New Provinces: What Will the Baloch Gain?

By Malik Siraj Akbar

Now that the debate over the formation of new provinces has begun, the Balochs may not be the biggest beneficiary of this opportunity.  It is so cliched but true at the same time that nothing happens in Pakistan without the consent of the military. The debate must have originated in the national media and the political circles after getting some, if not complete, endorsement from the armed forces.  Otherwise, the issue of new provinces has always been one of those taboos falling in the so-called ‘national security ‘ paradigm.

The two mainstream political parties, the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) may only take credit for whatever good will happen in the backdrop of this exercise. If this practice culminates in a success, it will have many admirers but if ends as  a fiasco then the PPP will be left alone to shoulder the burden of this “mistake” as was seen in the case of the country’s dismemberment in 1971.

Who is going to benefit from this “opportunity”? I believe this is going to benefit those whose stakes in the state of Pakistan have remarkably increased over the years. Also, parties and coalition partners of the two major political parties will play a decisive role in making decisions. Baloch nationalists, barring a few,  do not have any presence in the Pakistani parliament at the  moment. The other Balochs who are members of both houses of the parliament and the provincial assembly do not assert a nationalistic identity. They are either members of the the left-centric PPP or the semi-right-centric PML-N. By the virtue of nationalists’ boycott of the general elections and call it the popularity or the fear of Baloch separatist movement, even pro-Taliban Jammiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI) has begun to grab parliamentary seats from Baloch districts.  For example, such Baloch-Islamist senators include Maulana Abdul  Ghafoor Haideri (Kalat), Ismail Buledai (Mastung) and Liaquat Bangulzai (Kech).)

So, most key decisions will be made at the federal level without even consulting the Balochs. You may say but were Balcohs ever ‘consulted’ in the past that one should compalain about it now. Nobody is talking here about considering the Balcoh proposals. There is a difference between “consulting” and “accepting” a stakeholder’s demands. Thus, this time, the Baloch will be out of this important process. This is going to be an experience different from the 2004-05 parliamentary committees on Balochistan.

It is very unlikely that the Baloch MNAs or senators from the PPP, PML, Balochistan National Party-Awami or JUI would go an extra mile to displease Islamabad by raising the Baloch, concerns and interests. The only remaining three people who may walk out of some parliamentary proceedings or address a press conference, given the maximum options in their disposal, are senators Dr. Abdul Malik, Hasil Khan Bizenjo and MPA Usman Advocate, who are all staunch Baloch nationalists but contested the elections as ‘independent’ candidates. There is also a possibility of some voice from Israrullah Zehri, the head of the pro-government BNP, who is very good with tactics to attract media and blackmail the provincial and central governments.

Now what is going to happen if some decisions are taken against the Baloch interests? Nothing, to give a honest and pragmatic judgement. Will the Baloch not protest? Of course, they will. But have they not been protesting for decades ? What is the worst the Baloch can do? They will revolt and unleash an armed struggle against Islamabad. Again, have they already not been doing this  for almost a decade now? That is why the Balochs have to once again get ready to be treated unfairly.

What actually is the Baloch stance on the over all debate about the new provinces?

There are two important aspects to  this whole debate vis-à-vis Balochistan.

Firstly, the Awami National Party (ANP) of Asfandyar Khan Wali has officially demanded the separation of the Pakhtun districts of Balochistan to form a new province named as Southern Pakhtunkhwa.This is not an unexpected or an invalid demand. The Pashtun areas of Balochistan were actually incorporated by the British under their faulty yet deliberate game plane to ‘divide and rule’. This demand, previously voiced by Pakhtunkhawa Milli Awami Party of former member of the parliament, Mahmood Khan Achakzai, whose is the largest Pakhtun nationalist party in Balochistan, has gained momentum in the recent months.

The prospects of this demand being conceded are bright, if not sooner but surely later. Because the Pakhtuns, unlike the Balochs,  have significantly integrated themselves into the federation of Pakistan. Their representation in the country’s military, bureaucracy, foreign services, media, civil/foreign services, transport and businesses  has enormously, though gradually, increased. By the end of the day, Pakhtuns today are great stakeholders which means they would no longer want to see Pakistan’s break-up.  No matter how intense the operation in some parts of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province gets, the Pakhtun reactions is  still very calculated. It means the Pakhtuns, including the hardliners like the Tehrik-e-Taliban-e-Pakistan (TTP) may criticize the government of Pakistan on different policies but they still do not have such a big demand (i.e. freedom from Pakistan) as the Balochs do.

An increase in the Pakhtun representation in Pakistan simply means today Pakhtuns are in a position in the country’s polity and state apparatus to influence or veto central government’s certain policies which clash with Pakhtun interests. Besides the Pakhtun nationalists, the Pakhtuns in Jammat-e-Islami and Jammiat Ulema-e-Islam, PML-N and PPP  also safeguard the Pakhtun rights at different levels.  On Pakhtun interests, JUI-F in Balochistan, for example, does not have any difference of opinion with Pakhtunkhawa Milli Awami Party.

It is the enhanced Pakhtun stakes in Pakistan which compelled the current government to change the name of the province from North West Frontier Province (NWFP) to Khyber Pakhtunkhawa.  Today, Pakhtuns are the biggest influence in Pakistan after the Punjabis. They have acquired the power to veto any decision from Islamabad or at least urge the central government to review or modify its decisions.

Secondly, the Balochistan National Party (BNP) of Sardar Akhtar Mengal, the largest Baloch nationalist party, has demanded the incorporation of  districts of Dera Ghazi Khan and Rajanpur in Punjab and Jacobabad into Balochistan.  Local newspapers have quoted the party’s acting president Dr. Jhanzaib Jamaldini describe these three districts as the “historically integral parts” of Balochistan. The BNP says it does not oppose the creation of a Saraiki province but it should not be created at the cost of the Baloch districts of Punjab.  Both, the Saraiki and Sindhi, nationalists often get touchy about such Baloch claims. They insist that Balochs who have lived in Punjab and Sindh for ages should no longer be called as the people of Balochistan.  So, we have to wait and see what the “oppressed nations” agree upon. On the issue of Balochistan’s Pashtuns, the BNP has reiterated the older Baloch stance that it does not only support the separation of these districts but will also launch a massive campaign to support the Pashtun right to separation from Balochistan.

Thirdly, Balochistan’s chief minister Nawab Aslam Raisani has publicly stated that he does not support the idea of creating new provinces at this time in spite of the idea emanating from his own party. Raisani’s lack of interest in the matter means the Balochistan government will not take any official stance to reclaim the historic Baloch districts from Punjab and Sindh provinces.

Fourthly, the government may try to take this as a wonderful opportunity to even break up the Baloch province on the basis of Baloch and Bhravi identities. Given the discomforting history of government lobbyists, some naive people may fall in the trap of  the so-called Baloch-Bhravi divide.  If Balochs do not achieve much from the creation of new provinces, they should at least lose the Baloch-Bhravi oneness in this process. People like PkMP leader Mahmood Khan Achakzai always uses the misleading term ” the Pashtun-Baloch and Bhravi province” to refer to Balochistan. All like-minded political leaders and intellectuals must strive to ensure Baloch-Bhravi oneness.

Finally, it will take a while for the dust to settle down over all these questions and concerns. We have to wait and see how the Baloch political parties react to this situation and how much the PPP and its allies will consider Baloch rreservations and demands. (The Baloch Hal)


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