A tragedy for Balochistan is a tragedy for Pakistan
Balochistan is Pakistan’s largest province by area, the smallest by population and the richest by resource. You might have crammed these facts and much more about the province in your Pakistan Studies textbook. You might have also learnt, not through your textbook though, that it is the most deprived and underdeveloped area, despite its mineral affluence.
However, even after being aware of these pertinent facts about the province, you wouldn’t have, in all probability, ever been compelled to dig deep into the complexities of the issues of Balochistan, nor would you have had the urge to visit and explore this vast and beautiful barrenness (unless you are a travel aficionado or a family member of someone in the security forces).
I have been lucky enough to get the opportunity of inhabiting and exploring the province in the late 1990s when my father was posted in the Frontier Corps (FC) Balochistan. The city of Turbat, surrounded by the very interesting landscape of Central Makran Range, homed people from across Pakistan. I studied in a school that had teachers from all ethnicities in a class that had students from all provinces.
It was an era of coherence – of blossoming brotherhoods, as it would appear, on the surface of Balochistan. As a teenager, I was absorbing the beautiful diversity of not just landscape but also of humankind – both summing up to inflate my patriotism.
Fast forward to present day, 20 years later, when the region is hit by yet another massive flood – for it was hit by a terrible one in 1998 and several times in between – I recall and relive how my affinity with Balochistan evolved over all these years.
In these two decades that followed my stay, all did not stay well in the province. For I have heard several news of the killing of ‘non- locals’ in Balochistan, predominantly that of the Punjabis. I have mourned the murders of school teachers, college principles and even barbers of diverse origins that had settled there for decades, apparently by the insurgents and separatist wings. While hundreds were killed sporadically in several districts all these years, thousands had to exit for survival, leaving behind successful jobs, established businesses and their homes. Though the situation has been far more complex than many of us can fathom, the consequences of these atrocious acts have been glaringly obvious for non-locals as well as Balochs.
In this series of unfortunate events stands out the murder of the popular Baloch leader Nawab Akbar Bugti in 2006. Amongst many of its bleak repercussions was an acceleration in the interethnic friction and killings. When has the killing of a prominent figure been curative? What such unpopular acts, however, do is re-kindle and surge fanaticism – they pave ways for the foreign agendas to add fuel to the fire.
You may wonder what initially caused the locals to foster these feelings against other ethnic groups. Well, perhaps they have been told or maybe felt since their childhoods, that the rest of Pakistan has exploited their resources. Their feelings are, in fact, neither entirely justified nor completely groundless either. Of course, there is no explicit policy of discrimination but its existence cannot be denied altogether, but is it as blatant as it is claimed?
Being deprived of the rightful share of its own gas resources for the last 70 years is the most debated grievance of Balochistan. Despite being the second largest producer of natural gas, the widening distrust between Balochistan and the rest of the country makes sense. But are they right in holding only the federal government accountable for this unjust distribution? How serious have the provincial governments appeared in the widespread delivery across Balochistan ever since the discovery of this reservoir in 1952? Has a substantial and sustainable solution ever been proposed by them especially keeping in mind the inherent logistic challenges in this context? These are all extremely important questions to be taken into consideration while understanding the current situation of Balochistan.
People have been exploited at the hands of their own political elite but what has enabled their unabated exploitation?
The political figures and the tribe heads keep them debilitated enough never to raise heads; subjugated enough never to raise a question. Perhaps the people have been made to believe that their leaders and civil administrators deliver to their maximum capacity, which is inherently limited. However, that is not the entire truth. The fact of the matter is that power has been decentralised since 2010 as per the 18th Amendment to Pakistan’s Constitution and despite the devolution, the region stays in abject poverty and adversity. Furthermore, amidst the province’s dismal infrastructure, what continues to swell and progress is the bank balance of the ruling elite.
While there is a reality in the sense of deprivation, it is also a fact that the grievances of the Baloch people have been manipulated against other ethnicities rather than effectively being addressed, and while it has been a common practice to scapegoat Punjab and other areas, the fact that the dominant majority of Punjab is equally deprived and miserable is largely ignored.
This brings me to the current record-breaking monsoon rainfall which has wreaked havoc not just in Balochistan but also in Sindh and Punjab. The existing infrastructure in Balochistan, too inadequate to survive the deluge, gave in quickly to the unyielding rainfall and flash floods, submerging almost 34 districts and leaving behind over three and a half lacs Baloch individuals vulnerable, unassisted, unfed, and uncovered. The civil administration perhaps is glad that the flaws and deficiencies of the infrastructure have also been washed away with the flood, and also content at the prospect of receiving another set of funds to construct another set of substandard constructions.
As the ongoing monsoon inundates the vastness of Balochistan, it makes us ask certain questions and reach some realisations. The rains have fully exposed the deficiencies of National Disaster Management Authority (NMDA), Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) and other civil authorities in issuing timely warnings, implementing the evacuation strategies and also the faulty infrastructure on account of local and national corruption. Thus, this unprecedented human tragedy that has hit the entire country, putting people from all provinces in this together, has made us realise that we are all equally plagued by profoundly inefficient institutions. We need to question the insufficient spending of provincial funds in Balochistan and in other downtrodden areas. We need to tell that the Zakat money spent as ‘rescue’ money can never be a substitute for properly and adequately spent provincial funds. In order to realise our collective vulnerabilities, we must check the breeding animosities among us, before it is too late.
The people of Balochistan are beautiful and loveable; they deserve dire attention by provincial and national authorities alike. They don't deserve to be in this constant environment of mistrust – to be exploited at the hands of the separatist minds and at the hands of political elite.
Let's sensitize ourselves to each other’s pain. Let’s learn that our survival depends on our harmonious coexistence. Let's try to know when, how and what went wrong in Balochistan and between us. It is time we realise that Balochistan is not just Balochistan. Balochistan is Pakistan!