Saturday, September 12, 2009

It's time to be serious about Balochistan

The PPP recently made important overtures towards Baluchistan by halting the construction of army cantonments in Dera Bugti and Kohlu. The presence of the military is one of the most contentious issues in the region. Indeed majority of Baluchis view the army as tool of state oppression and control over the province and its natural resources which include one of the largest natural gas deposits in South Asia.

Baluchistan has had a tutmultous history. Since its inception into Pakistan through the Instrument of Ascention treaty by Jinnah and Khan of Kalat in 1948, Baluchistan has been the forefront of secessionist activity. One of the main political actors in this region the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) was involved in the bombing of railway lines and markets in 2000 and has called for repeated aggression against the Pakistani armed forces.It is also the least developed of all the regions in Pakistan  with a literacy rate of only 32%. Major ethnic groups are the Pashtuns and the Baluch each consisting of approximately half of the popualtions with Punjabi and others ethnic groups as a minority. However, the Baloch have been the most marginalized both politically and economically. Despite being a minority, Punjabis dominate the majority of top political posts in the region. In addition to this, non-Baluch are also in charge of natural gas extraction, sidelining the Baluch from obtaining any economic benefits. The development of the port of Gwadar without Baloch approval or involvement under Musharraf's regime remains one of the most contentious issues.

Considering the decades long policy of Baluchistan without the Baluch, its is not hard to understand the rise of secessionist activities in this region. Thankfully, the situation has not reached the point of no return. As Shahzain Bhugti, the grandson of the late Akbar Bhugti stated in a recent television interview,  Baluch grievances must be addressed if there is to be any positive progress. The Jamhoori Watan Party leader emphasized three main issues that need to be discussed if there is to be a reconciliation; the trial of Gen (retd) Pervez Musharraf, the provision of gas royalty arrears to Balochistan and provincial autonomy. The curtailing of military cantonments in the Dera Bugti and Kohlu region is only a step towards improving the relationship between the center and the Baluch people. However, this alone is not enough. The Baluch people also deserve greater representation in the state apparatus and in security and development projects especially Gwadar. Islamabad msut make genuine efforts to right decades of wrongs if Baluchistan is to remain part of Pakistan.

Bhugti`s interview below:








Did I mention that I hate the interviewer. I feel he behaved in a very unprofessional manner.

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