QUETTA: Speakers at a one-day seminar on Tuesday stressed the need for granting more control to the provinces on their natural resources by initiating a process of complete decentralization of powers to permanently end the outbreak of rifts between the federal government and the provinces.
Speaking at a seminar on “ Lack of peace and its impact on the socio-political situation of Balochistan” organized by Human Development Organization (HDO) at the Quetta Press Club, Abdul Rahim Ziaratwal, former parliamentary leader of the Pakhtunwa Milli Awami Party, said the passage of the 18th Amendment Bill had come as a bacon of hope towards provincial autonomy. The government had finally met the same demands in the amendments which had been put forward by nationalist forces several decades ago because they always believed that a strong federation would survive when all the provinces were given maximum autonomy.
“ The 18 Amendment Bill has come very late but still provides some hope for the improvement of relations between the province and the center,” he said, “ had a similar initiative been taken much earlier, confrontation between the federal government and the provinces could have been avoided. Some people are still viewing the constitutional package with skepticism saying that it is too little being offered too late. If the government fails to truly work on empowering the provinces, the country would experience another epoch of dismemberment.”
He said the Pashtun population fully backed the Baloch demand of absolute control over their natural resources and the coast. However, the Pashtuns also expected the Balochs to respect their democratic and genuine rights as the equal citizens of the province. Some elements were trying to exploit the situation in Balochistan to create differences between the two major nationalities living in Balochistan.
“Pashtuns and Balochs have to vigilantly observe these conspiracies and wisely strive to thwart plans that divide these two brotherly people living together in harmony over many centuries,” he pleaded.
The PKMP leader regretted the longstanding policy of the Establishment to promote religious extremism in Balochistan. This policy had previously radicalized the Pashutn areas of the province but not it had also expanded to the Bravi-speaking belt of Balochistan where scores of young people were being inclined towards sectarian militancy and violence, he pointed out.
Describing the current Balochistan government a composition of apolitical and corrupt people, he said the government in Quetta did not represent the genuine political parties of the province because all the major political parties in Balochistan had boycotted the general elections held in February 2008.
“Islamabad has had a policy of replacing the real democratic forces in Balochistan with illiterate, apolitical and subservient religious and centrist leaders so that they keep their voice very low inside the parliament. These are the people who do not have the capability to run the administration in the province. Many of the ministers dictate the local police to give exemption to the criminals operating in the province to kidnap civilians, loot buses and trucks on the highways. The Balochistan government is taking the province, with the help of the establishment, towards complete chaos and lawlessness,” he charged.
Former district nazim of Awaran and central leader of the National Party, Khair Jan Baloch, said Balochistan’s social and economic backwardness was an outcome of strict federal structure of the country which discouraged the provinces to have a share in the decision-making process over the years. Balochistan’s control over its resources was never conceded by Islamabad.
“Balochistan can emerge with a wonderful development model once it is given complete ownership on its natural resources. Economically autonomous provinces do not pose a threat to the federation but they strengthen it. Rulers in Islamabad have to take a leaf out of strong federations in the world. Islamabad should stop branding the respected local leaders foreign agents for the crime of seeking more autonomy and control on their natural resources,” he said.
Malik Siraj Akbar, editor of The Baloch Hal, said the intense confrontation between Balochistan and the federal government had developed a situation in the province where the armed groups and the government equally believed in the use of brute force to resolve issues. “ There is a continuous struggle by the establishment to perpetuate the role of the Frontier Corps by assigning it multiple tasks, including that of victimizing the political opponents and muzzling the local media while more new armed groups have started to join the insurgency,” he said.
Senior journalist Yar Mohammad Badini said Balochistan had been “rewarded” with five military operations over the past sixty years in return of the massive resources it had provided to the whole country in energy sector. He called for an end to the economic exploitation of Balochistan which he insisted was the biggest source of discontent and disillusionment in the volatile province.