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Saturday, November 26, 2011

Balochistan imbroglio

Published: November 18, 2011

Balochistan is both the largest and the least developed province of Pakistan. The terrain of this sparsely peopled part of the country is a blend of mountains and desert. This land of opportunity full of minerals and fossil fuels is dominated by the feudal lords. Moreover its demographics are diverse: tribes speaking different languages and holding different religious beliefs, including those who voyaged here to settle for good. The beauty of this land comes to life by incessant expanses of plains as they open up its allure through foothills, orchards, and valleys. From Quetta to Chaman, the train, moving on a narrow - gauge track, majestically passes through hairpin turns, tunnels, gorges, defiles and wilderness manifesting the nature in its true colors. The wild holds back when rolling through clumps of trees and small dwellings. It is a land fascination which is without any rovers to relish its splendor; as if life has ceased to exist.
And it is talk of the past when Quetta, that sits like a cup surrounded by hills, and where I did my professional course in 1980, would, one day be visited by series of misfortune. Oh! That was the “Waris”, a TV serial that would take the whole populace to their homes in the evening to watch it. No barriers of language, caste, color, and tribal leanings could hold back the shopkeepers and shoppers. A complete shutter-down phenomenon would prevail. It was peace, serenity, and tranquility that obtained there. Baloch, Pushtun, Hazaras, Hindu and Punjabi lived in harmony as one community. Not today! Quetta is studded with road blocks, check posts and security walls and fences, easily portraying a prison. You feel your soul is hostage to mysterious lug. The worsening law and order has gripped the province in its shackles.
Balochistan has large deposits of gas and coal and natural resources that could easily provide for half of Pakistan’s energy needs. Unfortunately, criminal activities and lawlessness have made the energy security extremely frail. But the poor is devastatingly poor. The famed jungles have disappeared. Disease has crippled already knocked down corrupted health sector where no doctors and paramedic staff are visible; especially at the hospitals encompassed in small cities and towns. Lack of proper education facilities, and rudimentary healthcare is providing fuel for radicalism. Drug paddling is also stoking up insurgency and inciting the Baloch insurgents to make extensive political capital out of it. Since government writ is not discernible, non-state actors have filled ‘the vacuum of non-governance and subverted the tribal system’.
The economy, which is free fall for years is grinding towards halt; consequently it has hit the rock bottom. Schemes like Waseela–e-Haq introduced by the government have met their fate. Families living for more than a century have fled. Social fiber has disintegrated. The bazaars are deserted and yearning for the customers. The business is down to trickle. The shops that boasted off the abundance of saleable items are almost empty. Ethnic cleansing has touched new heights and in the last few years more than thousand people have been butchered. Unfortunately leading businessmen have been killed or forced to migrate. New businesses are non-existent. A society which slays its teachers, locks its schools, slaughters its doctors and intellectuals has nothing to showcase in the arena of pride. Henceforth, something is amiss. Is dor kay sultan say kutch bhool hui hey. (The king has somewhat erred here). Target killings and kidnappings for vengeance and ransom have decimated the size of Balochistan society. Both ‘ethno-nationalist and sectarian’ militancy are all the rage. Shia–Sunni ethnic conflicts are norm of the day. The infighting has left large number of people dead including 380 Hazaras since 2001 and many more wounded. Militants like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and the nationalists Baloch have teamed up not only against the Hazaras but have merged with the mafias, and racketeers and gangsters.
BRIG (RETD) M NAZIR SHAMS,
Islamabad, November 16.

The Nation

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