|Balochistan vs the federation
Daily: Daily Times
Diversity is the bedrock of a federation: not homogeneity but heterogeneity expressed in
terms of ethnicity, language and race gives birth to a federation. Diversity also entails a
variety of thought, some of which may send out dissenting notes. If those voices are not
heard and respected, the very purpose of constructing a federation dies.
In the case of Pakistan, nothing could spoil the spirit of the federation like the martial laws
which ran the country on the centralized system of government, as if Pakistan had been a
unitary state. The martial law of General Ayub Khan blighted the concept of a federation.
During his era, the lopsided development in which East Pakistan was overlooked while West
Pakistan was comparatively overdeveloped made the country witness eventually the fall of
Dhaka in 1971.
The martial law of General Zia ul Haq denied the people the right of provincial autonomy
which was supposed to be devolved in 1983 (after 10 years of formulating the Constitution
in 1973). Further, the 8th Constitutional Amendment passed in 1985 remained bereft of the
provision of provincial autonomy. The martial law of General Pervaiz Musharraf aped the
mode of government – that is, centralized – constructed by General Zia. The 17th
Constitutional Amendment passed in 2004 also remained devoid of provincial autonomy. All
the three military dictators offered local bodies to the people but refused them the gift of
There is another dimension to look at the same issue. The federal formula has not worked
well in Pakistan because of the anti-federation policies adopted by the military regimes. For
instance, General Musharraf’s much-touted policy of ‘unity of command’ may be a panacea
for the ills of the armed forces but not for the problems of the federation. The unity-of-
command concept was also popular in the religious circles, who thought that the title
‘Islamic Republic’ opened a window of opportunity for introduction of a Caliphate-like system
in Pakistan. The convergence of thought not only brought them closer to each other but
also engendered a kind of thinking that Pakistan’s salvation lay in a centralized system of
government and not in a decentralized one.
Introduction of the local bodies by General Musharraf in the name of decentralization of
power was not a substitute for granting provincial autonomy. The history of martial laws
indicates that the military mind was indisposed to the provision of provincial autonomy. The
Pakistan of today is a victim of that thinking. Balochistan is the worst example of the
outcome of that proclivity. The Baloch should also consider that they are not the only
victims around, though they are the worst victims.
In the context of the province-federation relationship, the case of Balochistan is a serious
one. Balochistan is still feeling the hangover effect of the centralized government
propounded and practised by General Musharraf. One of the reasons may be that the state’
s security apparatus has no realization what shape of Balochistan is bound to emerge after
the 18th Amendment was passed in 2010. The situation demands that the subject of
federation should compulsorily be introduced both at the Military Academy Kakool,
Abbottabad, and Staff College, Quetta. The officers and soldiers of the armed forces
should learn by heart the concept of federation both before joining the military service and
before getting promoted to higher commanding positions. Certainly, federalism is a fatality
of their ignorance.
The post-2008 era brought more disappointment to the Baloch than happiness. The recent
surge in violence may be symptomatic of the frustration of the Baloch on the defective
delivery by the incumbent government on the Balochistan package. The current democratic
dispensation is supposed to assuage the Baloch by recompense for the losses they
suffered during the Musharraf era.
Can anybody guess what the number of ‘safe houses’ is in Balochistan? Does anyone know
how many Baloch are languishing in each ‘safe house’? Why can one not know? Are these
places out of bounds of Pakistan? The existence of ‘safe houses’ is a great insult to the
slogans of democracy and human rights. The Baloch are bristling with anger and
indignation at the inhuman treatment meted out to them in ‘safe houses’. It may be possible
that a period of respite visit the Baloch when the ‘safe houses’ in Balochistan outnumber
those that were constructed in East Pakistan before 1971.
The question is, does the existence of ‘safe houses’ offer a guarantee of the unity of the
federation? Can these ‘safe houses’ protect Pakistan from (further) disintegration? If the
answer is in the affirmative, seek copy rights of that idea by getting ‘your’ name registered
against it before someone else claims the same.
The other day, Nawaz Sharif visited Quetta and gave a call for holding an All Parties
Conference (APC) on Balochistan. His initiative needs to be appreciated. Other political
parties are giving their consent to attend the APC.
By providing provincial autonomy to all provinces including Balochistan, parliament did a
great but half of the job. The existence of ‘safe houses’ in Balochistan and illegal detention
of the Baloch there means that the rest of the job is yet to be done. Balochistan is yet to be
liberated from the clutches of the institution of defence which falls within the purview of the
Centre. Hence, the question is, will politicians make a concerted effort to dismantle the ‘safe
houses’ and set the Baloch (rotting there) free?
The second major challenge to the APC will be to bridge the trust deficit of the Baloch in the
federation by devising ways to recover the missing persons and make the Baloch forget the
dead. The APC should also invite the Baloch dissidents and nationalists such as Khair
Bukhsh Marri to attend the APC to make it as representative and fruitful as possible. The
Baloch should be offered a sense of participation and they should be given a free hand to
play a role in the decision making of their province.
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