Baloch tribes and the federation

Daily: Daily Times
Date: 21.12.11

There are several ways to study the Balochistan problem. Two of them are to look at the
problem through the lenses of Balochistan’s tribal reality and understand the nature of
relationship between Baloch tribes and the federation of Pakistan.

Generally speaking, there are two main characteristics of tribal culture. First, the members
of a tribe may refuse to submit to the authority of the state. The plausible reason is that for
the tribal members a tribe is itself a state; they pay allegiance to their tribe first and the
state later. Secondly, the members of a tribe are averse to adopting the culture of the
mainstream population. The plausible reason is that the tribal members believe in practising
their tribal culture; they are tribal first and national later. That is why in all societies of the
world, tribes are considered marginal, external and rebellious. Further, owing to the same
reasons, tribes are stigmatized and reviled in the modern age.

The tribal people may be nomadic or native. For a tribe which becomes native (owing to its
settlement on a piece of land for generations), ownership of the land (which comes under
its sway) is very important. Discovery of any natural resources from that land strengthens
further the bond of association with the land. In a tribal context, the ownership is communal
though represented through the tribal head.

Unfortunately, the communality of ownership of the land and its resources stands in conflict
with the system of capitalism. For a state running on the capitalist system, it becomes
difficult to appreciate and respect the relationship between a tribe and the land. A tribe
considers the land its mother oozing out the milk of happiness and prosperity. On the other
hand, the state considers the land a means to enhance collective prosperity of the citizens
of the state. Secondly, a tribe claiming ownership of the land thinks that the state
possesses no right to violate the communal ownership. Contrarily, the state requires those
natural resources to be tapped and utilized unhindered for the state benefits. Thirdly, the
tribe prefers welfare and prosperity of its tribal members while the state considers interests
and prosperity of all members of the state its preference. Consequently, a conflict appears
between a tribe and the state. That sort of conflict has led to rooting out several tribes such
as Native Americans in the US and Aborigines in Australia.

For a tribe the point of concern is not only receiving royalty on the resources in financial
terms but also enjoying the (communal) ownership of resources in both legal and
psychological terms. Resultantly, if royalty is paid but the ownership is denied, a conflict
appears between the tribe and the state. If both royalty and ownership are denied to a
tribe, a ferocious response appears from the tribe.

What is happening in Balochistan especially in the Sui area falls in this reactionary ambit. If
Sui-gas is not available, for instance, to the residents of the Sui area, why the residents
should not think that their communal ownership has been challenged by the state?
Secondly, if the head of the tribe owning the Sui land is eliminated by the state, why the
members of the tribe should not think that they are losing communal identity – and hence
the relevance?

In a way, the problem is between the formula on which the federation of Pakistan was
constructed and the reality of tribalism in Balochistan (or even in the FATA). In principle, a
federal government must respect heterogeneity (which may be based on ethnic, linguistic
or racial realities) of its units. Unfortunately, it seems that the federation of Pakistan is
failing to appreciate this reality. After 1947, the system of government ran more on unitary
rather than federal lines. Secondly, the state tried to assert its verdict as if there had been
existing homogeneity around. Thirdly, the Centre tried to control Baloch tribes through
provincial government which when underperformed the Centre took upon itself the task of
dealing with tribes directly. This is where things went wrong.

In principle, the chief minister of Balochistan should be managing affairs of his province
through a team of public representatives. When the state tried to bypass him and tried to
deal directly with tribes assuming them as marginal, external and rebellious, there surfaced
a tribal defiance called the Baloch insurgency.

Managing law and order in the province through the Frontier Constabulary (FC) is an anti-
thesis to the formula of federation. The police of Balochistan should be manned, trained
and equipped to take care of the affairs of Balochistan. Apparently, the federation is
playing with fire. Perhaps, the federation has assumed that the members of Baloch tribes
are fewer in number and weaker in strength and can be subdued to the capitalist wishes of
the state. One point is not being understood: the Baloch identity is not because of the
federation of Pakistan but the other way round. A consensus is developing in the rest of the
provinces that any resources snatched from the Baloch should not be utilized. It is immoral
to be benefited from advantages the cost of which is the dead bodies and missing persons
in Balochistan. The federation is not supposed to act as a robber but as a benefactor.

Persistence of insurgency in Balochistan is less a fault of the Baloch (and Baloch tribes)
and more a failure of the federation to study the aspirations of the Baloch and coming up to
them. It is the duty of the federation to listen to the grievances of the Baloch dissidents and
address them. Secondly, it is the duty of the federation to see if it is justifiable to violate the
tribal sanctity of Baloch tribes. Thirdly, it is the duty of the federation to revisit the formula of
federation and see if the promises made to the federating units are being fulfilled in letter
and spirit.

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