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The Balochistan conundrum


 MAR 13TH, 2019  ARTICLE

The Balochistan Assembly through a unanimously adopted resolution has recently called upon the federal government to ensure that interests and rights of the people of the province are adequately protected while reaching any agreement with Saudi Arabia on the setting up of an oil refinery in Gwadar.

The resolution said the Balochistan government and lawmakers of Balochistan must be taken into confidence before signing the agreements with Saudi Arabia on the oil refinery and other development projects in Balochistan.

Members of the government and the opposition taking part in the discussion on the issue said that they had no objection to the investment of any country in Balochistan, but they just wanted to be sure that rights and interests of the people of Balochistan had been adequately protected and guaranteed in the investment agreements being signed with foreign countries.

Moving the resolution, Sana Baloch said that in the agreements aspects such as providing technical assistance, technical training to workers of Balochistan and environmental issues should also be adequately guaranteed and protected in the agreements.

He said Balochistan Assembly and provincial government should be taken on board on every agreement being signed for investment on the soil of Balochistan.

`The opposition and the government are on the same page for the protection of the rights of the people of Balochistan and lawmakers belonging to Balochistan would not compromise on these rights,` he said, adding that they would not allow anyone to "sell out" resources of the people of Balochistan.

He said that if lawmakers of Balochistan and representatives of the provincial government were ignored in these crucial matters, the sense of deprivation among the masses of Balochistan would increase and they would feel alienated and sidelined.

He said any agreement signed without the approval of the Balochistan cabinet would have no legal status.

"We cannot close our eyes to agreements being signed about Balochistan. The Balochistan government and the provincial assembly must be taken on board by the federal government before signing any agreement about Balochistan with any country," Baloch said.

Provincial Minister for Information Mir Zahoor Ahmed Buledi said that the provincial government from day one was taking steps to protect the rights of the people of Balochistan and it had decided that the land of the province would not be sold to any investor or company and it would only be given on lease and the government would keep the ownership rights of it.

The refrain here is protection of the 'rights and interests of the people of Balochistan." The question is, why after all these 71 years of our independence the ruling party in Balochistan and the opposition in the provincial assembly are so much concerned of the 'rights and interests' of the people of Balochistan? Hopefully at least this time Islamabad would not dismiss this concern as some kind of political rhetoric.

Indeed, on the face of it, this resolution would sound to most of our ruling elite as the usual Baloch grumbling trying to create problems in the way of progress. Such language coming from even the friends of Centre in Balochistan has consistently been labelled rebellious.

The federal government, especially the ruling PTI and more importantly the security institution, should take this resolution of Balochistan provincial assembly with all the seriousness it merits. Balochistan is Pakistan's socio-economic bonanza. But this bonanza should be developed and managed not solely by Islamabad, but in partnership of with the Balochistan government while taking good care that the 'rights and interests' of the people of the province are properly addressed.

Sui gas was discovered in early 1950s in Dera Bugti, but this precious mineral wealth of Balochistan brought prosperity to the rich and prosperous ruling elite operating from Punjab and Karachi with the people living in the location where the gas was in abundance completely deprived of its benefits for almost more than five decades.

As opposed to what was happening in Balochistan even after the discovery of gas the UAE which had begun exporting oil around the same time (1950s-1960s), was fast becoming an economically thriving region. Those who were driving donkey carts in the region were soon seen driving luxury cars. On the other hand, the colonial approach of Islamabad towards Pakistan's largest province in size, rich in minerals and largest coast-line but with a very small population saw the inhabitants continue to drive donkey carts while those in Punjab and Karachi were, making hay while sun of Sui shone bright. Of course the gas discoveries of Balochistan were not as rich as UAE's oil discoveries but even this wealth was denied to the people of the province.

And just look at what excess rain and inadequate anti-flood arrangements have done to Balochistan in recent weeks. As a matter of fact, by now the entire nation should have been geared along with its media into services of flood victims. But most of us are discussing non-issues at the national level. We need to build at least three dams in the province to resolve its water problem - both potable and for irrigation.

Balochistan is rich both in geography and history; it is the largest province in terms of land area forming the southwestern region of the country. It shares borders with Punjab and the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to the northeast reach the, Sindh to the east and southeast, the Arabian Sea to the south, Iran to the west and Afghanistan to the north and northwest.

At the time of Partition, Balochistan contained a Chief Commissioner's province and four princely states under the British Raj. The province's Shahi Jirga and the non-official members of the Quetta Municipality opted for Pakistan unanimously on 29 June 1947. Three of the princely states Makran, Lasbela and Kharan, acceded to Pakistan in 1947 after independence. But the ruler of the fourth princely state, the Khan of Kalat, Ahmad Yar Khan, who used to call Jinnah his 'father', declared Kalat's independence as this was one of the options given to all of the 565 princely states of undivided India by British Prime Minister Clement Attlee.

Kalat finally acceded to Pakistan on March 27, 1948 after a period of negotiations and bureaucratic tactics used by Pakistan. The signing of the Instrument of Accession by Ahmad Yar Khan, led his brother, Prince Abdul Karim, to revolt against his brother's decision in July 1948. Princes Agha Abdul Karim Baloch and Muhammad Rahim, refused to lay down arms, leading the Dosht-e Jhalawan in unconventional attacks on the army until 1950. The Quaid and his successors allowed Yar Khan to retain his title until the province's dissolution in 1955.

Insurgencies by Baloch nationalists took place in 1948, 1958-59, 1962-63 and 1973-77 - with a new ongoing insurgency by autonomy-seeking Baloch groups since 2003. This is Balochistan's history and it should be taught in all our schools to young children. We should never be ashamed of our shortcomings and blunders and should have the moral strength to seek an unconditional apology from the people of Baluchistan. If after all the oppression and deprivation that was caused to FATA region we could bring the region back into national mainstream why should we shy away from doing the same for Balochistan?

Balochistan is rich in exhaustible and renewable resources; it is the second major supplier of natural gas in Pakistan. The province's renewable and human resource potential has not been systematically measured or exploited due to pressures from within and without Pakistan.

We need to open up Balochistan with full guarantees that the local people would not be turned into Red Indians as socio-economic developments are accelerated with external funds and external manpower, technical as well and labour.

In the first place all the land in Gwadar and elsewhere in the province purchased by the people from out of Balochistan should be taken back and used as province's equity in all businesses that are being contemplated to be taken in hand in the province.

Next, in order to assure the locals that they would not be turned into a minority in their own province, the 18th amendment should be implemented in letter and spirit. We can also see how much we can adapt from the Canadian arrangements that render it impossible for workers coming in from other states to acquire local citizenship.

We do not know what is happening to the copper fields discovered in mid 1970s. Also, the Reko Diq gold and silver mines need to be brought back into the national debate with the aim to let the province take hold of all the mines in the province to manage them the way Quetta wants.

Also, in the meanwhile we need to open up branches of the best Pakistani colleges and universities in the province ensuring even higher education is provided free to the locals.

Also, the major media organisations should set up provincial headquarters to actively report and debate issues of Balochistan from Balochistan.


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