A rickety Balochistan package

By Malik Siraj Akbar

The Pakistan People’s Party-led governments in the Center and Balochistan insist that politicians and the political pundits do not have to hastily jump into conclusions about the much-hyped Balochistan package. After a meeting with Balochistan governor Nawab Zulfiqar Ali Magsi and Chief Minister Nawab Mohammad Aslam Raisani, Prime Minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gillani and his aides agreed to name it the package as the “Aghaz-e-hoqook-e-Balochistan package” (Starting of the rights of Balochistan package). The government concedes that the economic package is unlikely to resolve all outstanding issue of Balochistan overnight nor is it going to providing a heeling touch to the disillusioned Baloch, who have suffered backwardness, poverty and discrimination in all domains of life while living in the federation of Pakistan over six decades. This, the government contends, should simply be seen as the harbinger of good beginning.

It is still not know when the package is formally going to be announced and what it actually entails for the Baloch. We will have to wait and see. The question being raised in drawing room discussions at the moment is whether the government sitting back in Islamabad is truly cognizant of the need for how big the package has to be to meet Baloch expectations.

Islamabad has had a history of extending apologies to the people of Balochistan after having inflicted deadly military operations. Ironically, every ruler coming into power announced publically saying that he did not deem himself as an offender of the Baloch feelings but would still like to apologize for the wrong policies of the “previous governments”. Thus, no one feels guilty or responsible for his own flawed attitude towards Balochistan. While coming into power and tabling his never-achieved Seven-Point Agenda, retired general Pervez Musharraf publically apologize with the people of Balochistan for the “mistakes of the past rulers” and pledged to bring Balochistan in the national mainstream by enhancing the province’s share in the federation of Pakistan and providing better economic opportunities. Musharraf left while pocketing the greatest amount of Baloch criticism and resentment any of the Pakistani rulers had ever earned from Balochistan.

Asif Ali Zardari, Musharraf’ successor, had also learnt the impractical ploy of dealing with the Balochs: Apologize in the first place and thrash them later on. Unfortunately, things never proved that easy for the democratic president of Pakistan. When Musharraf had come into power, Balochistan was mildly crying for provincial autonomy. No insurgency was taking place in the province. Public resentment against Islamabad had not skyrocketed to such a irreversible stage. Therefore, if Musharraf had announced maximum provincial autonomy and then sincerely worked on such a policy ten years ago, a lot of mess that we are experiencing today could have definitely been averted.

With Zardari in power, today’s Balochistan presents a totally different look. The Baloch movement is no longer led by the old democratic leaders with whom Zardari had meetings in the past as a senator. This time, the Baloch movement has gone in the hands of middle-class educated and, more importantly, radicalized young Balochs, such as Dr. Allah Nizar, to cite one of several instances. Championing the cause of an independent Balochistan and venting weariness towards live within the federation of Pakistan, this generation of comrades is very hard to please with mere apologies and packages.

The late announcement of the Balochistan package is not what one has to detest. It is in fact the flawed strategy given to the PPP government by the country’s civil and military establishment which is likely to dim the prospects of success for this package. The President seems to have been misguided by his cronies who seemingly told him to adopt a policy of divide-and-rule in Balochistan. Hence, a deliberate attempt was made to skirt the genuine political groups of Balochistan, the Balochistan National Party (BNP), National Party (NP), Baloch Republican Party (BRP), all factions of the Baloch Students’ Organization (BSO) and other components of the Baloch National Front (BNF).

In addition, it is impossible to resolve the Balochistan issue without taking listening to the complaints and demands of armed groups –the Baloch Liberation Army, Balochistan Liberation United Front, Baloch Republican Army, Baloch Liberation Front and Lashkar-e- Balochistan. In September 2008, three of the abovementioned resistance fighter organizations announced a unilateral ceasefire for a complete month. During this period, not a single bullet was fired in any part of Balochistan. Unfortunately, the government did not view this as a golden opportunity to take some confidence building measures (CBMs) in Balochistan by releasing all the missing persons, withdrawing the army from Dera Bugti and Kohlu, acquitting all the Baloch leaders and political activists who were falsely implicated in different cases and rehabilitating the internally displaced Balochs who were driven out of their homes during the prolonged conflict.

A package surely does not resolve all the problems of Balochistan, as collectively acknowledged by the leaders in and outside the government. The government should redo is home work regarding any package it intends to announce for Balochistan and come up with a strong initiative that at least provides a conducive atmosphere for dialogue with the province and the center.

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