Balochistan’s status quo is the problem

The secessionist sentiment in Balochistan did not surface overnight; insurrection and instability in the province dates back to the 19th century. It was at the centre of the Great Game back then and today, as fate would have it, the province has found itself at the nexus of a New Great Game involving global and regional actors.  The inability of the federation of Pakistan to devise a system inclusive enough to facilitate the assimilation of the Baloch people has come at a heady cost: the resentment has been given decades of neglect to grow and has been nurtured by stakeholders vested in the ‘liberation’ of Balochistan. That the movement came in full swing around the time that the federal authorities in Pakistan started developing the Gwadar Port and road and rail links to it as part of an ambitious project to link it with Central Asia through Chaman, Kandahar across Afghanistan into Central Asia is very telling. Turning a blind eye to the woes of Balochistan will have disastrous results.

Much of the problem in Balochistan can be attributed to the remnants of the colonial era. The Sandeman method produced good results for the British in Balochistan and made it easier to control the locals via a strengthened status quo—the sardars who were the “eyes and ears” of the colonial masters would learn to submit to them with time. Disintegrating the prevailing power structure in the Baloch society strengthened the Crown’s grip on the mineral-rich Balochistan but thwarted progress of any kind—the goal had never been the modernization of the ‘savage’ land to begin with. When the subcontinent was burning with the desire for independence, Balochistan remained/ was kept aloof for the most part. When Pakistan came into being, Balochistan, though geo-strategically important and rich in mineral resources was its poorest province with the lowest population density.

It should also be understood that beginning with meager resources, the state chose to invest in areas which could help toughen Pakistan economically. The goal of bringing about development in the agricultural sector kept the focus of successive governments on Punjab and NWFP. This came at an inherent opportunity cost: that of inequitable development in Balochistan despite putting an end to the indirect method of rule used by the British.  During the Bhutto era, an effort was made to bring about development in the province through a rural integrated development scheme which was fairly successful in other provinces of the country, which faced stiff opposition by the tribal elite. The Baloch resistance more or less served as a cover for status quo’s resistance to the writ of the state and deprived the local populace of a chance to secure a better future. Construction of military cantonments in the province was viewed as a means of repressing the ‘Baloch’ resistance instead of the result of security concerns in the province given that there are several foreign powers involved. Much of the popular separatist rhetoric is structured around the idea that the state has stood in the way of Balochistan’s progress which serves as a flimsy pretext for a secessionist movement especially when Balochistan’s own are guilty of criminal deception.

When it is argued that Balochistan’s resources are being exploited to enhance the establishment’s control over the province, it is conveniently forgotten that separatist movements can often serve as a cover for power grabbing. The onus is on the government now to counter the dangerous propaganda and misinformation campaign with programs focusing on inclusive growth and development which calls for maintaining a focus on socio-political and socio-economic dimensions of development. Bringing all political players to the table will be instrumental in satisfying grievances and working towards a system where mistrust does not stand in the way of achieving national unity. The ‘sardars’ have had their way for far too long, it is time that the state step in and do its job—a lot is at stake.