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Balochistan’s Berlin Wall

Dr. Pervez Tahir

by Dr Pervez Tahir

Need one be surprised when the Baloch laugh at the “we” in the pronouncements of the political leaders! They don’t want anything from ‘us’. They just want control over whatever is left of their own resources.

Balochistan continues to be misread by the political leadership of Pakistan. Forgetting the history of its exploitation, the issue is framed in terms of its relative economic and political backwardness. The cookbook recipe comprises the ingredients of an apology, more development funds and greater provincial autonomy. The lesson learned from East Pakistan is that an apology would not have been necessary had equitable resource sharing and political autonomy been there as a matter of right or acceded soon after such a demand was made. There are no takers after the point of no return is reached and the military is launched into operation. The military did learn a lesson from the East Pakistan debacle — massive deployment before the event. The number of military personnel deployed per thousand is the highest it’s ever been, which is what made Sardar Attaullah Mengal talk about a near point of no return.

Underlying the belief structure of the political leadership is the arrogant notion that if ‘we’ can somehow make Balochistan like ‘us’, the issue will be resolved. The PPP and its allies came out with the Aghaz-e-haqooq-e-Balochistan package, formulated in a developmental mould; more projects, money, government jobs, etc. It was followed by the new National Finance Commission (NFC) criteria, which gave weight to geographical location as well as degree of backwardness. In addition to the NFC revenue resources, the Eighteenth Amendment allowed part ownership of natural resources. Only the NFC has been implemented in letter though, not in spirit. Recently, Mian Nawaz Sharif offered an apology but no solution; more motorways, Gwadars, yellow cabs, Danish schools and medical colleges are what he must be thinking of when his time comes. The naivete of both the government and Mian Sahib was surpassed by Imran Khan’s offer that “we” would do for Balochistan, what West Germany did for East Germany after unification. West Germany forced a sudden rush into market fundamentalism, destroying the industry and institutions of what was once the most developed economy of the Soviet bloc. East Germany withered away as a political entity but not as a distinct social reality. In this colonial discourse of transformation, its residents were brothers if they transformed and adapted, and fossils of the past if they did not.

The analogy was most unfortunate. The East Germans pulled down the Berlin Wall to the utter surprise of the West Germans. The Baloch have done no such thing and nor do they want to. In effect, they were independent at the time of the Partition, which brought them under direct central control. One Unit submerged them into West Pakistan. In 1970, they were made a province. When the province attempted to exercise its autonomy under the 1973 Constitution, the government was dismissed and a military operation started. Now, it is not under an operation. It is under military rule. A ‘Berlin Wall’ has been raised around Balochistan. Need one be surprised when the Baloch laugh at the “we” in the pronouncements of the political leaders! They don’t want anything from ‘us’. They just want control over whatever is left of their own resources.

Failure to recognise this is no more just an existential threat to the state. It is fast becoming a reality, as Yousuf Nazar’s recently-published book, Balkanisation and Political Economy of Pakistan, so ably argues: “the idea of Pakistan, if not the writ, has become a questionable and a sore topic in Balochistan which constitutes 48 per cent of the country’s land area and despite being rich in natural resources is the poorest of the provinces, with simmering anger and alienation bloodied by a low intensity insurgency”.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 6th, 2012.

The writer, a former chief economist of the Planning Commission, is at present based at Cambridge in the UK