Future imperfect: Balochistan’s reaction to bill

Shahzad Baloch April 10, 2010

QUETTA: The government is still celebrating the passage of the consensus- driven 18th amendment bill in the National Assembly but Balochistan sees little reason to join in. The most backward province in the country, Balochistan is just hoping the recommendations made in the bill are implemented wholeheartedly.

To address the Baloch sense of deprivation and hammer out a political solution to the longstanding imbroglio, the government presented the province with a package called the Aghaaz-e-Huqooqe- Balochistan in November last year. All the provinces also came around after the government came up with a new formula on the National Finance Commission award for the first time in a period of 19 years. The extent of provincial autonomy ceded in the constitutional amendment bill and the abolition of the concurrent list was a bid to further mollify the smaller provinces.

In Balochistan, a few key political parties in Balochistan adopted a reconciliatory approach towards the new bill. The document was signed from Balochistan by Senators Mir Hasil Khan Bizenjo of the National Party (NP), Agha Shahid Bugti of the Jamori Watan Party (JWP) and Israrullah Zehri of the Balochistan National Party (BNP-Awami). But the largest Baloch nationalist party, the Balochistan National Party of Sardar Akhtar Mengal, has categorically rejected the constitutional package, saying that the government ‘April-fooled’ the Baloch with the constitutional package.

According to Mengal, a former chief minister of the province, his party was not a part of the constitutional committee and the abolition of concurrent list is utterly irrelevant when Balochistan is engulfed in a war-like situation.

Seen in the backdrop of Sardar Akhtar Mengal’s reaction, it is safe to conclude that the armed separatist groups who hold more radical views than Sardar Mengal, will not take the constitutional package very seriously. Many of these organisations have not even considered the package worth commenting on which translates into the stark rejection by Baloch nationalists representing a large segment of the annoyed Baloch youth.

Even Senator Hasil Khan Bizenjo, NP’s central secretary general, has his reservations regarding the bill. “We welcomed the amendment but our demand that all four regional languages –Balochi, Sindhi, Punjabi and Pashtu – should be given the status of national languages was spurned by the constitutional committee,” he says. “The amendment will bring positive change in this backward province but its efficacy will entirely hinge upon its brisk and smooth implementation.”

But political observers in the province are a hardened lot and believe that the 18th amendment bill is unlikely to fully help in normalising the situation. Malik Siraj Akbar, editor of online newspaper the Baloch Hal, is one of them. “The younger generation in Balochistan is opposed to any kind of reconciliation with Islamabad,” he argues. He points to the delay in the implementation of the Balochistan package as evidence of Islamabad making promises it doesn’t bother honouring.

According to him, the political parties from Balochistan that signed the 18th amendment bill are politically insignificant. “It is almost impossible to normalise the situation in Balochistan until the government talks to the Baloch separatists who exercise more influence than the provincial government,” says Akbar. “They have the ability to sabotage any development or constitutional package if they find it dissatisfactory.”

Similar views are expressed by Nasrullah Baloch, chairman of the Voice for Missing Baloch Persons. “While tabling the Balochistan package last November, Prime Minister Gilani promised that all the missing persons would return their homes. But not a single disappeared person has come back home,” he says.

With so much existing cynicism regarding the 18th amendment, it has yet to be seen how the government in Islamabad will make the constitutional process relevant to the resourcerich province.