Sunday, February 20, 2005

Academic claims 65 percent of Baloch favour armed struggle

Academic claims 65 percent of Baloch favour armed struggle

By Khalid Hasan

Washington: A Pakistani academic told a meeting here on Friday that according to a recent survey taken in Balochistan, 65 percent of those polled favoured “armed struggle” for the achievement of their objectives.

Dr Ayesha Siddiqa, currently doing a fellowship at the Woodrow Wilson Centre, said this while reading a paper on Balochistan at the Johns Hopkins University. She said only 26.6 percent of the population was literate and civic facilities were lacking. Tracing the history of the province, she said Balochistan alone had resisted the acquisition of its land by the army. She described the present situation is one of “complete chaos and mayhem”. She was sceptical about the state claiming that it retained control of the situation. There were fears, she added, of the country’s break-up as happened in 1971.Pakistan, she said, is a “troubled state under siege” and hence there was greater use of authority being witnessed. She was quick to add that the Pakistani state had far more resilience today than it had in 1971 and was not “unravelling.” Nevertheless, what was happening in Balochistan today could not be ignored because it was going to define the future of Pakistan.

Dr Siddiqa, who is working on a book detailing the commercial and entrepreneurial side of the Pakistan army, warned that Balochistan would prove a “major catalyst” and if the state continued to pretend that all was well and under control, it would be faced with a few surprises. It was her view that because of what was taking place in Balochistan, federal-provincial relations would have to change. The situation could also change the “dynamics of key organisations such as the army”. How the top management of the Pakistan army handles the situation, she added, would determine the course of events. How the crisis was managed would affect the future of the federation. The main grouse of the people of Balochistan is, she explained, that their resources are bringing disproportionate benefit to others not to them. There are “multiple faultlines,” she said, in Balochistan, some of them real, some of them “created” ones. The Balochis fear that they are going to be turned into a minority. She said secession was a “lesser possibility”. She was of the opinion that the “divide and rule” policy followed by the federal government can no longer work.

She said the situation had become more complicated because of the induction of religious and extremist elements. Another factor was the Baloch-Pushtun divide. There were also accusations of foreign intervention and India and Iran had been named as being responsible for that.

The Pakistani academic stressed that Balochistan today was a “high-stake area” and quite different from what it was in the 1970s. The development of the Gwadar port and the intended establishment of two cantonments at Sui and the new port were highly divisive issues. The Balochis were distrustful of the intentions of the government and saw the cantonments as intended to militarise the province. The government argued back that the cantonments were necessary for security and the protection of Sui installations and the Gwadar port. Real estate values had shot up steeply, and that had become another cause of local grievance. The federal government viewed Gwadar as a “future Dubai”. She added that Balochistan is too precious for Pakistan to be allowed to go away. She called Pakistan a “masculine state” which had used force in the past, and which was likely to use it in the future. She said it should be appreciated that the Balochi nationalists were asking for their share and it should be given to them on a fair basis. They were not about to opt out of the country but there was need today to change the structure of the basic institutions of the state. She said Balochis did not have proper representation in the army but provided no figures to prove the point.

Dr Siddiqa said the state was handling the situation in Balochistan in a “bureaucratic way” which would not work. Its offerings to the Balochis were “tactical rather than strategic”. A few development schemes were not the answer, nor was interaction with different actors at different times. There were three options before the government: to strike militarily, to negotiate with multiple actors, and to renegotiate the present relationship between the strategic establishment and the province. She was in favour of the last option.

During the question-answer session, it was pointed out by a journalist that Dr Siddiqa had held forth on Balochistan without even mentioning feudalism and the Sardari system. She was told, “How can you even begin to talk about Balochistan without mentioning the exploitative and outdated Sardari system that may lie at the heart of the problem.” She did not respond with an adequate or convincing response to the criticism.


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