Jobs on merit, political inclusion and resolute counter-insurgency campaign against irreconcilable elements is key.
The Baloch agitators are in the capital and the state is on the horns of dilemma as to how to deal with them. The agitators’ cri de cœur about holding the state responsible for the disappearance of their loved ones is raising hackles of state functionaries responsible for fighting nationalist insurgency in Balochistan. On the other end of the spectrum there is a groundswell of support amongst the liberal fringe of the media and civil society. There were three articles in Dawn on 30th December that excoriated the state for its highhandedness vis a vis Baloch people agitating for their rights. Unfortunately there is no representation of the state narrative about the agitators and their demands.
What is the reason for this one-sided peroration by the civil society and the media on an issue that deserves a deeper analysis about the nature and etiology of the Baloch unrest and the genuineness of their grievances. In the interest of objectivity it is essential to take a holistic look at the Baloch demands and the state’s response. What is the present Baloch insurgency all about and what are the demands of the nationalists from the state are some of the questions that need to be answered before offering a prescription for the malady.
The present Baloch insurgency is the sixth of its kind and is being led by two kinds of leaders. One are the estranged tribal leaders who, having failed to earn the rents that they thought they deserved from the state, have taken to violence as a tool of coercion to achieve their objectives. This category of leaders include Harbiyar Marri leading Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) who in the past has remained member of the parliament as well as the education minister of the province; and Brahamdagh Bugti, the leader of Balochistan Republican Party. These leaders have remained in exile for so long that now their clout over their militant followers has started waning, giving rise to parvenu militant leadership such as Bashir Zeb and Allah Nazar Baloch. These leaders have emerged from lower middle class and represent a disaffected and frustrated cohort that having been excluded from the political mainstream have started to lead the armed struggle. The grievances of this category emanate from a frustration due to bad governance that denies the common people the fruits of development and progress.
Balochistan with a landmass of 44% of Pakistan has only 7% of the national population and the people of the province accuse the federation of treating the province as a strategic asset that yields economic and geo-strategic benefits for the federation but hardly for its people. When the Centre brings investment and development projects in the province the local people feel excluded and betrayed. Even projects like CPEC that do not provide livelihood options to local people evoke resentment.
The biggest issue that evokes resentment amongst the people in the province is the bad governance. Earlier the province was predominantly rural and tribal with the tribal leaders ruling the roost who could be handled through a colonial governance strategy of appeasement of the tribal leaders. After the independence, the increasing urbanisation and the rise of educated middleclass in cities have given rise to a different set of expectations which if left unfulfilled lead towards hopelessness which ultimately promotes sub-nationalism. The bad governance in the province is a result of a Faustian bargain of the state with the corrupt elite of the province that appropriates to itself the economic and political capital leaving nothing for the masses. The most unfortunate part is that the anger of the masses, begotten out of bad governance, is being cleverly diverted towards the state by this venal political elite of the province.
The poor governance is evident in the shape of lowest human development index in the province i.e. 0.463 compared to other provinces. According to a sitting parliamentarian, 90% of the annual development funds of the province go in the pockets of influential people, leaving a pittance for the common people. Same is the state of the jobs which are doled out on patronage instead of merit. Amidst all of the above mentioned schisms operate the proxy warfare actors which are muddying the water through violence, terrorism and information warfare.
An analysis of the grievances and demands of the sub-nationalists waging a violent conflict finds the nature of demands quite confusing. If the demand is about development, health, education and livelihood then the provincial governance can be targeted as the main instrument to ameliorate the people’s condition. But if the demand is about breaking free from the federation then neither governance nor development is the remedy. The present sub-nationalist insurgency led by the likes of Allah Nazar and Bashir Zeb despite being enabled by the poor governance is rooted in separatism fueled by a proxy warfare. The sub-nationalist leadership’s demands are unacceptable and those who let loose an orgy of killings and abductions on the non-Baloch settlers in Balochistan in 2009 deserved a violent state response.
When the state fought back to reclaim its writ the violent militants suffered casualties and the claims of innocent deaths therefore by the agitating relatives have to be viewed in the context of their armed conflict with the state. The statements of former insurgent leaders like Gulzar Imam Shambay and Sarfraz Bangulzai after renunciation of violence are eye-openers. These insurgent leaders have revealed the active support provided to insurgents by Indian agencies like RAW. The capture of Kulbhushan Jadhav, a serving Indian naval commander, in Balochistan who has owned up his involvement in terrorism is a clear indication of external involvement in Balochistan.
The state needs to fight with resolve all those who have taken up arms after being negatively indoctrinated by the separatists, influenced by external forces, while ensuring that Balochistan is governed well. Only good governance could choke the oxygen for the sub-nationalists’ narrative. The state should facilitate the rise of genuine and competent leadership and allow it to continue functioning instead of promoting weak and malleable leaders for short-term political gains.
Good governance, jobs on merit, political inclusion and a resolute counter-insurgency campaign against irreconcilable elements is the key to Balochistan’s peace and prosperity.