General Amnesty

Are we again going for an eye wash or is the govt serious about addressing the complaints of the people of Balochistan

Kamal Siddiqi June 28, 2015
The writer is Editor of The Express Tribune

The general amnesty package announced by the Balochistan government can be seen as a step in the right direction. But it is one of several measures that has to be taken by the government of Dr Abdul Malik Baloch. Under this scheme, for those who are willing to renounce violence and lay down their arms, small-time fighters will be paid Rs500,000. mid-level commanders will get Rs1 million while top commanders will be paid Rs1.5 million.

There are many who argue that such a plan does not make any sense given ground realities. Unless the larger issues are addressed, possibly the amnesty scheme is not such a good idea. Others say that even if the scheme does not take off and few militants take up the offer, it is still a good idea.

Balochistan is also the most troubled province in the country. Not only are our security forces fighting an insurgency, there is also a high level of sectarian conflict. Till some years back, the province was possibly also one of the worst governed, but this honour now rests squarely on the shoulders of the Sindh government which has outdone every other province in terms of maladministration and corruption.

The province’s rich mineral resources now seem to be its biggest weakness. Competing powers and interests are always trying to outdo and outwit one another to get at them. People of the province do not seem to benefit in any way. The oft repeated example is of Sui gas, which was available to people in Murree earlier that it was to the people of Sui itself.

Over the past few years, the government of Dr Abdul Malik Baloch has worked tirelessly to set things right. It is a slow and painful process to bring back the province on the road to progress and prosperity. The anger of the people, compounded by the human rights abuses as well as the overall neglect of the province’s basic needs, has turned them against the federation. This is no surprise.

In this context, the Chinese economic corridor may well help. But the assumption is that outsiders will once again be given most of the plum jobs with the Baloch only being given menial work.

Balochistan has two interesting faces. One is the Pakhtun-majority areas where law and order remains under control and there is general prosperity. It is the Baloch-majority areas where the situation is dire. Even basic facilities like schools, clinics, water supply and electricity are missing. These poor folk have had to make do on their own for several decades.

The Baloch are angry because of neglect. In 2009, the Aghaz-e-Haqooq-e-Balochistan package was announced by prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani with much fanfare. It was an aimed at addressing the complaints of the people. But a year later, only 15 of the 61 proposals has been implemented.

Parliament had approved the package unanimously and Senator Raza Rabbani chaired the committee overseeing its implementation. But Rabbani stepped down from his committee post in frustration. Interior Minister Rehman Malik replaced Rabbani as the head of the committee to oversee the package, but, under his four-month stewardship, only one meeting was held.

These proposals were not grand. These were basic things like a 500-megawatt Dera Ismail Khan-Zhob electricity transmission line, the building or improvement of the Sabakzai, Mirani and Check dams, the Quetta-Zhob-Dera Ismail Khan Road and Quetta-Zhob section of the National Highway, a 300-line telephone exchange for Musakhel district, a cancer ward at the Sandeman Hospital in Quetta, interest-free loans for the mining sector and waiving agricultural loans of up to Rs500,000. But the babus at the center said it had no money.

Other proposals needed political will. These included a judicial inquiry into missing Baloch political workers and target killings, a commission to determine the circumstances leading to the death of Nawab Akbar Bugti, a judicial inquiry into the allotment of land in Gawadar, inquiring into finances due to the provincial government on account of flood relief, a special quota in Higher Education Commission scholarships and rationalisation of the royalty formula. Nothing was done.

It is in this context that any new move by the government must be seen. Are we again going for an eye wash or is the government serious about addressing the complaints of the people of the troubled province.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 29th,  2015.

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