What needs to be done

The News
Sunday, November 01, 2009
By Gibran Peshimam

Judging by the feedback, the reaction to labelling Balochistan’s fast-deteriorating and drastically-changed situation Pakistan’s chief problem – one that will carry on beyond operations in the Tribal Areas and the NWFP – has met with across-the-board agreement. However, the persisting question is how to tackle the situation.

The need to bring the Baloch nationalists and others stuck in the middle on board is obvious. Yet, the question of how and whether any measure will earn the trust of these elements remains highly debatable. For starters, let it be known that what needs to be done now is obviously diametrically opposed to what is being done now and has been done in the past in Balochistan. That is, Islamabad needs to push boundaries, break stereotypes and think out-of-the-box.

Big. Long-term. Enduring.

No status quo, not even hybrids (ala the trademark ‘three pronged’ proposals of a certain London-residing retired general). No, those will not do. More of the same in terms of policy means more of the same in terms of results. That’s a time-tested policy. We need pristine. The good stuff. Uncut, unadulterated.

In short, unprecedented.

Any compromise has to begin with the release of the ‘missing’ people, a large chunk of who are activists or sympathisers of the Baloch nationalist movement. Releasing them unconditionally, in a dignified manner possibly with an overarching apology, would send the right signals to begin with. You cannot say that you sincerely want to work with the nationalists while keeping them habeas corpus in a practice that is against all civilised norms.

This is just the beginning of the appeasement process. We need more drastic steps. This would, as mentioned earlier, entail engaging the true representatives of Balochistan.

Call on Brahmdagh Bugti. While he may not hold as much clout as the establishment alleges he does, the point is that he is the default protagonist-in-chief of the Baloch resistance. But this, needless to say, will be difficult.

In a recent interview, the young Bugti, alleged to be operating from Kabul, shows that he is in no mood for reconciliation. And why should he be? According to reports, he was there when his grandfather, the indomitable Nawab Akbar Bugti, was killed in the mountains by the state of Pakistan.

Before that, in 1959, Babu Nowroz, one of the original Baloch nationalists, was called down from the mountains with his companions, including his sons, to negotiate after those in power swore on the Holy Book that they would not be arrested. They were. And then hanged.

Nawroz’s death penalty was later turned into a life imprisonment, owing to his age.

So when Brahmdagh says, “If someone expects us to still negotiate with the people who ruined our lives then you are not being fair with us,” he is spot on justified.

To mitigate this, there needs to be a concerted, institutionalised reconciliation process. If the establishment can conjure up an audacious document to give the past plunderers of this country a clean slate to come back and restart their trade, then surely such a concession can be afforded to people who have been suppressed for decades, and whose return is a big part of saving your largest province from brutal secession. Drop the cases of sedition, subversion and other such charges against Brahmdagh, against Hairbayar and Gazin Marri and other Baloch leaders. This should be approved unconditionally by parliament and made into law instantly. The BRL – the Balochistan Reconciliation Law.

To show even more sincerity, pull out the armed forces from the areas where these leaders will be returning to. Call in the United Nations. Let them come in and handle their return to ensure that any sign of mistrust is mitigated.

They will come. The credibility of coming out into the open, onto Baloch soil, will be a proposition that will definitely attract them. In any case, if Brahmdagh is indeed in Afghanistan as is alleged, then he should know that history shows that the Baloch nationalists have been expelled from there before – Prince Abdul Karim, the brother of the Khan of Kalat – and there is no reason it cannot happen again, especially with a fickle and stretched Washington calling the shots.

Then show them that you are sincere in conceding self-determination. That freedom is possible without complete secession. This will entail constitutional guarantees. Now, this is a process that Pakistan needs to move to regardless of its policy towards Balochistan. The federation has long been struggling under the centralised control policy of Islamabad. What is needed is a step towards a confederational system that goes deeper than just abolishing the Concurrent List, which should have been done a long time ago to begin with.

The constitutional guarantee can take the form of a 50-50 basis sharing formula between the centre and the provinces. That is, 50 per cent of the constitution should be written by the centre, and the rest can be decided by the respective province itself, which should be absolutely free to decide on issues such as employment quotas, investments etc. You want only Baloch to run Baloch affairs, including the law-enforcement agencies? You want a massive chunk of resource revenue? It’s your call. Land ownership, the works.

All this may sound drastic. But what other option is left? If you want to be taken seriously, you have to abandon shallow moves such as conjuring up polished old policies under the garb of fresh initiatives, such as what the Balochistan Package is sure to be.

Of course this is all a moot point if the government doesn’t have the will or the spine to confront tradition and abandon archetype strategies that are more about conceited jingoism than heartfelt patriotism. Sadly, this is probably the case. The government that tries this, or any other drastic last-ditch attempt to win over the trust of the Baloch, will have to be iron-willed.

As it stands, anything less, and the Balochistan Package might as well be categorised as foreign aid.

The writer is city editor, The News, Karachi. Email: gibran. peshimam@gmail.com

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