Thursday, June 01, 2006

PAKISTAN: BALUCH TRIBAL PRINCE LOSES FAITH IN STATE

http://www.adnki.com/index_2Level_English.php
?cat=Security&loid=8.0.305389768&par=0

Quetta, 1 June (AKI) - (by Syed Saleem Shahzad) - Home to Pakistan's largest gas and oil reserves, the volatile south-western province of Baluchistan is the key for Pakistan to become an economic power in the region. The government plans to eliminate the tribal system in the province by December 2006 and bring it under a series of municipal authorities. However, a six-month long campaign by the military to rein in the province's tribal rebels, who are demanding greater political and economic rights, appears to have achieved only one thing - lose the support of the tribal groups that were pro-establishment.

One such tribal group that has now lost faith in Pakistan are the Raisanis. Unlike the warring Mari, Bugti and Mengal tribes, Raisanis have always been considered docile and pro-establishment. However, Islamabad's ambitions to pacify Baluchistan have turned Raisanis hostile as well.

Amongst all tribal chiefs in Baluchistan, the king of Qalat (who was considered the King of Baluchistan) and the Raisanis (second only to the Qalat family) were the only ones who were recognised under British colonial rule as "Chiefs" of the province.

"Our family has been holding important ministeries in Baluchistan and my father was the first civilian governor of Baluchistan, yet the [Pakistani] establishment is not ready to treat us as citizens and is rather forcing us to a complete surrender, said Baluchistan's Nawabzada or Prince Haji Mir Lashkari Khan Raisani in an interview with Adnkronos International (AKI) at his home in Quetta.

"We refused and that is why we are now facing the music," he said.

Baluchistan, which border both Iran and Afghanistan, is Pakistan's largest but poorest province. It has been plagued by violent attacks carried out by tribal separatists demanding more political autonomy and a greater share of the area's resources, most of whose revenues go to the central government. The separatists have targeted gas plants, electricity lines and railway tracks.

In December last year, the violence escalated when rebel tribesmen fired rockets during a visit by Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf to a Baluch town. Musharraf has announced plans for major infrastructure projects in Baluchistan to win back support but the authorities have vowed to deal sternly with the militants.

The Pakistani government has said that it is working to eliminate the tribal system from Balochistan which it says is tyrannical and stifles the region's progress and development.

However Mir Lashkari does not agree.

"There is a misconception about the tribal system," he said. "From top to bottom we all are blood relatives in a tribe. My guards are my blood relatives. The tribes' region is the collective property of all in which every segment of a tribe gets an equal share. One person is selected as tribal chief and gets a bigger portion from the assets of a tribe only because he manages the affairs on behalf his men and needs the resources," Lashkari explained.

"This is an arrangement agreed by all men living here so who give the people sitting in Islamabad the right to disturb and intervene in this arrangement," the tribal chief maintained.

Lashkari insisted that if gas reserves are found underneath the soil owned by a tribe, the local people have exclusive rights on that.

And this is exactly the point of disagreement between Islamabad and Baluch tribes; Islamabad feels that all natural resources are the owned by the state.

It's the potential of these natural resources that has made Baluchistan so valuable for Pakistan which plans to make the province a nucleus and transit point for energy pipelines. There are some 42 multi-national companies interested or already engaged in oil and gas exploration in the province.

Regional players like India, Afghanistan and Iran are also interested because of its geographic proximity while plans by the government to construct a deep sea port at Gwadar and a road link with Afghanistan and central Asia, has put the province in the centre of a struggle between China, Russia and the United States to hold their ground in Central and Southwest Asia.

Baluchi tribes and the Pakistani government have long been engaged in this tussle and it's finally erupted into a bloody conflict, with all the top tribal chiefs on one side and the state on the other.

However with the help of state resources and influence, some smaller tribes are assisting the government to pacify Baluchistan by the end of 2006.

A similar battle is being fought in Mehrgarh. The archaeological site, which dates back to a civilisation in 7,000 BC and lies between the between the present-day cities of Quetta, Kalat and Sibi in Baluchistan, was destroyed in 2001. The tribal heirs of the area, the Raisanis, were displaced by the Pakistani forces after they refused to support the military establishment and a pro-government tribe was put in their place .

According to Lashkari, the problem began in 2001 when the military establishment forced the Raisainis to support General Pervez Musharraf in a national referendum which was held to recognize him as president of Pakistan.

"Instead we asserted ourselves and opposed the referendum," Lashkari maintained.

"The then [army] corps commander of Quetta Lt. General [now retired] Abdul Qadir Baluch summoned me and my elder brother Nawab Aslam and urged us to allow those unscruplous elements into our area otherwise, he threatened us, we would lose our status," Lashkari recalled.

"The meeting ended on a bitter note and we made it clear that we would not adhere to any of the military's dictates. As soon as we returned back to our area, a hostile campaign against us started in which we were charged in false cases. We bravely faced those cases and refused to surrender but then the state came out with full force," he said.

"That was November 2001 when our area Mehrgarh, which we have owned since 1762 [Mehr Gargh is situated 80 miles in south-east of the provincial capital Quetta] was surrounded by the Rind tribe which is headed by a federal minister Yar Mohammed Rind. They were fully armed and they entered our area under complete state patronage. They destroyed our houses and belongings," he said.

According to Lashkari, Mehrgarh, was discovered 30 years ago by a French team headed by archaeologist and director of the the Musee Guimet in Paris, Jean Francais Jirrage, who also has an office in the Mehrgarh site. There are a total of 8 sites, one of which dates back to 5000 BC while the rest were dated to 7000 BC.

"French archealogists have been working on those sites under our patronage for the last 30 years and they established some go-downs where they keep precious material and their equipment. That all was looted. The sites were destroyed," said Lashkari.

The French archaeologists have said that they have faced difficulties during the exploration work in the area and regretted that Mehrgarh site had been vandalized and the exploratory work had come to a standstill. The work has not yet been resumed fully.

"3000 of our tribesmen were forced out from their land and now they are all displaced. Some are in Afghanistan, some are in the Sindh province and some are in Quetta. We are also living as refugees in Quetta," he said.

"We tried to register a case against the invaders. A case was registered in which 50 rupees [less than one US dollar] was the penalty stated besides a few months in prison!" he said.

"When Musharraf visited France, the French President [Jacques Chirac in 2003] complained about the Mehrgarh incident in which a site was destroyed. The result was negative and when Musharraf came back to Pakistan, the noose was further tightened around us," Lashkari maintained.

"When Pakistan was dismembered in 1971 [when East Pakistan became the independent nation of Bangladesh] we were all crying in our houses in the love of our country but when we now see the high-handedness of the state we feel that perhaps we never did belong to this country," Lashkari concluded.

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