by Saad Hafiz :
The Balochistan quagmire corroborates Pakistan’s historic struggle to accommodate distinct national groups within the country. The Baloch, like the Bengalis earlier, are demanding political and economic justice they rightly feel has been denied to them by the powerful Punjab-dominated ruling oligarchy. Since the creation of Pakistan, there have been incompatible tensions that could be glossed over in the somewhat rushed production of constitutional arrangements, but these problems could not be resolved in an enduring way without innovation, accommodation and change. Most importantly, the patched together constitutional ‘solutions’ for the areas dominated by other national groups like the Baloch and the Bengalis aggravated existing tensions, by delaying any serious dialogue about how to harmonise never before integrated portions of this territory into a functional nation-state.
Pakistan was even less governable in the early post-independence years, characterised as they were by the legacy of partition, serious economic challenges and political instability. As a result, political leaders found it difficult to govern regions with large national groups. The central government was in no position to start the state-building processes that would have been necessary to winning the loyalty of the national minorities by distributing social resources fairly and justly to minorities and majorities alike. The military emerged as the sole institution that was capable of consolidating widespread authority, as the army was repeatedly deployed to enforce martial law or establish military administrations during times of domestic crisis.
In hindsight, the construction of a loosely integrated federal system based on the participation of all national groups in politics would have served the country better. It may have helped in forging an overarching national identity more so than the significantly more centralised model in place until now. It has also been counterproductive to leave nation building to the two major non-political institutions — the army and the bureaucracy — as civilian institutions floundered or were rendered ineffective during significant periods of authoritarian rule. From a comparative perspective, there are very few instances in which a postcolonial, multiethnic state has been able to democratise its political system at the same time that it builds administrative, economic, and cultural linkages between geographically dispersed ethnic communities. Pakistan could learn from the successful national integration model implemented in a diverse country like India and from the less successful examples of Nigeria and Indonesia.
The secession of East Pakistan, while a national catastrophe, was an opportunity to revise national policies to help create multiple but complementary identities. The populist, democratic parties that briefly held sway over authoritarian forces after the 1971 debacle were unable to rebuild the system in a more open, transparent, responsive way. Instead, national policies in Pakistan have continued to foster polarised and warring groups. It is no surprise, therefore, that the Baloch remain more loyal to their tribal system instead of developing any affinity for Pakistan.
Secessionist desires have solidified as the Baloch have periodically revolted against the internal colonialism imposed by the country’s economic and military elite. Internal colonialism is a notion of structural political and economic inequalities between regions within a nation state. It often results in uneven economic development on a regional basis, and the exploitation of minority groups within a wider society. For ethnic and regional groups in Pakistan, the arrogance and injustice of post-colonial governments matched, and has often exceeded, those of the departed external colonial regime.
A solution to the Balochistan situation may lie in the operations of a true federalism in Pakistan accompanied by a meaningful devolution of power at the local level, to ensure that national groups have a better control over the wealth derived from their natural resources. For this to happen, Pakistan needs to develop a revised theory of federacy that helps to sustain responsive and representative systems of governance. The country must also address the political and socioeconomic conditions that obstructed its democratic development thus far and are still very much a factor today. These barriers include a crisis of state capacity rooted in the fragmented nature of Pakistani society; and an institutional intolerance of dissent on the part of authoritarian and pro-democracy organisations alike.
Over the long term, the national obsession with unity and uniformity can impede the development of party and government institutions that could tolerate and process competition and difference in political ideas. There is evidence that democracy crafted to grant political and economic autonomy to respective national groups does actually strengthen the federation. On the flip side, states that lack statesmanship and sagacity, condone torture, arbitrary disappearances and the continued occupation of restive regions by force do not stay together for long.