The Baloch -- a reluctant citizenry

Daily: Daily Times
Date: 28.12.11

The civil autonomy of citizens and political autonomy of the state necessitate sovereignty to
translate their will into action and realize the dream of their distinct recognition.
Nevertheless, if that self-expression is stymied by any force, the growth of citizens and the
state is stunted.

A state is stronger than its citizens and it can hedge against any oppression challenging its
sovereignty. For instance, the state of Pakistan is trying to preserve its sovereignty against
the recent outrageous NATO attack on Salala check post. In the context of interstate
relations, the level of strength of a state is the final determinant. Resultantly, having found
itself in a weak position, Pakistan has agitated against the attack at the forum of the UNSC.

Citizens are weaker than the state they inhabit. Citizens cannot brave any oppression
inflicted by the state on their sovereignty. The question is if a state strips its citizens of
sovereignty, what should the citizens do? Which forum should the citizens raise their voice
at?

In the Memogate scandal, when the Ministry of Defence concedes to the Supreme Court
that it has no control over the armed forces or the ISI, is this disclosure not tantamount to
the affirmation that the social contract which binds the state and citizens together has
fizzled out? Does it not mean that there exists a parallel Pakistan engrossed in achieving
parallel objectives? Does it not mean that the grievances of the Baloch against the security
apparatus of Pakistan hold a bit of validity?

On the House floor, when Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gillani feels the need of assertion that
the armed forces and the ISI are subservient to Parliament, does this declaration not a
reflection of the groans and wails of the Baloch that Parliament is not supreme – it
acquiesces to the armed forces and the ISI. Consequently, there has been left no forum for
the Baloch in the state to voice their concerns. The question is: if a state can protect (or
tries to protect) its sovereignty against another state, why can citizens not protect their
sovereignty against the state? Secondly, even if this argument is deemed true that ‘people
wearing FC personnel uniforms are behind abductions and killings’ in Balochistan, the
question is: why the original FC does not bust any such gang to exonerate its name from
the allegations maligning its name?

The third question is: should the state adopt the reprehensible policy of silencing the
dissenting voices in the name of ‘national interests’? Pakistan seems to have been
infatuated with the Cold War norms of sacrificing its own people at the altar of self-defined
‘national interests’. Unfortunately, these ‘national interests’ are delineated at the (security)
institutional level and not at the (democratic) parliamentary level. It is said that the ongoing
war on terror has offered a smoke-screen to the security apparatus of the state to abduct
and kill people with impunity, especially in Balochistan. In this context, the Baloch are still
trying to find an answer to the question whether the state is because of them or they are
because of the state.

Pakistan seems to not realize the fact that it is not a homogenous state and hence it does
not fall under the category of a true nation-state. Pakistan is divided culturally, ethnically
and linguistically into several regions. That is why Pakistan is a federation – which must not
run on a centralized system of governance. Other than the Universal Declaration of Human
Rights of the UN Charter, there exists no internationally approved convention regrettably on
how a state should treat its citizens, particularly those who are defined (or who define
themselves) as somehow distinct.

Eventually, much reliance is placed on the constitution of every member state of the UN.
This is where a state finds a chance to deny rights to its citizens. For instance, the provision
of provincial autonomy promised in the Constitution of 1973 was denied to Pakistanis until
the 18th Constitutional Amendment was passed. The denial of provincial autonomy offered
a chance to the state to meddle in provincial matters. Balochistan suffered the most on this
account. No doubt, the 18th Amendment has devolved provincial autonomy to the
provinces, but the real dream of provincial autonomy, especially in the case of Balochistan,
is yet to materialize.

If Pakistan’s national anthem cannot be sung and if Pakistan’s flag cannot be hoisted
outside the boundaries of the government buildings in Balochistan, it means that the
situation has gone worse and entreats urgent attention. Subtle and non-confrontational
forms of protest are common in situations where those with little power want to register their
grievances to what is forced on them against their will. This kind of agitation stops short of
any kind of collective defiance. More studies are required to appreciate what has made the
benign resistance be replaced with an outright rebellion in Balochistan.

When Pakistan army’s spokesman Major General Athar Abbas says that there has been
conducted no military operation in Balochistan since 2008, he seems to be oblivious of the
fact that the repercussions of all the military operations carried out before 2008 are still
blighting the province. Sadly though, people-to-people contact has been severed since the
Baloch think that no non-Baloch came to their rescue and no one raised any voice on their
behalf. The recent initiative of Nawaz Sharif to meet a veteran Baloch nationalist leader
Sardar Attaullah Khan Mengal in Karachi and taking upon his party, the PML-N, to contest
the case of Balochistan is a good omen.

What is the problem if someone says that the Pakistan army is a ‘Punjabi army’? Why
should the army of a federation not a national army and why should it not be subservient to
parliament? The Baloch should be convinced that the future of Balochistan belongs to them
and they should be assured that neither the federation nor its institutions will infringe on
their rights.

Back to columns in 2011