Thursday, November 19, 2009

Turning Up the Rhetoric, Tuning Out Reality

In a recent press conference, Shabaz Sharif (the better half of the Sharif duo) spoke about the importance of initiating talks with Baloch leaders to address their woes and to work towards ending longstanding anti governmental violence in the region. During this conference however, the economic and political grievances of the Baloch people took a back seat to anti-Indian rhetoric as Sharif went on record stating that the government had "proof" of Indian involvement in Balochistan and Waziristan. If Sharif's goal was to increase the appeal of PML-N among the Baloch, this was clearly not a way to do it. Moreover, this anti-Indian episode demonstrates that our political parties have not yet attained the level of maturity they require when it comes to governance.

It is easy to blame the Baloch insurgency (or rebellion, depending on which side you're on) on Indian RAW involvement. After all what gets us all incensed if not an Indian conspiracy against Pakistan, or even better a Jewish one against Islam. And as I'm sure our politicians are aware, it also has the tiny side benefit of ridding the capacity of logical analysis from the masses. Most important however is that fact that our appetite for political conspiracy as a nation proves our inability to take responsibility for our actions. It's easy to blame someone else for one's actions. It takes balls to admit to one's mistakes. And that's precisely what's wrong with Pakistani society.

It is a fact that for the past 70 years the Baloch people have been suffering under the rule of the central government. Balochistan remains the most underdeveloped region in Pakistan, with the lowest rates of literacy in the country. And despite being loaded with mineral wealth, it remains the poorest. Sui, the region in which the largest natural gas reservoir in Pakistan was discovered, still does not have access to natural gas. There is intense discrimination against the Baloch when it comes to employment. In fact, none of the top political or civilian posts in the province belong to those of Baloch ethnicity. So is it any wonder why there is an ongoing secessionist movement in the province. Would you be willing to live under a government that treated you like that?

This is not to say that the Baloch leadership does not have its fault. The leaders of the secessionist movement, the Bughti clan are by no means democratic. Leadership is based on hereditary succession, and it is likely that they're fighting for economic and political sovereignty for themselves, rather than the Baloch people (I'm just naturally suspicious of anyone who is a feudal lord). But I'm not sure how that's any different from any Sindhi or Punjabi feudal lord, whose actions we readily tolerate (if not approve).

The Baloch people deserve more than to have their legitimate concerns take a back seat to political rhetoric. It would be beneficial for the government to deal with Baloch grievances and come to a compromise over Baloch economic and political sovereignty rather than to deal with an ongoing insurgency. Not only will this inprove center-province relations,  it will also discredit secessionist organizations leaving the military to better direct its resources towards fighting the Taliban. But this is only possible if reality is favoured, instead of rhetoric.