'Blaming India for unrest is Pak ploy to continue repression alochistan

A view of Harbour Bridge

Sanaullah Baloch, secretary of the Balochistan National Party, is among the moderates. In an interview with Anirban Bhaumik of Deccan Herald, the former Pakistani Senate member talks about the genesis of the conflict, the army’s human rights abuses and, of course, the reason why Islamabad blames New Delhi for the unrest.

What is the conflict in Balochistan all about?
Its natural wealth and strategic importance turned into a curse for Balochistan, which remains Pakistan’s most underdeveloped region. Islamabad controls Balochistan’s energy resources, without sharing the social and economic benefits with the Baloch. Though Balochistan fuels Pakistan’s national economy, 97 per cent of the province’s population lives without gas, 78 per cent without electricity and 62 per cent without safe drinking water. Balochistan’s land border and coastal security are completely controlled by paramilitary forces dominated by non-Baloch. Over 50,000 jobs in security forces and police are occupied by non-locals.

Balochistan gets only a small share of the revenue it generates and lacks basic infrastructure like roads, power supply, sanitation and health care. Its infant mortality rate is among the highest in South Asia – 130 deaths per 1000 live births, as against the national average of 70. Hunger and malnutrition resulted in high maternal mortality. Rural poverty increased by 15 per cent between 1995 and 2005. At 18.3 and 7.0, both male and female literacy rates in the province are the lowest in Pakistan.

Baloch nationalists’ demands are practical – right to self-rule, ownership of resources, political participation and control over local economy and security forces.

How did regimes in Islamabad react to the Balochi demands?
Since 1948, successive Pakistani governments launched repeated military operations to suppress democratic voices in Balochistan. Policy-makers in Islamabad believe repression is the only way to curb the movement. Baloch political leaders and innocent citizens are targeted, intimidated and harassed by the security agencies.
How is the human rights situation in Balochistan?
Since 1947, Pakistan’s human right situation has never been ideal, but it has been at its worst in Balochistan. The Pakistani establishment has continuously suppressed, violated and subdued the Baloch right to self-rule and development. Indiscriminate and disproportionate use of force against civilians, target and extra-judicial killings of political activists and journalists are common. 

How do you view Pakistan’s allegation that India has been fomenting unrest in Balochistan?
Unfortunately, Pakistan labels all legitimate political movements as results of foreign machinations. Leaders of those movements and human rights activists are branded as foreign agents. Islamabad insisted on referring to Balochistan in the July 16 joint Indo-Pak statement because it wanted an excuse to continue its brutal suppression of the Baloch. But many feel that Islamabad made a blunder as it will worsen Baloch-Islamabad relations.

What have been the stand of the US on Balochistan?
Unfortunately, President George Bush had given a free hand to Gen Musharaf to use against the Baloch nationalists. Washington should realise that granting greater autonomy to Balochistan and empowering moderate and liberal Baloch political forces will have a long-term positive impact on the war against terror. President Obama’s Af-Pak policy will not succeed without peace and stability and an autonomous, credible and empowered administration in Balochistan.

Has the regime headed by President Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani initiated any peace effort in Balochistan?
No, rather the war initiated by Gen Musharraf against Balochistan has intensified. No peace effort can succeed unless  all political parties and armed groups are part of a broader reconciliation process. After the February 18, 2008 polls, President Zardari promised an all-party conference to start a dialogue. But we believe the conflict cannot be resolved unless the military is willing to relinquish its hold.
Our terms for dialogue are clear – talks must be held with international mediation and guarantees, cases must be registered against Gen Musharraf for the murder of Baloch nationalists, the security forces must be pulled back, missing persons must be traced and all political prisoners released.

How do you see Pakistan’s future?
 Pakistan's future depends on its internal and external policies. If the country's civil-military establishment continues with its outdated approaches, there will be no positive change. Ethnic hegemony, militarisation, over-centralisation of political power, corruption and poor governance has resulted in an anarchic situation.

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