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A new social contract?

by Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur

The Baloch have suffered immeasurably for their rights and there seems to be no end to it because there is a systematic and concerted attempt to thwart the Baloch attempts to secure these rights. In such a scenario, speaking about ‘new social contracts’ is absolutely futile

Balochistan’s Chief Minister Nawab Muhammad Aslam Raisani recently stressed that, “No compromise would be made on the provincial autonomy issue and rights of the nations” and demanded a “new social contract” to resolve the Balochistan issue. However, he did not elaborate what form or shape this new ‘social contract’ would take and on whose behest and behalf it was being demanded.

French philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau in Du contrat social (1762) defined the social contract as: “A contract between persons in a pre-political or pre-social condition specifying the terms upon which they are prepared to enter society or submit to political authority.” Notably, Thomas Jefferson held that the preservation of certain natural rights was an essential part of the social contract, and that “consent of the governed” was fundamental to any exercise of governmental power.

The question of a ‘new social contract’ would be justified if there were an existing ‘old social contract’. The history of Pakistan, 63 years old, tells us that there was no social contract to speak of as far as the will of the Baloch people was concerned. The Pakistani state with Mohammad Ali Jinnah as its first governor general disregarded their wishes and forcibly annexed the 227 days old, August 12, 1947 to April 1, 1948, independent Balochistan. Not even a pretence of ‘general will’ and the ‘consent of the governed’ was attempted. It was an option-less merger, hence cannot be termed a ‘social contract’.

The Baloch are dissatisfied with the present, name it as you like, arrangement. Persistent resistance and giving lives do not emerge from petty grievances or petty causes. There is certainly a good enough reason behind all the sacrifices, told and untold, given by the Baloch to ensure that they have a life of dignity with control over their future and their resources. They do not like the very things that are rightfully theirs being handed out to them as charity.

A new ‘social contract’ or for that matter any contract can only come about between two equal partners where the rights of all are sacrosanct. No contract can survive where mutual distrust and distaste reigns. Contracts are obligatory and morally binding. All past contracts, whether state-imposed or offered to the Baloch people, have never been honoured and the Baloch justifiably believe that none would be honoured in future.

All powers in their self-righteous fallacy of deciding what is good for whom wilfully forget the basic dictum of ‘consent of the governed’. To them this is merely something rabble-rousers use to incite the masses. They fail to understand that it is the inalienable right of people to live the way they deem fit.

It was for good reasons that the US founding fathers in their Declaration of Independence stated: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organising its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security.” Sadly, their descendents have reneged on these principles and promises.

It was on the basis of this moral principle that John Quincy Adams (1767-1848), the sixth US President (1825-1829), defended Sengbe Pieh (Joseph Cinque), a young Mende man and fellow African slaves, from charges of mutiny aboard ‘Amistad’, the Spanish slave traders’ ship in 1841. This mutiny was an expression of their collective resentment at the then lawful and legal practice of slavery. Sengbe Pieh and other mutineers were acquitted; Quincy did not charge for his services.

The Baloch have suffered immeasurably for their rights and there seems to be no end to it because there is a systematic and concerted attempt to thwart the Baloch attempts to secure these rights. In such a scenario, speaking about ‘new social contracts’ is absolutely futile.

Fabricated WikiLeaks, fortunately exposed immediately, were circulated to malign the Baloch and their struggle. The equally sinister technique of presenting perniciously slanted news by the mainstream media continues. A single line reference in the ‘conflict assessment report’ on Balochistan in the Pak Institute for Peace Studies’ (PIPS) journal Conflict and Peace Studies about the possible connection of Baloch groups with some criminals was prominently displayed in a national daily (not Daily Times). Looking at it, one wondered if the Baloch had formed a nexus with the notorious Mexican La Familia Michoacana cartel, whose head Nazario Moreno was recently killed, or the Colombian Medellin Cartel. This smacks of visceral bias.

This report has also suggested that “the government should boost the capacity and resources of security forces and law enforcement agencies in Balochistan to reduce the risk of violence”. Boosting capacity to “reduce the risk of violence” definitely translates into more repression for the Baloch people. The forces are ‘well equipped’ enough to dump 50-plus bodies of abducted Baloch in November alone, to continue ‘disappearing’ people and arresting activists like Abdul Qayyum of the Baloch Students Organisation-Azad in Gwadar. I wonder if ‘better equipped’ means arming them with low yield nuclear bombs and ‘mustard gas’ to keep violence in check.

Throughout history, repression and oppression has had legal protection because the oppressors have been powerful. Slavery was legal as was apartheid, but that never stopped people from resisting these injustices. When the governed do not consent, they can be only kept in bondage for a limited time. Raisani would do well to remember that contracts, social or other, become morally valid only when the principle of ‘consent of the governed’ is fully respected.

Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur has an association with the Baloch rights movement going back to the early 1970s. He can be contacted at mmatalpur@gmail.com


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