Genesis of the Baloch-Islamabad conflict

Genesis of the Baloch-Islamabad conflict 

—Sana Baloch

Unfortunately, Islamabad’s dirty policies are not just confined to exploiting Baloch wealth but the establishment is also in constant efforts to marginalise and upset the very liberal and social fabric of Baloch society

Balochistan’s contribution to the country is Himalayan. However, Balochistan’s immeasurable natural wealth and strategic significance turned into a curse rather than a blessing for the Baloch people.

The gravity of Baloch tribulations is deep-rooted, extending behind the minds of the political parties and educated youths to the masses that are experiencing discrimination, oppression and injustices in their everyday life.

Each region, town and village has its own story of neglect, underdevelopment and exploitation. Start from the Baloch coast that hosts Pakistan’s three modern but devoid of the Baloch naval facilities including Jinnah Naval base at Ormara. Chaghai and Kharan, strategically significant regions, where the nuclear test was conducted and copper and gold are being mined, to Lasbela, an industrial town (for Karachiites) and where Pakistan Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission (SUPARCO) facilities are located, to Dera Bugti known for its high quality gas production since 1953, to Quetta and Bolan where coal is being mined — and you will be confronted with a miserable social and economic state of affairs.

However, all these areas have sophisticated military, paramilitary and naval facilities but none of them have modern education, health, electricity, gas or opportunities of livelihood.

Fuelling the national economy for years and helping save billions of dollars worth of foreign exchange in terms of energy import, Balochistan’s 97 percent population lives without gas facility, 78 percent without electricity, and 62 percent without safe drinking water. Balochistan has just 3.4 percent of gas consumers, as compared to 64 percent of Punjab alone, which produces only 4.75 percent of natural gas.

Balochistan being the major coal producing province is deprived of its benefits. During the 1960s, when Lahore was in West Pakistan, 98 percent coalmines of the province were allotted to people having no affiliation with the province. Today the local labourers in these ‘black-gold’ regions live without water, electricity, education and a health system. However, Sheikhs and Parachas are immensely benefitting from the wealth generated by the Baloch coal.

The MoU signed by Islamabad with a Chinese company regarding Saindak Copper-Gold Project is a classic confirmation of the abuse of Baloch wealth and discrimination. Islamabad and the Chinese company are taking 50 and 48 percent respectively and leaving only two percent profit for Balochistan. Besides this mega exploitation, the Saindak project is a no-man’s land for local Baloch youth and guarded by non-Baloch Frontier Corps (FC). Chaghai, the gold producing region, is the poorest of the poor.

Countless MoUs of such exploitative nature are inked with foreign and local companies to insistently exploit Baloch resources. These include the Duddar Lead-Zinc Project and the Reko Diq copper-gold project. Oil and gas exploration licenses are given without taking account of Baloch needs and demands.

Islamabad’s desire to entirely control and effusively exploit Balochistan’s strategic land, energy resources, and economic benefits without Baloch will, desire and legitimate participation are the raison d’être behind mounting tension and mistrust between the Baloch and Islamabad

Unfortunately, Islamabad’s dirty policies are not just confined to exploiting Baloch wealth but the establishment is also in constant efforts to marginalise and upset the very liberal and social fabric of Baloch society by supporting religious parties and co-opting gluttonous tribal and drug barons, which is part of the policy to retain its unquestioning control on Balochistan’s affairs.

Lacking political vision and a democratic culture, Islamabad’s super-establishment is governing Balochistan through a system known as ‘control’. Control, a suppressive system, is a set of mechanisms used in multi-ethnic states by the dominant ethnic groups to contain and keep its control on dissident ethnic minorities, plunder their wealth, destroying their culture and creating mass fear through disappearances, kill and dump policies and strapping presence of military and paramilitary forces.

Control is based on a rogue approach that one ethnic group takes over the state, imposes its culture on society, allocates to itself the lion’s share of resources and takes various measures, including violent means (military operations) to prevent the non-dominant group from organising politically.

Control works through three interrelated mechanisms: a) Divide and rule: internally creating rifts and division among the non-dominant groups; b) economic dependence: making them permanently dependent for their livelihood on the dominant group and central government; c) Co-option: involving sections of the non-dominant elite like greedy tribal chiefs, feudal, drug tycoons, corrupt intellectuals and politicians through partial dispensation of benefits and favours.

The military’s fresh, unwarranted and indiscriminate crackdown against moderate Baloch nationalists, intellectuals, students, poets, anti-establishment tribal elders, businessman and civilians is a reflection of the ‘zero tolerance’ policy against the ethnic Baloch people.

All glitzy mega-projects and control developments launched in Balochistan, including those for gas development, coalmining, Gwadar Port, Mirani Dam, coastal highway, cantonments, and the extraction of copper and gold deposits do not envisage any participation or direct benefit to the people and the province.

An unemployed Baloch feels more depressed and exploited when an unskilled soldier on their soil is brought and employed from another province to fill the position that is legally, naturally and constitutionally the right of a local Baloch youth.

The province is of strategic importance and shares long borders with Iran and Afghanistan and a 1,700-kilometre-long coastline. But border and coastal security is 100 percent controlled by non-Baloch paramilitary forces. Around 70,000 jobs in the FC, Coast Guard, police, maritime security and the Anti-Narcotics Force are occupied by non-locals, which leave thousands of qualified Baloch youths unemployed.

Baloch bitterness by all means is genuine and the continued plunder of Balochistan’s natural resources and its economic and political marginalisation and militarisation are the major causes of mounting tension between the Baloch and Islamabad. Political instability is on the rise.

Islamabad’s reliance on brute force may help the central government to create short-term cosmetic calm but unrest and frustration will further lead to growing mistrust between the Baloch and Islamabad.

Though physically superior, Islamabad has mock control over Balochistan, but emotionally and morally Islamabad seems terribly defeated in Balochistan. The gruesome policy of kill and dump of Baloch political activists has resulted in a permanent fracture in Baloch-Islamabad relations.

No doubt, Balochistan’s attractive and rich landscape, strategic coastline, sizeable territory and its location is very central to the establishment’s strategic vision; however, in the rapidly changing geo-political scenario, overlooking the genuine concerns of the Baloch and the feelings of the people of the province will result in irreparable loss to the establishment.

The writer is a Baloch leader and former Senator who resigned from the Senate of Pakistan in protest against Islamabad’s oppressive policies towards the Baloch people. He can be reached at balochbnp@gmail.com

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