First impression one gets these days on landing at Quetta airport is that it is the city under siege. Heavily armed Rangers and Army men give an uneasy feeling. But then on the same day not far from my hotel there was a bomb blast killing and injuring the common people.
A bomb blast here, a rocket attack there and an ambush somewhere else in the remote rugged mountains of Balochistan has been a way of life most of the time. The moments of peace and tranquility are few and far in between. It is hard to know who is behind these blasts, while the most immediate suspect for the establishment is the Baloch Nationalist Movement; there are many that say it is the Afghan intelligence avenging our alleged support to Taliban. But one thing is sure those who die or get injured are people of Balochistan – the bombs do not make distinctions between Balochis, Pushtuns and Punjabis.
The government justifies the heavy presence of armed forces saying that they are maintaining law and order and fighting the terrorists. The Baloch separatists, who are up with arms in the mountains and who sit in tea houses presenting nationalist views talk about their rights and exploitation. They believe that what is called terrorism by the government is their freedom struggle. The more realistic call it a struggle for maximum provincial autonomy. It’s the same logic that the government gives in support of the militants in Kashmir.
A realistic Baloch nationalist friend, who had been to torture rooms and jail in the past, confessed that though he is all for maximum autonomy, he now dreads the future of independent Balochistan. “I think if there is ever an independent Balochistan in the near future, it would be another Somalia or Iraq,” he predicted. His fears are not unfounded. Balochistan’s tribal-cum-feudal society is quite fragmented. Most of the tribes are heavily armed and some have age old disputes. There is no strong central leadership, which can bind everybody together. Each of them is capable of becoming a war lord of his area and then they would be fighting for each others land. History has shown that if there are fragmented armed groups fighting for an illusion of independence their unit of purpose dissolves as soon as that purpose is achieved. The day after the independence revolution is over, the inner contradictions starts playing and again all hell is let loose. By the way I have similar fears about Kashmir because the unit among umpteen freedom parties is bonded by the common enemy. Most of the militant groups are likely to fight with each other once the bonding force is out of the scene.
Irrespective of these historic realities Baloch nationalist youth seem to be charmed by the leaders who talk about independence. Why? Because much of the case against the successive central governments has been based on genuine grievances. The biggest grouse of the Baloch youth I talked to was that they are not getting their due share in government jobs. But then when asked who is getting the jobs being created by the billions of rupees development projects? They admit that the problem is at the provincial level where majority of the ministers are selling jobs. Even the development funds, some Baloch middle class intellectual admit, are being pilfered by the provincial and district governments. So the benefit of the multi-billion rupees development project, which the Federal government talks about all the time, is going to corrupt bureaucracy and political leaders.
That’s the reason that the common Baloch is unhappy. Yes, one can easily notice in Quetta tea houses and at the University that Balochi & Brahvi speaking youth is bitterer than their Pushto & Punjabi speaking counterparts of the province. Balochi & Brahvi are only four percent of the total Pakistan population. This is where the Baloch leaders if they are sincere in the uplift of their people should do some soul searching. They should encourage the Baloch youth to go for the private sector jobs, where merit counts and there are no government parasites. A number of private sector employers when contacted by me said that most of the applicants for jobs in Balochistan are usually Pushto speaking followed by the Punjabis. Majority of the Balochi and Brahvi speaking don’t even care to apply.
While the movement for getting control over the provinces’ fiscal and natural resources has to go a long way, the more immediate task for the people is to fight for better governance and against corruption. This will bring some relief to the people; unfortunately the nationalist and left leadership is not paying attention to this most urgent task and is selling distant dreams.
It is just and courageous to struggle for the rights of the people of Balochistan. But it would also be more daring to take the challenge of making the Baloch youth understand that they cannot afford to keep waiting for the distant mirage called independence. And that they should prepare themselves to meet the challenges of the 21st century for a better today instead of waiting for the elusive tomorrow promised by the idealist leaders. (firstname.lastname@example.org)