United We Stand with the Bloch of Pakistan

by, Adeel A. Shah, USA, Co-author of Sandstorm: a leaderless revolution in the digital age (www.shahadeel.com)

(March 2, 2012)

Guilt and bewilderment best describe the sentiments Pakistanis residing in Sindh, Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, have held for decades regarding the situation in Baluchistan. People of Pakistan have been led to believe that they are somehow directly responsible for the suffering inflicted on the Bloch. These sentiments are a consequence of falling victim to the blame game, of not fully grasping the conditions on the ground, and of not asking the right questions to help them sort through reality.

It is the “ignorance is bliss” theory that has gotten Pakistan to this state.  The people of Pakistan cannot and should not stand on the sidelines or just believe everything they hear.  They need to analyze the situation to get to the truth of the matter, figure out the causes and find solutions for the heartburning issues to help our Bloch brothers and their families.

Depending on the day of the week and the political atmosphere, the blame for Baluchistan’s suffering and shortcomings can easily be shifted from the average citizen to the Pakistan Army and intelligence agencies, or to foreign agencies and investors who are aiming to create political instability for personal gains, such as access to the natural resources in Baluchistan.  The shifting of blame convolutes the issues that are plaguing Baluchistan because it creates the illusion that a third party is trying to destabilize the province.  As a result, the people of Pakistan are called upon to take action to “fix” the suffering of their Bloch brethren.

The most common of these “civic responsibilities” that Pakistani are reminded of is to demand that the Army stands down and not try to control Pakistan’s largest province.  Given Pakistan’s history with military leaders, it is understandable why people may presume that the military is staging another coup – by controlling 44% of Pakistan.  However, if you know how stretched and exhausted the Army is you would know that the Army is not interested in being the government, let alone aiming to control Baluchistan.  The Army has enough work to do between protecting our boarders and trying to tame violent extremism.  Contrary to popular belief, the Pakistan Army would greatly appreciate it if the Government would take on the responsibility of governance so the Army can focus on its own mandate.

Then there is Pakistan’s favorite enemy and ally – the United States – who is always trying to control Baluchistan’s natural resources.  Granted the U.S. does no justice its case against trying to control Baluchistan when a Congressional committee indicates that Baluchistan be allowed to undertake the process of self-determination.  That sounds like a great gesture, but how did the Congressional committee come to this resolution? By suggesting self-determination, the US has helped to elevate the issue of Baluchistan to an international level, and now is a critical time to ask the relevant questions.

The people of Pakistan need to ask their Government, their “democratically” elected leaders, past and present, why they have been completely unsuccessful at reducing the suffering experienced in Baluchistan?  If the Army is responsible for trying to control Baluchistan, then why has the Government not tried to stop the Army?  Is the Government a weaker institution or subordinate to the Army?  Why did democratically elected Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto use hard power in Baluchistan?  Why were Nawaz Sherif and Benazir Bhutto totally ineffective at resolving the Bloch issues during their tenure?  What are the leading Bloch politicians doing to limit the Army’s engagement in Baluchistan?

They also need to ask international actors what qualifies Baluchistan for self-determination, but prevents Kashmir from the same. What are the qualifying factors at play?

Let’s start with some basic demographics.  As of the 1998 census, Baluchistan had a population of approximately 8 million inhabitants, representing approximately 5% of the population of Pakistan.  Official estimates of Baluchistan’s population grew from approximately 7.45 million in 2003 to 7.8 million in 2005.  According to the 2008 Pakistan Statistical Year Book, households whose primary language is Balochi represent 40% of Baluchistan’s population, while 20% of households speak Brahui, and Pashtu is spoken by the remaining 40% of the population, making Balochi and Pashtu the two dominant languages in the region.

The population of Baluchistan is a mixture of mainly Pakhtoons and Bloch tribes, but the issues at play in Baluchistan encircle Bloch and not Paktoons.  Of the several Bloch tribes, there are three dominate ones: Bugti, Murry, and Mengals.  There are other tribes too, second tier tribes, but they don’t speak out as much as the leaders of these tribes do.

These dominant tribes own thousands of acres of land and have thousands of people working their land as peasants. For generations people have been working small pieces of land only to make enough to barely feed their families.  This form of indentured servitude has been going on for centuries and is still thriving today.  Given the need for food on the table, working trumps education, and so the Bloch are neither educated nor skilled to do anything but to serve their tribal leaders and remain at their mercy for the welfare of their families.  It is a known secret that Bloch leaders would rarely allow their peasants and their families to attend school or obtain a formalized education.

In addition to all of the other factors, Baluchistan’s rich natural resources have further complicated the manner.  Baluchistan is also full of natural resources and has recently built a functional seaport and road network connecting Afghanistan, Central Asia and China.  This is reflective of the potential for Baluchistan and Pakistan writ large, but for some reason, economic development in this province is being hampered.  Baluchistan lacks manpower that is required for the province to develop and prosper, but that is a need that can easily be supplemented from the rest of Pakistan.  If done right, all of Pakistan can reap the benefits of economic development in Baluchistan.  So then what is preventing growth in Baluchistan; what is the actual problem?  Why would the government, military establishment and people of Baluchistan alike not want to engage in developing Pakistan’s largest province that would in turn have a positive ripple effect throughout the entire nation?

What does the constant deflection, inaction, and local political struggle all mean?  Well, there seem to be five parties whose interests are not being met and therefore are continuously confronting each other over long-standing unsettlements and subsequently, the ordinary people of Baluchistan are suffering.

The nucleus of the conflict is the “tribal leader(s)” who is not to be mistaken for a tribal man, the individual doing all of the handling or dirty work. The tribal man, or men in most cases, drives the conflict by engaging in criminal activity such as kidnappings and murders.  In doing so, the tribal man often does not even know whose war he is fighting.  He does not know if he is engaging in these acts to protect the rights of his family or is it to strengthen the control of an ancient tribal lordship – or perhaps he is doing it for both.

By exploiting an undereducated and disenfranchised population and encouraging a culture of subjugation and patron-client relationships, the dominant tribal chiefs and the establishment have forced Baluchistan into a state of economic deprivation that will not change unless one party gives in.  Bloch leaders have prohibiting unlocking Baluchistan’s natural resources, not only curbing the growth of the people of Baluchistan, but of the entire province and the nation.  These same leaders also come on TV and try to convince people that the Army and agencies are undermining the rights of the average Bloch. In reality it is the tribal leaders who have personal issues with the Army and agencies, and feel that their reign over the Bloch people is being threatened.  The average Bloch is oppressed by the tribal leaders, lacking free will.

Since the 1970s, Baluchistan’s unexplored resources, worth billions of dollars, have been kept a secret, but a poorly kept secret.  The reason for the secret is simply to prevent economic prosperity across socio-economic levels.  As a result, the world has evolved and matured, but Baluchistan has remained stagnant.  Instead of trying to keep Baluchistan’s resources a “secret” we should share and negotiate the right price for these resources in the international capitalist market the way Saudi Arab, Kuwait and Qatar did for theirs. The process of globalization would never allow the continuing an obsolete socio-economic system that moves the resources in the custody of few tribal chiefs, families, or groups. The Bloch leaders are no exception.

These tribal leaders, also referred to as Bloch Sardars, should realize that the tribal system they are still enforcing has lived well beyond its years and is bound to come to an end soon.  The average Bloch does not have much to lose if the tribal system vanishes; in fact, they will most likely be better off without the oppressive, indentured servitude model. At first the people of Bloch might feel as if they have lost their source of income by not tending someone else’s land, but through reforms and assistance, Pakistanis, inside and outside of Pakistan, will be willing to support the people of Bloch and their families.

In order to ensure that Baluchistan is not abandoned, it needs to be properly and fully integrated into Pakistan’s federal system.  This integration needs to focus on thoroughly addressing issues of land ownership and titles.  The primary point of contention between the dominant tribal leaders and the State is land ownership and the people of Baluchistan are caught in between as collateral.

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