Islamabad’s ‘gunboat’ policy
By Sanaullah Baloch
Courtesy to "Dawn"
IN the past 60 years, the people of Balochistan have endured immense suffering. They have lost their sovereignty and identity, and have been ruthlessly exploited.

A peaceful, autonomous region before 1948, Balochistan now resembles the war-torn West African countries where resources have been turned into a curse rather than a cure for the native population.

The recent history of the Baloch people, particularly from 1948 onwards, has been marked by confrontation, segregation, exploitation and increasingly abysmal living conditions throughout the province. During this period, the central government’s priority has been to develop and expand the security network in Balochistan, in order to get what it wants. Put simply, Islamabad has adopted a clear and consistent ‘gunboat’ policy in order to remain in command of the province.

The establishment holds the Baloch people and their leadership responsible for the current state of affairs. Yet how can a region develop when it has more soldiers than teachers, more garrisons then universities, more naval bases than science and research centres? In Balochistan today, Frontier Corps (FC) cantonments outnumber colleges, there are more police stations than vocational training centres and more check-posts than government girls’ schools.

Neither politicians, nor the establishment in Islamabad, appear willing to understand and undo the colonial-style system that is the source of immense frustration for the people of this resource-rich province. Islamabad has always taken the approach of hiding Balochistan’s miseries behind empty packages and slogans. In reality, the central government has lost all moral and political command over Baloch land: it uses unethical methods such as fear and brutality to retain power in the region, in a manner that is reminiscent of the colonial era.

The killing recently of political activists in Khuzdar is not an exception: it represents a planned policy to decapitate the Baloch people’s leadership and terrorise the population. On Jan 15, a peaceful rally by the Baloch Students Organisation was fired upon by FC personnel and two young students-cum-political activists, Saddam Hussain and Ali Dost, were killed. Many other students were injured.

The protest was a democratic right of the Baloch youth to express their opposition to the killing of Baloch people in Karachi, and to lobby for the release of the soaring numbers of missing persons.

The broader aim underpinning the recent daylight murders of senior Baloch leaders is to prevent at all costs any mobilisation among the Baloch, or the raising of their political consciousness. Islamabad is using inhumane methods to intimidate Baloch political activists, seeking by such means to render impossible any organised struggle against the colonisation and exploitation of Baloch land and resources.

The establishment’s hidden motives are revealed by its policy of state-sponsored murder, such as that of Baloch leader Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti who was killed by Pakistani troops in August 2006. Other deaths include that of Balach Marri in November 2007 and Zahid Baloch in late 2008; prominent Baloch intellectual Jan Mohammad Dashti survived an attempt on his life last February.

In April last year, three prominent Baloch leaders — Ghulam Mohammad, chairman of the Baloch National Movement, Sher Mohammad Baloch, vice-president of the Balochistan Republican Party and Lala Munir Baloch, general-secretary of the Baloch National Front — were abducted and killed.

It appears, in fact, that certain sections of the establishment are making a deliberate attempt to irritate peaceful protesters and political groups: those who have opted for peaceful means of protest against military operations in the area and the human rights’ crisis. Although the conflict is inflicting immense pain and socio-economic losses on the Baloch masses, it translates to a source of power and monetary benefit for the institutions that represent the security establishment.

Who, after all, benefits from the prolonged conflict — the Baloch or the security establishment? The answer is simple: while replying to a question in the Balochistan Assembly on Jan 14 this year, the Balochistan home minister said that around Rs140m had been paid to the FC for performing duties related to maintaining law and order in the province. He added that millions of rupees were outstanding under this head. The FC is a federal force staffed largely by people from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and Punjab.

The skimpy development budget of this impoverished province has been diverted towards the powerful FC and the security agencies, in order to allow them to continue their oppressive policies.

Meanwhile, due to the total absence of socio-economic development rural poverty in Balochistan has increased by 21 per cent between 1999 and 2008. Thousands of people have been killed, rendered missing or displaced during military offensives. The prolonged Balochistan-Islamabad conflict has, moreover, resulted in immense losses to the socio-economic development of the province, which have never been compensated for or even calculated by the central government.

Due to the appalling situation in the province, the Baloch youth has disassociated completely with the state and its policies. The recent deaths of their Baloch cousins in Lyari, Karachi, have rubbed salt on their wounds.

Balochistan’s youth is not only the victim of enforced disappearances and killings, it has also been deprived of all forms of contemporary education and employment. Compared to the 486 polytechnics, vocational institutes and computer science, commerce and law colleges in Punjab, Balochistan has just nine poorly developed centres for Quetta’s urban population.

The young people of Balochistan stand in dire need of schools, colleges, universities, professional and technical-training institutions. Above all, they need freedom and opportunities. They do not deserve to be repressed and killed.

The writer is a Baloch leader and a former senator.