Balochistan treasury embarrasses Islamabad
By Malik Siraj Akbar
While General Pervez Musharraf says the trouble in Balochistan is orchestrated by the three renegade Sardars, his own provincial government in Quetta thinks Islamabad is responsible for the ongoing violence in the province and its perpetual financial troubles.
For the past two weeks treasury members in the Balochistan Assembly, not just from the rightwing Mutahidda Majlis-e-Amal but also from the ruling Muslim League, have begun to speak out against Islamabad’s Balochistan policy. The situation is becoming highly embarrassing for General Musharraf, not least because it shows that even the treasury members feel that they cannot remain politically relevant without voicing the populist sentiment in Balochistan.
Trouble in the treasury began with Pakistan Muslim League’s Mohammad Aslam Boothani, the deputy speaker of the Balochistan Assembly, fulminating against Islamabad: “Contrary to Musharraf’s claims, this is not just a problem of the three sardars. The federal government has enforced a war-like situation on Nawab Bugti and his tribesmen and the Baloch are justifiably defending themselves; they are all a part of this now,” Boothani said at a press conference recently.
But Boothani is neither alone nor out on a limb. Chief Minister Jam Yousaf has also spoken angrily on the floor of Balochistan Assembly on more than one occasion about the shoddy treatment meted out to Balochistan by the federal government. Yousaf says the province has got nothing “except void assurances about setting its financial problems right”.
“Balochistan is going through a major financial crunch due to delay in the determination of the National Finance Commission (NFC) award. We want a new formula for the distribution of national resources, something which takes into account multiple factors and not just population,” Yousaf told the Assembly. Such a formula was to be worked out four years ago but nothing has happened so far. Since Balochistan is the largest and most under-developed province, priority must be given to it when issuing the NFC award,” he added.
Islamabad also came under criticism when the Balochistan Assembly heatedly debated an adjournment motion regarding the multi-billion dollar Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) gas pipeline project. The motion was tabled by Kachkol Ali Baloch, leader of the opposition in Balochistan Assembly.
In a surprising display of unity, the treasury and opposition benches passed a resolution on June 9 demanding due share of royalty for the province from the IPI project which will pass overland through Balochistan. The project will provide more than one hundred million cubic meters of gas from Iran to Pakistan and India. Pakistan will receive $90-120 million per year in transit fee for the project.The project, which is being planned under an agreement that can be renewed for a period of five more years, will connect the ports of Asaluyeh in Iran in the Perisan Gulf to Gwadar and Karachi and will finally reach India.
In Balochistan, the government as well as the opposition parties maintain that the project is a golden opportunity for the province to increase its gas revenues by getting a good chunk of money in gas royalty. “Unless the Baloch agree to the project, its future is bleak. For the safety of the project, it is essential to include the Baloch as stakeholders in the negotiation process,” says Kachkol Baloch.
However, while the Assembly members have already started counting their chickens, the IPI project may take some time to actually materialise. The United States has been resisting the project tooth and nail and India seems to be playing both the sides. Moreover, the pricing of gas has proved a sticky issue.
Syed Ehsan Shah, Balochistan’s finance minister, says the IPI project is one of the issues over which there is consensus between the government and the opposition. “We both agree that the project must benefit the province. Local youth should be given part of the jobs created by it,” he said.
The BA also passed another resolution on June 15 asking for the separation of the Gas Development Surcharge from the NFC award to take the province out of its perennial financial crisis. “One wonders what the significance of all these resolutions really is. The root of all troubles in Balochistan is Islamabad’s obsession to impose its decisions, right or wrong, on the province; these resolutions mean nothing before the writ of the federal government. The Balochistan Assembly is powerless, so is the provincial chief minister,” said an analyst in Quetta.
Experts believe a long-term solution to the problems of Balochistan lies in strengthening political institutions. “Historically, the ordinary Baloch has been sandwiched between the injustices of Islamabad and that of local tribal chiefs. Balochistan’s development and prosperity hinge on the abolition of the tribal system. As long as the tribal set-up remains entrenched in the province, it will be difficult for any development to take place,” said an observer.
As one senior journalist put it, Islamabad needs to promote a viable political culture in the province to replace the traditional tribal system. Most members of the Balochistan Assembly have a middle-class background. They represent the moderate, progressive, and educated face of Balochistan.
“The rejection of the [Balochistan] Assembly’s resolutions by the federal government will mean the government wants violence and militancy. If it rejects democratic, political solutions, then it is clear that there is only the path of militancy left for the Baloch to take,” the Quetta-based journalist told TFT.
The June 12 bomb blast in Quetta and the air strikes which killed 17, including 12 women in the Sangsila area, send a very gloomy message about what is going on in Balochistan. The government needs to rethink its strategy.