Monday, October 27, 2008

Addressing Baloch Grievances

Balochistan matters
Dawn Editorial, October 28, 2008

THE Shaheed Benazir Bhutto Reconciliatory Committee on Balochistan that was formed last April is finally showing signs of stirring. On Sunday, it revealed a roadmap incorporating among other things a plan to work on reconciliation, reconstruction of national institutions in the province and the reallocation of resources. A jirga is scheduled for later this week to discuss the strategy that has President’s Zardari’s approval. It is to be hoped that there are no delays and its composition will be inclusive of all opinion. The government, in all sincerity, should attempt to implement the proposals aimed at dispelling Baloch grievances and bringing back the alienated people of the province into the national mainstream. True, there is some doubt on this score considering that some very concrete proposals made by a parliamentary committee in 2005 to address Balochistan’s woes fell by the wayside. But unlike the previous political dispensation, this government is the outcome of a popular mandate and there is greater pressure on it to turn in a better performance.

This is the right time to strive — and to be seen as doing so — for Balochistan’s uplift. The ceasefire declared by Baloch militants last month has largely held while the army has scaled back its operations. It may be difficult to effect a reconciliation among the various aggrieved segments of society at the moment, especially in view of the thousands of ordinary civilians who were made to feel the military’s wrath during an intense operation against the militants. But it is imperative that the path leading to reconciliation is paved with positive actions involving major development in the province, greater provincial autonomy, more equitable resource-sharing and job opportunities for the Baloch many of whom feel that outsiders are being given preference in employment.

Promises have to be translated into reality to make the Baloch have a real sense of ownership in their province. These include making the necessary constitutional amendments envisaged by the roadmap and promised earlier by the prime minister who said after the February polls that the Concurrent List would be abolished within a year to allow the provinces more autonomy in their affairs. It is equally important to give a fair hearing to Balochistan’s demand for more equitable resource distribution. It is incumbent on the new National Finance Commission to ensure that the next award guarantees satisfactory gains for the province which has long wanted factors such as poverty and under-development to be among the main criteria for distribution. Balochistan, along with the other smaller provinces, has strongly felt the injustice of a population-based formula that has favoured Punjab, and it is about time its voice was heard in this regard. Failing to do so would mean a return to militancy in the province and the consequent weakening of the state.

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