Elections in Baluchistan
The News, March 01, 2008
The widely rejected PML-Q is back in Balochistan. The establishment in Islamabad is relieved at the election results from the volatile province. A carefully manipulated selection process is a clear indication that genuine change in Balochistan is unacceptable to the rulers.
Baloch nationalists say they knew that the polls in Balochistan would not be free, so they boycotted a futile exercise. The response to the boycott in Balochistan was tremendous. Polling booths were deserted in the entire province, including urban centres. Careful monitoring of the polling in the province reveals that there was widespread rigging, apparently to give the impression that turnout was good. The government showed that hundreds of thousand of votes were polled in volatile districts, although results from urban constituencies and other more peaceful areas clearly show that the turnout was only four to six per cent in the province. In NA-272, Kech-cum-Gwadar, turnout was a mere 2.8 percent, and the wining candidate secured 6,272 votes. Zubeda Jalal, who lost the election, polled 2,900 votes but the official tally shows a remarkably high number of votes for both the winner and the runner-up. In NA-265, the constituency which includes the volatile districts of Dera Bugti, Kohlu and Sibi where observers were denied access due to the security situation, the turnout, according to official figures, was 40 percent.
The mistrust of parliamentary politics in Balochistan is a result of frustration over the arbitrary rejection by the military-led government of the provincial assembly's resolutions, recommendations and demands. On Sept 23, 2003, the Balochistan Assembly passed a unanimous resolution against the construction of army cantonments. However, the government started the construction of the cantonments in the districts of Gwadar, Dera Bugti and Kohlu. On Dec 14, 2005, Gen Musharraf went to Kohlu district to inaugurate the newly constructed cantonment.
The Balochistan Assembly also passed resolutions demanding an increase in gas royalty and provision of gas to all the districts in the province, but Islamabad ignored them. It is clear from the bogus poll results that the establishment refuses to accept Baloch demands for self-rule.
In the past few years of conflict in the province, gas production share has dropped considerably. No major gas discovery or energy development activity could take place due to the political unrest. Gwadar and many other projects are failing to attract foreign and domestic investment.
The last PML-Q government was the worst provincial regime in Balochistan's political history in terms of its performance and general inability to improve the law-and-order situation. Furthermore, it remained silent over the military operation, which resulted in killings and sufferings, and internally displaced hundreds of thousands of people in Dera Bugti and Kohlu districts, and human rights issues such as disappearances and arbitrary arrests. The PML-MMA government avoided taking action against Afghan refugees and the illegal immigrants living in Quetta, including those harbouring and supporting the Taliban.
Between 2002 and 2005, Balochistan suffered unprecedented levels of mismanagement. Land worth billions of rupees was encroached and embezzled by government ministers in the coastal areas and in Quetta district. Meanwhile, as the literacy rate dropped, the rate of infant and maternal mortality increased.
The politics of status quo will have serious implications for the centre and the future provincial government. Balochistan is not an administrative province to run through a security approach. Its strategic and vast potential is hard to translate into real development without the full participation of the politically sensitive population of the province.
Killings, intimidation and harassment have never proved to be a source of political success in any crisis. The establishment needs to rethink about its oppressive approach towards the people of Balochistan. There must be an honest initiative by the centre to regain the confidence of the Baloch. The mounting trend of political violence could probably be defused or reversed through a careful political, social and economic approach. But any support fro the corrupt and widely rejected leaders in the province will lead to continued confrontation between the people of Balochistan and the rulers in Islamabad.
The writer is a member of the Senate.