OVER A COFFEE: Balochistan resolution: a wakeup call? —Dr Haider Shah
In every crisis situation when a certain threshold is crossed, the damage control through use of power alone becomes increasingly difficult. This realisation has finally dawned upon us and there is a feeling of a bit of panic in official circles
The unrequited gesture of love from Rehman Malik towards Baloch rebel leaders has apparently failed to create the desired dramatic effect that seemed to have been sparked by the recent resolution on Balochistan presented by Dana Rohrabacher on February 17 in the US House of Representatives. The resolution had received no coverage in the US mainstream media but it was quickly picked up by the Pakistani media, and then was followed by a frantic reaction from all quarters as the move was interpreted as a part of a grand plan by the US to dismember Pakistan.
The US government took no time in making it clear that the resolution was a private affair of a Congressman and did not reflect the US or the Congress’s majority opinion. If we did not have a cupboard full of skeletons, we would have brushed this resolution aside with a disdainful laugh. The biggest blow to the credibility of the resolution came from Christine Fair, a prominent US security studies expert of Georgetown University who along with Ralph Peters, T Kumar, Ali Dayan Hasan and Dr M Hosseinbor, testified as a witness in a Balochistan hearing convened by the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee of the US House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs and chaired by Congressman Dana Rohrabacher. Ms Fair raised serious concerns over the sincerity of the Congressman’s real intentions. In a piece in a US daily she concludes: “I can say with some certainty that the hearing and the resolution that followed it have much more to do with partisan politics, and possibly resource-grabbing, than with any interest in the ongoing human rights crises in Balochistan.”
Other characters involved in tabling the resolution are also chips off the same block. For instance, Ralph Peters wrote a controversial article ‘Blood borders: How a better Middle East would look’ in the Armed Forces Journal in 2006 in which he proposed redrawing of the map of the Middle Eastern countries on the basis of common ethnicities. He lists Pakistan as one of the losers in his suggested scheme and comments: “What Afghanistan would lose to Persia in the west, it would gain in the east, as Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier tribes would be reunited with their Afghan brethren. Pakistan, another unnatural state, would also lose its Baloch territory to Free Balochistan. The remaining ‘natural’ Pakistan would lie entirely east of the Indus, except for a westward spur near Karachi.” The Balochistan resolution, therefore, was not a surprise as similar voices were heard in the past as well.
The rankling caused by two Congressmen, Dana Rohrabacher and Louie Gohmert, could therefore be clearly heard in the frantic declarations made by Rehman Malik. There is a growing feeling that Balochistan, though a local issue, has finally received global level attention. For the time being the wind has been taken out of the Congressmen’s sails by the US government. But the US is active in the South Asian region with two immediate policy imperatives. One, to stabilise the Afghan situation and two, to monitor Iran and its build-up in the region. On both accounts it seeks Pakistan’s cooperation and Balochistan can be used as a bargaining chip when it suits US interests. The recent media coverage of missing persons cases in Balochistan and the human rights situation is bound to shift the balance against the overt and covert policy makers of Pakistan. In every crisis situation when a certain threshold is crossed, the damage control through use of power alone becomes increasingly difficult. This realisation has finally dawned upon us and there is a feeling of a bit of panic in official circles.
History matters. The ‘path dependence’ theory of economics summarises this key point. A cursory reading of the history of the Raj in India establishes that many of our problems date back to the British and earlier times. The areas that were peaceful and well governed under the British continue to be the hub of all developmental activities as compared to those areas that were historically troublesome and violence ridden. Pakistan inherited the British nightmarish problem of dealing with characters like the Faqir of Ipi in the Pashtun tribal belt and Baloch nationalists in the Khanate of Kalat and other areas of Balochistan. The British policy in these tribal regions was mainly on account of using them as a buffer between the Indian Raj and the Russian Empire. The political agent and jirga system were therefore a very ad hoc setup aimed at keeping the areas quiet with occasional stick and carrot. The tribal leaders were bribed for their continued support and those who would stir some trouble were harshly dealt with to act as a deterrent.
Pakistan not only inherited the historic problems of poor governability in these regions but also adopted the same governance models in the troubled regions. The Pashtun tribes became a good source of irregular foot soldiers for waging proxy wars against neighbours while Balochistan became a region of natural resources and some strategic assets like a seaport and nuclear explosions. People and their welfare remained low on the national priority list. The British methods worked in those times because the British were a dominant military and trade power of the then world. We are unfortunately neither of the two and the imperial methods of rule have failed to work. The maximum damage has been inflicted by the self-imposed men in uniform. Much blood has already been lost due to the handling of our uniformed messiahs. Now it is left to the politicians from all mainstream political parties to take charge and thus rescue the patient who is lying in a precarious condition.
The writer teaches public policy in the UK and is the founding member of Rationalist Society of Pakistan. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org