Negotiations are a function of a secular conception of the state, not a theological one. The Baloch nationalists may be involved in some excesses but they can still be dealt with through a combination of strategies. Not so the Islamists
The Balochistan National Party (BNP) Information Secretary and former senator Mr Sanaullah Baloch has told this newspaper of a presumed policy by the federal government “to pit the religious elements against the Baloch nationalists”.
Just in case anyone thought Mr Baloch was being mealy-mouthed about the identity of the “religious elements”, he referred to the “supporters” of the Taliban who have allegedly “captured land worth Rs2 billion in the eastern and western parts of Quetta” to “undermine the Baloch nationalist movement”.
Mr Baloch also “wondered why the state had not carried out military operations against these elements while it was still attacking Dera Bugti and Sui areas”. He also referred to the problem of the Afghan refugees and called them “a burden on the economy of Balochistan and the biggest cause of lawlessness and terrorism in the country’s largest province”.
Since Balochistan is strategically immensely important for Pakistan, Mr Baloch’s allegations cannot be brushed aside lightly. Let’s try and go step by step.
Mr Baloch has referred to “Baloch nationalists” and the “supporters of the Taliban”. His first categorisation means two things: one, there is a presence of elements in Balochistan who are not fully subsumed in the larger national identity; two, these elements, traversing the spectrum from the moderate to the hard-line, are opposed to what can broadly be called the status quo.
Since we have referred to the moderates at one end and hard-liners at the other, it is safe to assume that the tactics adopted to compel the state to change the status quo would range from negotiations to a resort to violence. Not only that, we can also assume that changing the status quo itself may vary in terms of expectations and definition from the moderates (minimalist) to the hard-liners (maximalist).
For instance, the moderates may, both in terms of tactics as well as expectations, want greater autonomy for the province and greater control over its resources (changing the terms of the National Finance Commission Award and the Council of Common Interest, for instance). This would mean reviewing the issue of provincial autonomy in the 1973 Constitution, not just in relation to Balochistan, but across the board, besides revisiting the formulae for the allocation of resources etc and adjudication for provincial grievances.
Leaving aside the modalities, and there are many, this would still boil down to the acceptance of a federal arrangement, though with less centralised powers for Islamabad. And, this is a negotiating position, one in which staying within the system and working it to one’s advantage would be considered better than opting out and subverting the system.
Rising higher on the conflict ladder, we reach the demand for a confederal arrangement. Confederations are usually created by treaty and adopt a common constitution. The central government only deals with such critical issues such as defence, foreign affairs, a common currency etc while letting the states be and providing equal support to all member-states. Essentially, it is, according to modern terminology, a permanent union of sovereign states for common action in relation to other states.
In theory, confederal arrangements allow smaller, sovereign state-units, to enjoy their freedom of action at one end and the binding support of a central structure for joint defence at the other.
This is generally unworkable. The confederation of German States (1815-66) and North German States (1866-71), as well as other such instances, show the difficulty of such arrangements, both at the conceptual and functional levels. Such arrangements are always dogged by the problem of where sovereignty rests and with whom, and from that flows functional problems of effective control, support, allocation of resources etc.
A demand by federal units for a confederal arrangement is thus a covert euphemism for breaking away, not exactly a negotiating position for reviewing a federalist structure.
On the other hand, autonomous units that seek to come together under such arrangement either break up (several examples) and go back to exercising state sovereignty or, as roughly may be the case with the European Union, retain the core of sovereignty while relinquishing some aspects of it on the periphery.
The last rung on this ladder is of course secession — overt breaking away. This is not a negotiating position at all. It leads to conflict, usually armed. The secession of East Pakistan is a case in point. But precisely because of that experience, the Centre of the Pakistani state is likely to come down hard, and ruthlessly, on those elements that might start with such a position — or even arrive at it.
However, in the case of Balochistan, simmered as it has for a long time, it would be safe to argue that unless the situation is resolved, we may see more movement from the moderate end of the spectrum towards the hard-liners.
If Mr Baloch is right then it seems the state has decided to neutralise the “secular” Baloch nationalists with their parochial, ethnically-grounded agenda through the use of “religious” elements who may not be ethnically parochial but want to sacralise the state and link it up with a mythical pan-Islamism.
And pan-Islamism, while being expansive in terms of rejecting parochial identitieswithin Islam is nonetheless reductionist in terms of how it views the out-groups and conceives its modes of interaction with them.
Here we run into two problems then.
The first has to do with the Baloch nationalists. If it is about peoples’ representation then we have unfortunately not seen such movement so far in that province. The province’s leaders, for all the clamouring about rights etcetera, have woefully fallen short of reforming their social structures. The late Akbar Khan Bugti not only ruled his area like a medieval tyrant, Dera Bugti even today has the worst human development indices in Pakistan.
The same is true of other sardars who claim to speak on behalf of the people of Balochistan.
Is it possible, before the Baloch nationalists begin to talk about democracy and rights and resource allocation, that they could show themselves up to be “modern” rather than celebrating one of the worst tribal structures one can find anywhere?
This, let it be said, is as important, if not more, than the issue of devolving powers to the provinces which must be done as per the original spirit of the 1973 constitution. Even so, without internal social reformation, no amount of provincial autonomy will help the Baloch develop meaningfully or join the development mainstream.
In fact, this is just the point which may help clinch the argument in favour of allowing development to go through, something the Baloch nationalists have not allowed so far, opting instead to cut their nose to spite their face. This social reformation should be the agenda of the moderates who must also negotiate with the Centre for greater rights.
On the part of the state, pitting Islamists against a “threat” that can be dealt with through negotiations is the worst possible policy because it is likely to view tactical victories as a strategic, long-term plus which such victories, if there might such be, definitely are not.
The state must remember that negotiations are a function of a secular conception of the state, not a theological one. The Baloch nationalists may be involved in some excesses, but they can still be dealt with through a combination of strategies.
Not so the Islamists.