The Balochistan cauldron-I

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Balochistan problem has been festering for more than three decades.

However the bloodiness of violence from both sides has never been so gruesome.

After the demise of Soviet Union, the warm water theories or threat had subsided to be recently substituted by international involvement from other sides.

To top it all, a resolution has been moved in US Congress supporting an independent Balochistan, which the nationalist or liberationists in Balochistan have welcomed.

Both sides would have to examine their premises and positions in order to be able to reach a middle ground and a peaceful and amicable settlement.Our aim in this two part series is very limited.

In the first part of today, we would examine the nature of the claims of the nationalists that their province and its resources have been exploited.

We would also examine the extent and scope of realism in the claims and assessment that an independent Balochistan would be able to prosper due to its natural resources.

In the subsequent second part, we would examine the scope and possibilities of awarding concessions to the nationalists especially a more equitable and acceptable approaches with respect to mineral resources and their incomes.After remaining on slow burner for quite a while, the issue acquired renewed momentum in the wake of the murder of Akbar Bugti and the concomitant misadventure, personal vendetta and manhandling of the Bugti and other hostile tribes.

President Zardari apologised for the mistakes of his predecessors and launched an Aghaze-Huqooqe Balochistan package.

From the perspective of the other side, there has not been much of a change, as the political governments both at the centre and as well as the province do not have either the powers or the courage to take on the powers that be.

Clearly they blame Pakistan army and the security agencies for what they call their bloodshed.On the other hand terrorist violence from the nationalist side continues unabated; be it blowing up pipelines or electric installations or murder of uninvolved civilians.

Violence breeds violence, be it from any side; a people or the state.

It is finally the politics and negotiation that delivers.

Those who believe in violent or a military solution are denying the lessons of history.

Sadly both the premises seem to be ill founded.Many well wisher Pakistanis are willing to accept whatever blames their Baloch nationalist brothers make in order to appease them and bring them on to a negotiation table.

In the same vain, I would also be prepared to do so.

However, it would not help the situation, if facts are not told.

It would only further the misperception of our misguided youth in Balochistan.The claims of exploitation are highly exaggerated.

We do not find any physical or palpable evidence to that claim .There is hardly any mineral project in Pakistan or in Balochistan worth its name.

There is not a single mineral project of an international scale.

All mining is at a small scale.

Even Saindak Copper project is a small project GOP has been losing money on it.The project was not financially viable and Chinese were reportedly begged to take it over to recover their project loan.

Nevertheless the requisite royalty payments are being made to the provincial government.

For all his mistakes, General Musharraf corrected the iniquitous royalty and Sui gas price issue.

Royalty used to be underestimated due to a gas pricing formula that may have been technically correct but was ill conceived.

The situation has been corrected, even retrospectively.Arrears of Rs 110 Billion have been computed and there is an undertaking that all of it would be gradually paid off.

But for the recent financial difficulties, payment schedule may have remained wanting.

There is no doubt among any responsible that it would be paid off rather sooner than later.Another popular misunderstanding is that Except for Quetta, natural gas has not been supplied elsewhere in Balochistan.

The problem is technical rather than being in the realm of exploitation .Balochistan is very sparsely populated .No where in the world pipelined gas is supplied to such a low and geographically dispersed demand .Even with massive subsidies, it would not have been possible to meet the expectations of the nationalist circles.May be there are some limited number of places, where it may be somehow possible to take piped gas , which should have been done.

But such opportunities would be highly limited, if at all.

There could have been other solutions such as LPG etc wherein there are problems that are common to all of Pakistan.Mineral resources have always been under provincial domain and after 18th amendment, provincial domain has been extended to all natural resources.

This may take some time that the full fruits of 18th amendment would be available.

As for the corporate tax and GST on Oil and Gas, GST is refunded in full (save collection charges) and corporate tax goes into the central kitty, whereby it is divided among the provinces on population basis.

One may think, it is here that Balochistan may be suffering due to its lower population.

However this is not the case.Balochistan is not the only province that produces Oil and Gas.

Other provinces also contribute corporate income tax from their Oil and gas sector and Balochistan gets its share from that income as well.

I have done some arithmetic which shows that income of Balochistan would have been the same if all its Resource income were deposited into provincial Balochistan account without going into a central pool.

However, I would urge federal authorities to do some reform in this sector, so that this alibi for what ever its worth is also done away with.And now the resourcefulness issue.

At this moment, there is not much there on the surface.

It will come when it will come.

However, it should be understood that nations do not prosper and grow simply on the basis of natural resources.

Most resourceful countries in the world are poor and underdeveloped.

Let cash-full Middle Eastern oil countries not deceive any.

They are cash flush, because oil is in such demand .And no Middle Eastern oil exporter is truly independent.Poverty has not gone away from Iran, Iraq or Saudi Arabia, not to talk of the poor and "resourceful" countries of Africa like Niger, Congo, and Zaire etc.

Resources or perception of these have invited coup, colonialism, war and strife.

Oil rich Iraq and Nigeria are under threat of break-up.

Nigeria was partitioned but got united again.

Kuwait's oil invited Iraqi (Saddam's) invasion.

Iran and Saudi Arabia have had to spend heavily on Military expenditure.

Grass is always greener on the other side.

Many people in Iran think whether they would have been better off without so much oil and gas.(Ask Pakistani elite what they would have done with oil , had they had it in that abundance).In fact Economist have coined a term called resource curse after studying the fate of some 30 mineral countries which are suffering and are extremely poor despite their heavy mineral export and exploitation.

One may criticise the western countries (now China is a big importer of minerals from Africa) and their companies for the so-called exploitative policies.

But it is Pakistan which may be able to negotiate and get a better deal for the resources of Balochistan than an independent tribal Balochistan, dependent and underdeveloped and so sparsely populated.Eventually, if all goes well, Balochistan may one day be like Queensland of Australia or Alberta or of Canada inside a prosperous Pakistan than an independent mineral dependent Mali, Chad, Zaire and others of the same lot.

Baloch and Balochistan have a future within a united Pakistan and outside Pakistan; it is only a 'basti' of impoverished people.The resource rich Europe, US, Canada and Australia have built their societies based on an integrated combination of technology and resources.

They have not relied on exports of mineral resources.

They have benefited from these internally.

Resources need market and technology and human resources which will be provided by the brothers of Baloch in other provinces.

Iran and Qatar are sitting on one of the largest resources of natural gas and are unable to sell their gas.

There was no chance for gas at Sui to be developed even discovered.Commodity based nationalism has interesting variations.

In 1950 and 60s, Mujibur-Rehman made a big issue out of the Jute, the latter used to be called Golden Fiber.

Jute was in demand and earned sizeable foreign exchange for the then United Pakistan.

The notion was that jute would lead them into prosperity, which otherwise income would otherwise be shared.

No body wants jute any more.

Mujibur-Rehman was killed and Pakistan type political regime started prevailing there.There can be a similar fate for all those much wanted mineral resources.

There is not going to be much demand for minerals in the days of recycling.

GoP has tried for almost three decades to attract FDI in this sector.

Nothing has happened and there is this talk of mythical exploitation.Mineral development has taken place more in developed regions and countries, where there is no dearth of such resources contrary to the nave theories of the locals.

Renewable energy and recycling is knocking at the door which may wipe out fossil fuels in the same way as plastic replaced the jute.

In a decade or two, there would be much less talk of oil or gas.Larger countries and markets possibly have more prospects for progress as the experience of China and now India and other BRIC countries shows.

A united Pakistan may have delivered and could have been a part of BRIC today.

Bangladesh was one thousand miles apart, but Balochistan is right under our belly, our garden and backyard.

Baloch have more common with other parts than it was the case with Bangladesh.It was easy wresting Bangladesh away from Pakistan in the wake of political unrest there, followed by external intervention.

It would be too risky for the regional countries to repeat the same with a now nuclear Pakistan.

The restraining factor would be the nuclear factor as opposed to the opening threat in West Pakistan then.

All that can be achieved is to bleed Pakistan and make it weaker and throttle its growth and prosperity including that of our Balochi brothers and countrymen.Additionally, all those living in Balochistan are not ethnic Baloch.

There is a sizeable Pakhtoon population which certainly does not support independent Balochistan.

This populous faction concentrated in northern Balochistan demands for separation from the province of Balochistan .And such demands may get stronger, if the present nationalist politics and violence continues.

It would be futile and bloody and certainly not worth the cost to pursue a separation agenda, although one may condone it as a negotiating tactic to get a better deal.However, it might be unfair to put all the blame on Bangalis earlier and now the Balochis.

Politics and national interest have very wide and vague domain.

National interest can always be conveniently and suitably defined to include or enhance the interest of the dominant elite.

Both the centrists and separatist would be quite capable to appear to have pious intentions in the interest of their group or domain.

Thus no proclamations are sacrosanct or worth the human blood and dignity.All political crimes and cruelties have been pursued under this cherished and publicised motto.

Politics is too complicated to be assessed and dealt in black and white.

It is all grey, relative and ephemeral.

It is the art of the possible.

Dialogue and negotiation as opposed to vengeance and vendetta is the key which many powerful groups do not recognise or appreciate and have a very small space in their style and agenda.

If politics is allowed to run its course , and many of us on both the sides yearn it to be, without external threat and interference, even the mundane politicians of today, would be able to deliver a more united and coherent Pakistan than otherwise.Tribal interests in Balochistan are too well entrenched in Balochistan.

Pakistan's sate system is too fragile to take head on collision with these.

Tribal influences would go down with economic development, education and employment opportunities.

Realpolitik is required to deal with them.

Once Pakistan's state system start delivering well, which unfortunately would be opposed tooth and nail, dependence on tribal affiliations may wither away.Those days may appear too far and so be it.

Recourse and adherence to law finally wins moral battle in the minds of people.

And that is the ultimate and final weapon against the forces of under development.

Law enforcement agencies should have the perseverance and the discipline to remain within the ambit of law while tracing, tracking and controlling the culprits.

Organised forces ought not to be guided or overwhelmed by vendetta and vengeance.These argument have been made in the spirit of searching for truth and speak the truth and to counsel my Baloch nationalists to seek a peaceful solution of their complaints and grievances within a united Pakistan for their own good.

The foregoing is not meant to justify any act of cruelty or injustice .All Pakistan, except for a small minority, are keen to listen to them and mix their voice and slogans with them.

Media is free and is venting and supporting the genuine grievances.

Even the small minority can be persuaded in favour of political negotiation than the language of bullets.

Courtesy: Business Recorder

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