Sunday, July 17, 2016

Business Recorder Column July 19, 2016

CPEC and Balochistan Rashed Rahman Balochistan has long complained of deprivation of its rights as a federating unit and its people of deprivation of their rights as citizens. Nothing has served better in recent days to remind us of that fact and focus minds on these continuing complaints than the controversies surrounding the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). To highlight these controversies, the Balochistan National Party organised a seminar in Islamabad on July 12 entitled “CPEC: Development or Exploitation?” A panoply of speakers delineated the contours of the project from different angles, with the theme of Balochistan’s deprivation in the past and apprehensions about a similar outcome of the CPEC dominating the discourse. The speakers were chosen from a wide array, including journalists, academics, lawyers and experts in their respective fields. While most speakers dwelt at greater or lesser length on the legacy of the unjust treatment of the province and its people, some common themes resonated throughout the presentations. First and foremost amongst these themes was the history of injustice reflected in Balochistan’s place in the federation and in its people being abandoned to poverty and a barely subsistence existence. The die of a strained Baloch relationship with the newly created state of Pakistan was already cast on the eve of independence by the Kalat State’s claim that it enjoyed the status of a Treaty State with the British Crown and therefore had the right to self-determination when Britain withdrew from the subcontinent. The Kalat State represented a tribal confederacy of the people inhabiting the area. Kalat’s argument was that after advancing British colonialism fought a series of wars with the Baloch during the 19th century in an effort to carve out an alternative strategic route to Afghanistan, where the British Empire was in contention with the Czarist Russian Empire, they opted for signing treaties with Kalat that brought an end to those wars. These treaties conceded a strategic corridor to the British running from Shikarpur, through the famed Bolan Pass to Kandahar. The Shal Valley provided the British with an ideal location for a cantonment close to the Afghanistan border, which grew over time into the city of Quetta. In return the British agreed to respect the internal autonomy of the Kalat State and its confederating Baloch tribes, provide funding for a Levies force recruited from the tribes and charged with keeping the peace within the tribal areas, and sweeteners in the form of purses for some of the tribal chieftains. This arrangement, in which the British did not interfere in the internal affairs of the tribes in return for unimpeded access to Afghanistan, evolved into what later came to be called the Sandeman system after a British officer whose name still adorns a town in the province (Fort Sandeman). This system Pakistan inherited at independence. Ironically, before independence Kalat engaged one of the most accomplished constitutional lawyers of the day, one Mohammad Ali Jinnah, to argue its case before the British Crown, up to and including the high forum of the Privy Council. Ironic because it was Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah who as the first Governor General of the newly created independent state of Pakistan, presided over the forcible accession of the Kalat State to Pakistan. This event needs to be located in the context of the tensions and pressures accompanying independence, particularly the disputes that arose between the two successor states of Pakistan and India. Nevertheless, this development coloured the subsequent trajectory of the relationship between Balochistan and the Centre. Seventy years later, in the midst of the fourth nationalist insurgency in Balochistan since Pakistan came into being, it is worth considering why the restive Baloch have felt compelled to take up arms again and again in defence of their rights, dignity and self-respect. The litany of grievances is by now familiar to informed observers. The seething resentment over the events surrounding the 1948 accession was added to in subsequent years by the perception that the postcolonial state of Pakistan was practicing what could only be described as internal colonialism. The fears and apprehensions of the ruling post-independence elite and the overdeveloped state institutions such as the military and bureaucracy vis-à-vis the threat from India fed into a siege mentality that transmogrified over time into the mindset of a national security state. Such a state argued for a strong Centre to meet the challenges from a larger neighbour, if necessary at the expense of the weaker federating units. Thus East Pakistan, Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (then called the NWFP) felt the state’s priorities tilting towards the pre-eminence of Punjab, from which the military and bureaucracy were overwhelmingly drawn. The One Unit adventure was an attempt to nullify the numerical majority of East Pakistan by abolishing the provinces of West Pakistan, merging them into One Unit in the western wing and constructing a ‘parity’ of representation thereby with East Pakistan. In the early 1950s, gas was discovered in Sui in the Bugti tribal area. Although this natural resource fuelled the industrialisation and modernisation of commercial and domestic life throughout the country, the deprivation of Balochistan by not supplying the province of origin with its own gas, added to by little or no financial benefit to the province or its people, ignoring the local denizens in employment etc, set the tone for similar practices and their concomitant complaints and discontents where the natural mineral resources of the province, including gas (and potentially oil), copper and other minerals were concerned. The Saindak and still to be developed Reqo Dik copper and gold projects exhibit all these characteristics of the Centre rather than the people of Balochistan being the beneficiaries. These experiences inform the sentiment of the people of Balochistan vis-à-vis the CPEC. As reflected in the speeches at the seminar alluded to above, the Baloch as well as right thinking people throughout Pakistan critique the CPEC as non-transparent, oriented more towards the development of the already developed provinces (the Eastern route) rather than being seen as an opportunity for breakthrough development and modernisation of the underdeveloped provinces (the Western route), excluding local people in the employment opportunities presented by the CPEC and the development of the Gwadar Port, and altering irreversibly the demography of a large but sparsely populated province against the interests of the Baloch. These sentiments feed into support, overt or covert, for the nationalist insurgency once again simmering in the province. The powers-that-be suffer from both a lack of imagination as well as practicing Einstein’s definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Given that insurgency has gripped every generation of the Baloch over the last 70 years, perhaps the time has come to revisit the assumptions on which the security forces are operating once again in Balochistan. The allegation that the insurgency is purely India-driven and financed is oversimplification to the point of absurdity. This is a charge that has been used to castigate every previous insurgency in the province as well. Although no proof is available for the charge, even if for the sake of argument it is accepted, is it not axiomatic that the foreign hand can only fish in troubled waters? If your house is in fire, outsiders can take advantage of the conflagration. The contrary argument should be obvious. What is needed is a political approach to the Balochistan problem, rather than a reliance once again on driving the people of the province into paradise at the point of a bayonet. Separatism may not be acceptable to the state, but short of that many of the long standing and new grievances of the Baloch are arguably capable of being addressed within the ambit of the constitution and law. The benefit: peace within and along the CPEC route/s, which even the special security force being mooted to protect the CPEC may not be able to guarantee. To take maximum advantage of the CPEC, Pakistan needs peace within, especially in Balochistan, and peace without (meaning an end to proxy wars against neighbours). Is there the vision available for such a potentially shining future?

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