By Dr. Raja Muhammad Khan
Dec 23, 2013
Contrary to popular speculation, the local Government elections in the province of Balochistan were carried out in a peaceful manner. Sequel to conduct of these elections, the Chief Minister of Balochistan, Dr Abdul Malik Baloch has expressed optimism for the restoration of peace and normalcy in the rich province, bestowed with numerous mineral and natural resources. He declared the holding of local government elections as “a positive stride towards restoration of peace in the restive province, plagued by sectarian violence and attacks by Baloch insurgents.”
The most significant part of this development was that these elections were free, fair and peaceful. Apart from over 50,000 provincial security personnel (FC, police and levies), 5,325 soldiers of the Pakistan army were deployed for security duties in various parts of the province. As viewed by an independent analyst, apart from a few minor incidents of clashes and firing among rivals groups, the “polling process remained peaceful across the province.” For the 4,600 seats of local bodies, 18,000 candidates contested the election, including elections of Quetta Metropolitan Corporation, four municipal corporations, 53 municipal committees and 32 district councils.
The Election Commission of Pakistan, under Acting Chief Election Commissioner, Justice Nasir-ul-Mulk, directly controlled the election process in the Province. He personally visited various polling stations, witnessed the polling process and expressed complete satisfaction over the conduct of this election. Indeed, under the existing security conditions and uncertainties in the province, it was only natural that people feared bloodshed and violence during the conduct of the event. However, a successful and peaceful election in Balochistan has set an example for the other three provinces, where compared to the Balochistan there is stability, and yet a greater show of reluctance for holding local elections. Now more than ever it is important that these provinces should not use minor issues as excuses to further delay the elections.
The bulk of the people of the province opted to vote in Balochistan, and Chief Minister Dr Abdul Malik Baloch has expressed optimism for vigorously pursuing dialogue with separatists and disgruntled Baloch leaders, who have generally remained annoyed with the Federation or the Provincial governments for various reasons and are under the influences of external forces. Following the national and provincial assemblies’ elections in May 2013, the LG elections act as a consolidation of the mandate given, and will enable the Chief Minister to connect with the lower-tier leadership of the province at the grass-roots level, for redressing their grievances and bringing them into the mainstream. The process would also enable the Provincial Government to empower the masses through their elected representatives at the lowest level. Dr Malik declared the 21st century as the century for the promotion of peace and tranquillity at all levels; domestic, regional and global. He said, “The 21st Century is not for wars, we should enjoy peace now.”
It is a reality that the “Use of force doesn’t offer any solution, rather table talks extinguish the flames of fire.” The people of Balochistan too need to be dealt with respect and their problems resolved on an immediate basis. The unemployed youth of the province need to be provided with the jobs and the socio-economic issues faced by the masses of the province are to be redressed on priority. In this regard, an all-inclusive approach has to be adopted rather than facilitating people on the basis of political affiliations and ethnic grouping. We already have a model for mainstreaming the youth via the Pakistan army, which has inducted over 20,000 Baloch youth in its regular cadre during the last five years. These Baloch youth have joined various regiments and corps of the army after completing their basic training. Furthermore, the Navy and PAF have also inducted a huge number of youth from all areas of the province, particularly the rural areas. According to the feedback received, there have been no desertions by these Baloch youth, who have proved to be more competent, patriotic and law-abiding than their compatriots from other parts of the country. Their performance has been excellent in their profession and courses. Beside this bulk recruitment process, the Armed Forces of Pakistan have provided facilities for imparting education to the children of the province in their own educational institutions, where they are given free boarding and lodging facilities. A similar model could be adopted by the Provincial or Federal governments, as well as the relevant ministries and departments. The process would facilitate in ending the alienation of the Baloch masses and deprivation of the Baloch youth.
Over the years the socio-economic development in Balochistan has been lower than other parts of the country; however, successive governments have launched many mega projects for the development of the province. During the last decade alone, many projects were launched for the improvement of communication and socio-economic development in the province, Aghaz-e-Haqooq Balochistan being one example. Secondly, the budgetary losses of the province have been paid by the Federal Government. It remains a matter of concern however, that a few individuals with vested interests as well as the media, both domestic and foreign, portray a highly pessimistic picture of the happenings in the province. Sporadic and minor incidents are projected in a manner as if, God forbid, the province is at the brink of secession from the state of Pakistan, with an uncontrollable state of anarchy and chaos spreading across the province. The Armed Forces of Pakistan and its premier intelligence agency ISI are projected as the killers of Baloch people. The media and various pessimistic scholars have, time and again, also tried to mislead the nation and the international community about the state of affairs in the province, particularly the earthquake hit areas of Awaran and its surroundings. Being the hometown of Dr Allah Nazar, a BLF separatist (and founder of BSO-Azad), the Awaran District has been epicentre of the current anti-state activities. Terrorists from this group have killed many non-Baloch people as well as those who do not comply with their orders. Under the directives of these separatists, locals were at times forced either to not accept or to destroy the relief goods provided.
The fact of the matter is that under the Federal and Provincial Governments, Pakistan army and FC have made incredible efforts for the rescue, relief and rehabilitation of the victims of the Province in the Awaran District. The army and FC troops were the first to reach the area and provide all-out assistance to the locals. The initial assistance provided to the people was from these forces’ own resources. Using resources provided by Federal Government and all provincial governments, local organizations and international community, they continued to distribute relief goods as well as beginning the rehabilitation program. This has all been done despite strong resistance from local separatist elements that resorted to firing on the soldiers providing aid, killing many. It would appear that these sub-nationalists wanted to get hold of the relief goods and finances in an attempt to expand their sway and influence over the locals by distributing seized goods selectively and to supports, rather than on the basis of need. The efforts of the Armed Forces and FC in the area should have been highlighted by the media and all relevant persons and authorities as well as the truth about dissident activities during that tragic period rather than the propagation of misleading reports that spread désespoir in the society at large.
There is a need that an unbiased group of media persons, analysts, social scientists, politicians, doctors, and academicians from various parts of the country visit the area without any political and military influence or agenda and give their true assessment about the progress in various fields. The positive achievements of various Government departments including the Armed Forces of Pakistan, a few of which have been mentioned above, should be projected as a trend for others to follow. Conduct of successful local Government elections and efforts of Chief Minister for pursuing peace and stability in the province should also get its place in the national and international media. Analysts, media and academicians should give a balanced view of the situation after consulting all stakeholders and knowing the facts on ground. Rather than being pessimistic and spreading this cynicism, they can play a vital role in bringing Balochistan back onto the track of progress and development. The media is a vital player, and should actively project the themes of optimism and national integration for a better, flourishing and futuristic Pakistan.
The writer is a Professor and Head of International Relations Department in National Defence University (NDU) – Islamabad. Email; firstname.lastname@example.org