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Tackling Balochistan’s challenges



By Imtiaz Gul

Express Tribune Dec 10, 2014


Power politics — led by the notorious Baloch ruling elite — again appears to have gripped the restive province of Balochistan. At a time when the Chief Minister’s Policy Reform Unit has come out with an excellent documentation on the province’s state of public finances, governance, the post-Eighteenth Amendment legislative challenges, the state of education and a brilliantly encapsulated vision and strategy on development, a fresh assault on Dr Abdul Malik Baloch’s fragile provincial government is increasingly becoming visible.

The launch on December 8 of the series of documents on the current economic and governance situation and future prospects lays out guidelines for the government, which were lauded by all and sundry. Reiterating what he had said at the National Party’s fourth congress on the occasion, the chief minister ruled out any compromise on Baloch resources, geography, national identity and coastal resources, and vowed to devote all energy and effort towards engendering development, peace, employment, education and healthcare facilities in the light of the development strategy that the policy reform unit has proposed.

At the same time, Dr Baloch urged the Baloch nation to shun emotionalism and instead present their case with valid arguments and logic. The chief minister also made a candid statement, alluding to the barrage of complaints by Baloch nationalists. “It was easier to blame Islamabad for our plight but post-Eighteenth Amendment we have largely to blame ourselves if we cannot implement the rights under that legislation. The onus for realising the promises of the Eighteenth Amendment rests squarely on us,” he said.

But as the launch ceremony was unfolding at a local hotel, the beleaguered government facedbullying and allegations in the provincial assembly. Opposition parliamentarians, Mir Hammal Kalmati and Maulvi Gulab Khan, as well as Samina Khan of the PML-N, for instance, faulted the chief minister for the fast-deteriorating law and order situation. In 2013-14, according to Mr Kalmati, 153 mutilated bodies were found in different parts of Balochistan, 216 targeted killings were reported and 2,985 Baloch people went missing.

The government responded by claiming significant improvement in the law and order situation in the Kech and Panjgur districts. The government also claims to have broken down chains of 70 gangs of organised crime, including those patronised by extremely influential politicians cum tribal chiefs. Incidents of recovering mutilated bodies have also declined, according to officials, with this becoming possible because of much closer coordination between the civilian and military security apparatus.

Officials also say that the mighty lobby of the tribal sardars, most of whom are unhappy because of strict financial discipline and governance guidelines that Dr Baloch has tried to impose, seems intent on forcing out what they deride as the “minority government”. Even a PML-N delegation headed by Khawaja Saad Rafique failed in assuaging the bloated and greedy egos of its provincial parliamentarians, who presented a long list of reservations, demanding the removal of Dr Baloch. Despite the plunder of billions of rupees through ministerial and departmental contracts, the PML-N legislators complained that they were being ignored in matters, such as those related to development funds.

This obviously represents the ugly side of Balochistan’s murky politics that remains hostage to corrupt and ruthless tribal lords, many of whom lord over syndicates of organised crime. Concerned civilian and military officials say that disarming the latest onslaught against the provincial government — a rare glimmer of hope for the province in the context of the long-drawn and simmering insurgency — is the duty of all those concerned about Balochistan.

The ouster of the present government is no option at all, according to a high-placed security official. His civilian counterparts also concurred and said that the civil-military leadership in Islamabad needs to put its foot down to fend off the threat to Dr Baloch’s government. They also voiced concerns over Islamabad’s minimal focus on Balochistan. The national media often blacks out events taking place in Balochistan. Central leaders hardly visit Quetta. The fact that the BLA has currently forced a cable TV shutdown in many parts of Balochistan also gives a grim reminder of the fear that separatist-nationalist groups sow in the minds of the people at large.

The situation certainly demands strong continued support from Islamabad so that the fragile province can be spared of the kind of power politics that has kept it on tenterhooks for too long. The forces of status quo must not be allowed to hijack whatever little the provincial government has done and is trying to achieve through transparent governance. That is the message that resonates in Quetta. 

Imtiaz Gul is the executive director of the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies

Email: imtiaz@crss.pk