Of sardars and sarkars

PAKISTAN has protested vehemently against the US congressional resolution on Balochistan. Regardless of the motives behind this resolution, it is clear that the Balochistan issue has gone global because of its mishandling by successive Pakistani leaders.

Interior Minister Rehman Malik has blamed external powers for conspiring to detach Balochistan from Pakistan. While the involvement of foreign hands may not be ruled out, that of the domestic hand in pushing the province to an insurgency-like situation is undeniable.

Since Independence, the people of Balochistan have been exploited and discriminated against by successive sardars (tribal chiefs) and sarkars (regimes both military and civilian). The British colonial system provided full support to the tribal ruling class under the Frontier Crimes Regulation Act (1901) and backed the sardars loyal to the Raj. If the centuries-old sardari system is generally blamed for the prevailing backwardness in the province, the governments and bureaucracies have
perpetuated the system.

Successive sarkars in Islamabad left the people of Balochistan at the mercy of the sardars. The latter continued to exploit, while the former facilitated the exploitation through policies of neglect and discrimination. Both parties were motivated by the sole agenda of perpetuating their rule, and they developed a somewhat symbiotic relationship with the common man on the receiving end. At the local level people were oppressed and deprived of basic rights and freedoms; at the official level they were discriminated against and neglected.

The institution of the sardar was formally abolished by the System of Sardari (Abolition) Act, 1976. Ironically, it says in the preamble: “The system of sardari, prevalent in certain parts of Pakistan, is the worst remnant of the oppressive feudal and tribal system which, being derogatory to human dignity and freedom, is repugnant to the spirit of democracy and equality as enunciated by Islam and enshrined in the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and opposed to the economic advancement of the people.”

Neither the sardars nor the sarkars had an agenda for the socio-economic uplift of the people of the province. Today, it has fallen almost a century behind the country’s other, better-developed regions.

Balochistan’s social-sector indicators place it in the category of the least developed and most backward provinces of the country. This is the result of using the measure of rupees per capita instead of the provision of public service per capita for distribution from the divisible pool over the past six decades.

Although copper and gold has been mined from the Saindak project in Chagai district for the past nine years, the people of Chagai are living virtually in the mediaeval age, deprived as they are of even basic facilities. If Chagai ever attracted Islamabad’s attention, it was for either the nuclear tests or its mineral wealth. The socio-economic conditions of its people have never attracted the attention of Islamabad’s decision-makers. Baloch nationalist parties resented Islamabad’s firm control over the management of the provincial economy. Meanwhile, the idea of rapid economic progress posed a threat to the centuries-old feudal status of the sardars.

The parliamentary committee constituted under the government of Pervez Musharraf talked with Baloch nationalist leaders and prepared recommendations to end conflict in the province. But the committee’s efforts for carving out a political solution came to naught as the government opted for a military solution. The killing of Nawab Akbar Bugti in 2006 added fuel to the fire.

Already trapped in poverty and underdevelopment, Balochistan had to bear the additional economic, social and human costs of a number of military operations. These brought more destruction and intensified the feelings of alienation in the province.Baloch nationalist parties gave some hope to the people but ultimately, they failed or became part of the problem.

Then emerged a group of urbanised, educated youths that was equally frustrated with the sardars, the sarkars and the nationalists. Today the separatists, who are operating outside the country’s constitutional framework, are fuelling the fire of a struggle for an independent Balochistan. Target killings, bomb blasts and attacks on public properties, gas installations and police and law-enforcement agencies have become routine.

The delineation of separatists from nationalists would be a step in the right direction but currently, they are being treated as synonymous. The assassination of moderate Baloch nationalist leaders such as Habib Jalib, who was killed by unidentified assassins in Quetta in 2010, has strengthened the separatists’ hand. The repression of nationalist forces will cause this process to continue.

Separatism needs to be contained through strengthening Baloch nationalists. If the nationalist parties were successful in redressing the people’s grievances, the separatists would lose support.

The crisis in Balochistan spans economic, social and political dimensions. Its resolution demands a realistic approach that addresses the root causes. The issue is the imposition of the centre’s own version of development of the province’s resources; it is about giving the province a sense of ownership.

The US has not served the Baloch cause by voicing its concerns. In fact, the US is guided by its own geopolitical interests. The province, however, is reeling under the repercussions of the US-led wars in Afghanistan, first launched against Soviet forces during the early ’80s and then against the Taliban. But for how long will we protest over American concern and comments on the issue?

If a person’s house is on fire, he’d better invest all his energies in extinguishing the blaze rather than asking others to stop voicing their concern. Balochistan is Pakistan’s internal matter and it is up to this country to put its own house in order.

The writer is the author of Economic Development of Balochistan.



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