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15/09/2006 | Pakistan: The Worsening Conflict in Balochistan

International Crisis Group Staff

The Balochistan insurgency will not recede until Islamabad ends its heavy-handed, armed response to legitimate Baloch grievances and negotiates matters of political and economic autonomy.

 

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY AND RECOMMENDATIONS

President Pervez Musharraf and the military are responsible for the worsening of the conflict in Balochistan. Tensions between the government and its Baloch opposition have grown because of Islamabad’s heavy-handed armed response to Baloch militancy and its refusal to negotiate demands for political and economic autonomy. The killing of Baloch leader Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti in August 2006 sparked riots and will likely lead to more confrontation. The conflict could escalate if the government insists on seeking a military solution to what is a political problem and the international community, especially the U.S., fails to recognise the price that is involved for security in neighbouring Afghanistan.

Tensions with the central government are not new to Balochistan, given the uneven distribution of power, which favors the federation at the cost of the federal units. The Baloch have long demanded a restructured relationship that would transfer powers from what is seen as an exploitative central government to the provinces. But Musharraf’s authoritarian rule has deprived them of participatory, representative avenues to articulate demands and to voice grievances. Politically and economically marginalised, many Baloch see the insurgency as a defensive response to the perceived colonisation of their province by the Punjabi-dominated military.

Although regional parties still seek provincial autonomy within a federal parliamentary democratic framework, and there is, as yet, little support for secession, militant sentiments could grow if Islamabad does not reverse ill-advised policies that include:

  • exploitation of Balochistan’s natural resources without giving the province its due share;
  • construction of further military garrisons to strengthen an already extensive network of military bases; and
  • centrally driven and controlled economic projects, such as the Gwadar deep sea port, that do not benefit locals but raise fears that the resulting influx of economic migrants could make the Baloch a minority in their homeland.

While Baloch alienation is widespread, crossing tribal, regional and class lines, the military government insists that a few sardars (tribal leaders) are challenging the centre’s writ, concerned that their power base would be eroded by Islamabad’s plans to develop Balochistan; the state therefore has little option but to meet the challenge head on. This failure to accept the legitimacy of grievances lies at the heart of an increasingly intractable conflict, as does Islamabad’s reliance on coercion and indiscriminate force to silence dissent.

The military government should recognise that it faces conflict not with a handful of sardars but with a broad-based movement for political, economic and social empowerment. The only one way out is to end all military action, release political prisoners and respect constitutionally guaranteed political freedoms.

As a preliminary confidence-building measure, Islamabad should implement recommendations of the Parliamentary Committee on Balochistan, which have local support. But a sustainable solution requires implementation, in spirit and substance, of constitutional provisions for political, administrative and economic autonomy. The federation would also be strengthened if the national parliament were to amend the constitution, to shift powers from an overbearing centre to the provinces. However, centralised rule is the hallmark of authoritarianism. Like its predecessors, this military government is averse to democratic engagement and powersharing, preferring to retain and consolidate power through patron-client relations and divide-and-rule strategies.

Reliance on the Pashtun religious parties to counter its Baloch opposition has strengthened Pashtun Islamist forces at the cost of the moderate Baloch. With their chief Pakistani patron, Fazlur Rehman’s Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam running the Balochistan government in alliance with Musharraf’s Muslim League (Quaid-i-Azam), a reinvigorated Afghan and Pakistani Taliban are attacking international forces and the Kabul government across Balochistan’s border with Afghanistan. But the international community, particularly the U.S. and its Western allies, seem to ignore the domestic and regional implications of the Balochistan conflict, instead placing their faith in a military government that is targeting the anti-Taliban Baloch and Pashtuns and rewarding pro-Taliban Pashtun parties.

With the federal government refusing to compromise with its Baloch opponents, intent on a military solution to a political problem and ignoring local stakeholders in framing political and economic policies, the directions of the conflict are clear. The military can retain control over Balochistan’s territory through sheer force, but it cannot defeat an insurgency that has local support.

Still, the conflict could be resolved easily. Free and fair elections in 2007 would restore participatory representative institutions, reducing tensions between the centre and the province, empowering moderate forces and marginalising extremists in Balochistan. In the absence of a democratic transition, however, the militancy is unlikely to subside. The longer the conflict continues, the higher the costs – political, social and economic for a fragile polity.

RECOMMENDATIONS:

To the Government of Pakistan:

1.  End reliance on a military solution in Balochistan and quickly take the following steps to deescalate:

(a)  cease military action, send the armed forces back to the barracks and restrict their role to guarding the province’s land and nautical borders;

(b)  withdraw the Frontier Corps, replacing it with provincial security forces that are firmly under provincial control;

(c)  dismantle all check posts manned by paramilitary and other federal security agencies; and

(d)  halt construction of military bases (cantonments) and end plans to construct additional military or paramilitary facilities.

2.  Respect democratic freedoms by:

(a)  producing immediately all detainees before the courts and releasing political prisoners;

(b)  ending the political role of intelligence agencies, military and civil, and barring them from detaining prisoners;

(c)  withdrawing travel restrictions, internal and external, on Baloch opposition leaders and activists;

(d)  ending intimidation, torture, arbitrary arrests, disappearances and extra-judicial killings;

(e)  allowing all political parties to function freely, respecting the constitutionally guaranteed rights of speech and expression, assembly, association and movement; and

(f)  respecting the constitutional obligation to preserve and promote distinct language and culture.

3.  Entrust the Baloch with more responsibility for their own security by:

(a)  accepting provincial jurisdiction over law and order and policing;

(b)  retaining Balochistan Levies, re-establishing those that have been disbanded, reforming them into a professional force accountable to provincial authority and replacing them by the police only once police reform has been enacted countrywide;

(c)  ensuring that locals are recruited to the police force and Levies in Balochistan; and

(d)  meeting the quota for Baloch recruitment in the armed forces and federal security agencies.

4.  Allow local and international media unhindered access to all districts in Balochistan, including the conflict zones.

5.  Begin immediately a dialogue with all regional and national-level political parties on ways of solving the crisis and create a favorable environment for such a dialogue by:

(a)  implementing at once recommendations of the Mushahid Hussain parliamentary subcommittee, particularly those that pertain to revised gas royalties, social sector expenditure by the federation as well as oil and gas companies, and jobs for Baloch in the federal government and its institutions;

(b)  establishing and empowering the special task force proposed by the Mushahid Hussain subcommittee to monitor and implement these recommendations;

(c)  revising the distribution criteria for National Finance Commission awards to account for backwardness, level of development, geographic size, and revenue levels of the provinces; and

(d)  reviving the moribund Council of Common Interests, accepting parliamentary authority over the body, and accepting and implementing its decisions.

6.  Ensure sustainable development with local ownership by:

(a)  meeting Baloch concerns about Gwadar Port by placing the project under provincial government control; ending the practice of allocating coastal lands to security agencies; giving local fishermen unimpeded access to their fishing grounds; revising the “master plan” so locals are not dislocated; addressing pressing health and education needs, with an emphasis on new technical institutes and colleges; and implementing job quotas for locals at the port and related projects;

(b)  ensuring in Sui and other oil and gas extraction projects that the well head value and natural gas rates are on par with other provinces; renegotiating natural gas rates and the royalty formula; encouraging oil and gas companies to hire and train Baloch workers and allocate funds for social development; and consulting with the province on privatisation of the oil and gas industry and other state-owned enterprises; and

(c)  making the provincial government a party to all investment and development projects.

7.  Refocus policies towards human development by:

(a)  allocating an annual financial package for social sector development pursuant to district level recommendations;

(b)  granting specific funds for hospitals, technical institutions, medical colleges and universities, as well as high schools in all districts; and

(c)  developing irrigation schemes, including small dams, for rural Balochistan, on the recommendation of the provincial government.

To the National Assembly:

8.  Enhance provincial autonomy and strengthen the federation by:

(a)  eliminating the Concurrent Legislative List and devolving all its subjects to the provinces;

(b)  constituting a bipartisan parliamentary committee to recommend, within a fixed timeframe, the transfer of subjects from the Federal Legislative List to the provinces, beginning with subjects in Part II of the list;

(c)  enacting legislation to regulate and monitor land allotment, sales and transfers in Gwadar; and

(d)  constituting a parliamentary committee, with an equal number of members from the ruling and opposition benches, to examine cases of abuse of power by security agencies.

To the Supreme Court:

9.  Form a high-level judicial commission to enquire into the 26 August 2006 killing of Baloch nationalist leader Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti.

To the International Community:

10.  Urge the Pakistan government to immediately end military action in Balochistan.

11.  Press the Pakistan government to end all practices that violate international human rights standards, including torture, arbitrary arrests, detentions, and extra-judicial killings.

International Crisis Group (Organismo Internacional)

 

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