Baluchistan: Stop the Political Slide

With the continuing Center-Baluchistan tension rapidly mounting there is no definitive and immediate action being taken to defuse the tension. No follow-up to, either Prime Minister Chaudary Shujaat’s telephone conversation with Nawab Bugti or to President Musharraf’s recent agreement that Muslim League open dialogue with Baluch nationalist leaders, has yet taken place. Matters are going down a steep slippery slope. Yet unfortunately a linear approach appears to mark the government’s response to a crisis, the complexity of which it is perhaps not fully grasping.

The government’s own disjointed handling of the very basic question, whether the military operation is being conducted or not, itself reflects the lack of coordination and inefficiency within the government. On August 1 the ISPR spokesman acknowledged that a military operation was underway. He emphatically justified the operation in a BBC program claiming that “it is against those who want to disturb law and order situation in the country.” The spokesman argued that “action will have to be taken” against those “inciting even peace loving people to resort to violence.”

Interestingly only 48 hours later on August 3 the Interior Minister emphatically denying that a military operation was underway in Baluchistan said,” That is absolutely wrong. An unfounded propaganda is being aired by some vested interests.” He maintained that influentials in Baluchistan who believe development work would undermine their political interests were infact against the development of Baluchistan. That those against development projects that are currently being undertaken are complaining that there was no development work in Baluchistan.

In the last ten days, in addition to several deaths in army-civilian clashes, Balochistan has experienced two major acts of violence. On August 1st Five off duty soldiers were killed when some men opened fire on their vehicle. These men has just left the heavily guarded military containment in Khuzdar. On August 2nd an assassination attempt on Chief Minister’s Baluchistan left two men dead. The chief minister survived. The army called the killing of soldiers an “act of terrorism.”

Three quick responses from the Baluchistan political scene justified the killing of soldiers. First a spokesman of a little known Baluch Liberation Army (BLA) claimed that the killings was to protest the army’s operation “against innocent people of Turbat and the construction of new military containment.” The second justification for the killing came from Secretary General Baluchistan National Party (BNP) and former Senator Habib Jalib he told BBC “they are terming it as terrorist incident but I do not agree with it -¦. “I think the Pakistan government does not recognize national political and economic sovereignty of the people.-¦ It demands right of self determination of Kashmir but is not granting into Baluchistan! . Operations are being conducted against the people of Baluchistan. Military operations are underway at the moment in Kaohlu, Dera Bugti, Gwader and Turbat district. People want the cancellation of Gwader containment project. They want that containment should not be constructed. They said that the resource of the province should be given to Baluchistan but Central government or Punjabi imperialism does not accept this stand and these demands.”

When the BBC compere questioned the BNP leader if use of violence was justified to resolve issues of political nature, his response was “we have told the government of Pakistan that we believe in peaceful democratic national struggle and that issues should be resolved through these ways and means but the government does not want to consider our stance. The government wants to resolve the problem with use of force.”

The third justification came from Nawab Akber Khan Bugti the chief of the Jamhuri Watan Party (JWP). In his August 1st interview to BBC, Bugti explaining why Baluchistan seemed to be in and grip of violence” the government has launched military operation in Makran particularly in Turbat and Gwader areas. Jet aircrafts, Cobra helicopters and tanks have also been brought. Bombing is taking place. This is the reaction of all these things. I think an effort is being made to suppress all the Baluchs. They want to beat the Baluchs at some places so that the Baluchs at other places are also subdued or they may stop or withdraw. “

Responding to the question whether violence could be a solution to the problem the JWP leader said “they force you to take up arms, you are compelled to put up resistance. After all nobody light or quarrel or dies eagerly. Do you think that in 1971 the Bangles were fighting eagerly? Look at the situation there they were forces, they were pushed against the walls.” Bugti demanded that “people should be given their rights particularly provincial autonomy.”

Currently Baluchis are reportedly resenting plans to construct army cantonments in three districts. Locals have also complained that Baluchsi have been marginalized as financial beneficiaries of the multi-billion dollar Gwador port and city project by affluent and influential non-Baluchi civilians and non-civilians.

These justifications for violence in Baluchistan are not uncommon. Given especially the history and also the current nature of relationship between the Centre and the vocal and powerful tribal and political leaders. Hence, instant recall in these times of Center -” Baluchistan tension, by the Blauchis of the 1973-army and airforce operation in Baluchistan, should come as no surprise.

The vast under development human infrastructure including absence of basic facilities like clean drinking water, health and education has lead the Baluchis to always complain against the ‘big brother’ Punjab. Woven into this resentment has been a degree of political anger and bitterness towards the army also. Political power in Baluchistan now cuts four ways, the Baluchistan Sardars, the Baluch Nationalist Parties, National Parties like PPP.

Baluch leaders are occupying public space, they are stating facts and maybe some fiction too , as politicians they are extrapolating from facts a Baluch chronicle which underscores the unfairness towards the Baluchis; by the army and Punjab dominated Centre. Historical facts, national development figures and struggling peoples’ stories from Baluchistan do not completely refute the chronicle. The politicians voice will carry more weight. Not those justifying use of force to establish ‘law and order.’ Rule of law must be established, development must continue and security set-ups must be located in a context which disrupts so often the supply of gas supplies. But none of this can successfully proceed without politics, without compromises and adjustments between State compulsions, political interests and people welfare.

Indeed what the government must not do is go on the military and political offensive to neutralize the brewing crisis. Threats, warnings, ultimatums and maximalist positions will only worsen the situation. It could push either side ‘against the wall’ decreasing possibility of an amicable settlement of genuine grievances. We could then be headed towards greater difficulty; dovetailing into other unresolved challenges of politics, security and democracy. The Center and the Muslim League must start a genuine dialogue with the political men of Baluchistan, replacing its dominantly force-induced response to the deteriorating politico-security situation in Baluchistan.