Baloch remain skeptical

By Malik Siraj Akbar

With Nawab Akbar Bugti’s assassination on August 26, 2006, the situation in Balochistan seemed to have gone back to square one and everyone was left wondering exactly how the government would try and make amends: would it review the policies that have led the situation from bad to worse? Three important policy announcements by the government suggest that there is an attitudinal change, though the sincerity of these announcements is still being questioned [see Kachkol’s interview in this issue].

The first announcement came from President Pervez Musharraf himself during a press conference with newspaper editors in Islamabad where he said the government would soon convene a grand jirga of Baloch tribal sardars. The gathering would aim to identify and work towards eliminating the complaints of Baloch sardars.

The second announcement was made by Mohammad Ali Durrani, the federal minister for information and broadcasting, during a news conference in the Baloch capital, Quetta. He announced that the government would reactivate the Senator Wasim Sajjad-led parliamentary committee on Balochistan. The committee was formed two years ago to look into constitutional grievances especially those pertaining to the degree of provincial autonomy for Balochistan; it has not been able to complete its mission two years after its formation. According to Durrani, the government would make a ‘sincere’ effort to persuade Baloch leaders who boycotted the committee as a sign of protest in December 2004 to re-join it.

Finally, Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz announced, during his visit to Balochistan on October 13, a Rs19.5 billion financial package for the province. While some observers say these announcement signals towards a change of stance on the part of the government who now seems to want to not only compensate the province monetarily but also open space for political dialogue, others feel that the government is just trying to ‘buy’ the Baloch with empty rhetoric.

“The economic package cannot compensate for the blunder of killing Akbar Bugti,” said one senior journalist. “But yes, one cannot deny that this package, if the government delivers on it, the chances of which are rare, would serve as a confidence building measure between the government and the disenchanted Baloch.”

Independent economist point out that all allocations mentioned in the relief programme are old and were announced during the annual budget of the federal government. Siddiq Baluch, a senior journalist says: “The federal government is overburdening the provincial administration with the non-development expenditure, raising government employees’ salaries more frequently and without any financial assistance. Also see how the federal government’s decision to do away with the community policing of Balochistan Levies and replacing it with regular police ‘on the advice of Punjabi police officials’ has increased the cost of policing to Rs4 billion,” he added.

Many others say the government cannot win the hearts and minds of the people by announcing development schemes, on the one hand, and carrying out a military operation on the other. “The government is presently stuck between the devil and the deep-sea. It is helplessly surrendering before Baloch jirgas and abandoning the progressive, democratic path. And in any case, if it ultimately had to come to this, a deal with the Baloch sardars, why was the government reluctant to do this earlier?” says one senior analyst.

Observers explain that “the situation in the province has finally convinced the government that things will not normalize until Baloch sardars extend support to the government. Because the biggest threat to the development process is the sardars themselves, they need to be brought on board”.

This is indeed the time for last resorts; the situation in Balochistan is forever worsening. Two bomb blasts rocked Quetta a night before the PM’s arrival in the province. Similarly, six rockets were fired in Dash area when the Prime Minister was present in Quetta where unprecedented security arrangements made.

“These announcements will mean something only if they help reduce violence,” says a senior political analyst, adding that even Baloch Sardars, when they meet Musharraf, will not be able to extend much support to the government in its efforts to grapple with the shadowy Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA). “Even those who do not openly support the BLA say they are not against it either because it is fighting for the common Baloch. No jirga or development package can make the Baloch sardars denounce the BLA,” he added.

According to Premier Aziz’s ‘Vision for Balochistan package’, 138 developmental projects costing Rs164 billion would be implemented in the backward province of Balochistan. “The purpose of this project is to improve the quality of life of the common man by accelerating the development process and ensuring that its fruits reach all segments of society and every corner of the province,” the PM told a press conference.

The PM announced a Rs2.2 billion development package for Dera Bugti district and a similar package of Rs3.1 billion for Kohlu district. Rs1 billion would be provided to the Gwadar Development Authority (GDA) and another Rs1 billion for the purchase of a land for an international airport in the port city of Gwadar.

“Rs2.9 billion will come from the Khushal Pakistan Fund while a workers’ housing colony will be established in Tillimat at the cost of Rs1.7 billion,” the PM announced, adding that an amount of Rs2 billion would be provided for 200 bulldozers. Balochistan would get additional financial support of Rs6.3 billion under the National Finance Commission (NFC), Rs2.0 billion as Gas Development Surcharge (GDS) from the economic package and additional support of Rs2.1 billion would be extended as debt relief.

The Prime Minister also announced the creation of some 32,000 new jobs for the local youths of Balochistan. According to the plan, 33,357 vacancies would be created in the federal/provincial departments in Balochistan; 6097 job opportunities would be provided to the province at the federal level. The PM also announced that the quota for Baloch would increase from 3.5 to 5%, resulting in the creation of an additional 6000 jobs. Ongoing mega projects, the PM said, would create 70,000 job opportunities for the Baloch; 1716 job opportunities would be provided in the Ministry of Food and Agriculture. Furthermore, Rozgar Schemes, worth Rs100, billion would be launched in the coming five years.

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