannot be stopped unless the grievances of the Baloch are addressed completely and surely.
Baloch nationalist leaders insist they are not opposed to development but are against the exploitation of natural resources that do not benefit local communities. They also insist that the province, not the sardars or the centre, should be the main beneficiary of the income from Balochistan’s natural gas and other mineral resources.
Distribution of resources remains another matter of conflict between Balochistan and the centre. The National Finance Commission (NFC), the mechanism used by the centre to distribute federal grants to the provinces, is contentious because it is controlled by the federal government, and in the Balochistan context, because the main criterion for NFC awards is population. The award should be determined through consensus among the provinces and on an equitable basis. By revising the criteria to account for backwardness, level of development, geographic size and revenue levels of the provinces, the centre would remove at least one major bone of contention.
In a province that already has an excessive security presence, the government’s decision to establish new military cantonments has reinforced local perceptions of the Pakistani army as a ‘colonising force’.
The Baloch opposition has called for the removal of the Frontier Corps (FC) and its checkposts, an end to military operations, the return of the army to the barracks, the withdrawal of politically motivated cases and the release of political prisoners if peace is to be restored. The insurgency is unlikely to subside as long as the military relies on repression, killings, imprisonment, disappearances and torture to bend the Baloch to its will.
Many Baloch ruling provincial parliamentarians also support local ownership of development projects and agree with the opposition that military force will not solve the conflict.
To solve the Balochistan conflict, the federal government should review the checkposts manned by the Frontier Corps and the Coast Guards in interior Balochistan, removing those not needed; redirect the focus of both security agencies on border patrol and interdiction of arms and narcotics; train levies on the police pattern and provide the requisite logistics.
The federal government should halt construction of military cantonments until all major issues are resolved, increase royalties to the gas-producing districts of Balochistan, with the government paying arrears. It must ensure maximum provincial representation immediately on the boards of PPL, OGDC, and Sui Southern.
It is required that oil and gas companies invest 5 percent of total expenditures on social sector projects in consultation with public representatives; distribution companies should provide gas on a priority basis to the areas where it is produced.
The central government should allocate 7 per cent of the GPA’s gross revenue, other than federal levies, for Balochistan’s development, while giving locals employment preference, followed by people from Makran and then the rest of Balochistan; fishermen, displaced by the Gwadar project, must be reimbursed and relocated near the East or West Bays; address under-development in Gwadar, Quetta and Sui, facilitate social sector development province-wide, especially in health, housing and education, and make a one-time grant to improve the province’s medical infrastructure.
The federal government should make the development level and degree of backwardness the first criteria for NFC awards; strictly implement the 5.4 per cent employment quota for Baloch workers in all federal ministries, divisions, corporations and departments and consider special measures to compensate for the lack of recruitment of the Baloch into the armed forces and civil security forces; and create parity between the Baloch and Pashtuns in Balochistan in all spheres of life.
Rahil Yasin is a freelance columnist and independent researcher based in Lahore, Pakistan. He can be reached at email@example.com