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Volume 4, No. 8 - June - July 2005

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As part of the continuing efforts to find a 'political solution' to the Baloch imbroglio, the Parliamentary Committee on Balochistan chaired by former Prime Minister Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain unanimously approved, on May 2, 2005, a report by its Subcommittee headed by Senator Syed Mushahid Hussain, proposing various recommendations on clearance of gas royalty arrears, abolition of the Concurrent List, the National Finance Commission (NFC) award, provincial autonomy and the development of gas-rich areas. The Committee has proposed that the Federal Government form a Task Force in consultation with it to ensure the implementation of the recommendations within 90 days.

The Subcommittee has asked the Federal and Provincial Governments to make estimates of the arrears of the gas royalty payable to Balochistan by June 30, and also recommended that these arrears be cleared before December 2005. The Balochistan Chief Minister Jam Muhammad Yousaf has reportedly given a figure of Pakistan Rupees (PKR) Six billion. The Subcommittee recommended, further, that gas exploration companies spend at least five per cent of their total investment on the development of the respective areas of their operation. It also accepted an up-gradation of gas royalty and gas development surcharge (GSD) to Balochistan, the actual enhancements to be based on the Senator Dilawar Abbas 'formula' which is yet to be presented.

Another of the Mushahid Hussain Subcommittee's recommendations was that the "control of Gwadar Port Authority (GPA) should vest primarily with the Province of Balochistan." To this end, the head office of the Authority be shifted from Karachi to Gwadar and that the province should have maximum representation in the GPA's board of directors. Recognizing the systematic exclusion of locals from employment at the Gwadar Port, the Subcommittee recommends that, people of Gwadar should be given first preference, the people of Makran second preference, followed by the people of Balochistan. The Subcommittee has suggested a special development package of at least PKR Two billion from the Federal Government for the Social Sector Development of District Gwadar.

On contentious constitutional issues, the subcommittee, in general, agrees with the Baloch position that commitments on provincial autonomy, as envisaged in the 1973 Constitution, have neither been honoured nor implemented. It recommends that the "Federal Legislative List is revised in such a manner that maximum autonomy is ensured to the provinces. The Concurrent List is ultimately abolished and the Federal List is limited to the core functions of the Federation, i.e., Defense and national security, Foreign Relations, Federal Finance and Currency, Communications and inter-provincial harmony, coordination and national solidarity."

Many of the Sub-Committee's recommendations militate directly against General Musharraf's stated policies and intentions on Balochistan. On December 16, 2004, the President had appeared to have given primacy to a 'military' solution to the disturbances in the province, declaring that his Government would crush all anti-Pakistan movements: "We are gathering information through intelligence and other sources that who is doing what in the area and I warn them because when the Government starts action against them, they will be crushed." More significantly, on March 31, 2004, the General had declared on the Pakistan Television "Newsnight" programme, that the problem with Balochistan was that only 5 per cent of the area was 'A area', while 95 per cent was 'B', where the police did not operate. Soon, he had stated, the entire 95 per cent 'B area' would be made into 'A area'.
The Mushahid Hussain Committee, however, has a series of proposals that would diminish the role of Federal Forces in Balochistan. Observing that the presence of the Frontier Constabulary (FC) and Coast Guard in various posts in the interior are "creating hatred since women and children are humiliated at check points", and that "Some foolproof system also needs to be established to check excesses of law enforcement agencies", it recommends "the retention of Levies Force", noting:

The statistics provided to the Committee show that not only is the expenditure on Levies much less compared to the Police but also the performance in detecting and controlling of crime by the Levies is better than that of the Police. Currently 'B' areas are controlled by the Levies which present 95% of the land mass of the Province while 'A' areas are looked after by Police.

The Subcommittee has also recommended the abolition of the Special Levy in the Kohlu Agency, noting that "there is no justification, in the presence of a traditional Levy Force, to have a Special Levy."

Once again, clearly contradicting Musharraf's declared intent to construct three new Cantonments in Balochistan, the Subcommittee notes:

The plans of building cantonments by GOP at Gwadar, Dera Bugti and Kohlu are being agitated by (sic) political forces of Balochistan. The Committee may consider to recommend (sic) that till the conclusions of the dialogues that are under way for resolution of major current issues of Balochistan, the construction of cantonments be held in abeyance…

In the meanwhile, even as the military regime is over-extended in guarding vital installations, insurgents continue to target, by rockets and bomb blasts, the road and railway networks, telephone towers and grid stations across the length and breadth of Balochistan. While there have been at least 122 bomb blasts in the province this year (till May 6), approximately 106 people have died in the insurgency. Interior Minister Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao had disclosed on March 7, 2005, that 1,529 rocket attacks had occurred in the province in the last two years.

It is useful to recall in this context that a report of the Balochistan Inspector General of Police in January 2005 had indicated that in 2002 a total of 7 cases of rocket firing were reported in A areas in which only two persons were injured, while in the B areas 13 cases of rockets firing were reported in which two persons were killed and 12 injured. In 2003, 43 rockets were fired in A areas in which 4 persons were killed and 8 injured and in B areas, 58 rockets were fired in which three persons were killed and four injured. In 2004, 117 cases of rocket attacks were reported in A areas, in which two persons were injured. In B areas however, 553 cases of rocket attacks were reported killing four and injuring 17 people.

There is evident ambivalence in Islamabad on how Balochistan is to be 'quieted', and the acceptance by the Parliamentary Committee of the Subcommittee report suggests that the military option has either been postponed or abandoned in favour of the political, suggesting that Musharraf has realized that any use of relatively indiscriminate force is not sustainable within the current international context. This position also appears to be illustrated in some measure by the 'management' of the crisis arising out of the encirclement of some 300 Army troops at Sangsela in the Dera Bugti District since March 17, 2005, by Bugti loyalists. After initial threats of harsh military reprisals, a delicate standoff has been established between the Army and Bugti's Forces.

While continuing violence and the face-off with the Army impede any easy resolution of the growing unrest in the province, the implementation of the Mushahid Hussain Subcommittee's recommendation remain problematic on other grounds as well, most significantly, in view of the near unanimous rejection of the Report and recommendations by the Baloch leadership. Nawab Akbar Bugti on May 7, stated that the Balochistan issue had now been deadlocked for several months and the dialogue process with the Parliamentary Committee had stopped. He said opening the roads and dismantling a few trenches by both the FC and his men was the only progress achieved so far. Earlier, he had declared that, "Military operation and negotiations could not continue side by side." And, Farhan Bokhari writing in The News observed that Nawab Bugti has chosen to hold out, perhaps knowing well that Islamabad's resolve to remain tough on Balochistan has to weaken eventually.

Reacting to the Mushahid Hussain Subcommittee recommendations on May 5, Abdul Raouf Mengal, Balochistan National Party (BNP) central leader, stated that the province did not need anyone's charity, that the recommendations were "one- sided", and that true nationalist parties had boycotted the deliberations. The Federal Government, Mengal noted, would have to give 'complete sovereignty' to the federating units and should only control foreign affairs, finance and defense. Echoing what is generally being seen as the broader Baloch response, he said the BNP would not accept the subcommittee's decision unless the Government granted complete autonomy to provinces, abandoned plans to make cantonments and removed reservations on mega projects.

Further, BNP-Mengal group Senator, Sanaullah Baloch told South Asia Intelligence Review on May 5 that, "there is nothing to protect, and provide constitutional and legal cover to the rights of people of Balochistan" in the Subcommittee's recommendations. Earlier, rejecting the proposals, he had stated on May 3 that they were "juggling of words and nothing else." "We demanded provincial authority on ports in the federal legislative list, but the Committee suggested moving its office from Karachi to Gwadar. We wanted provincial control on paramilitary troops but the committee stuck to its previous position giving limited authority to provinces. The committee turned a deaf ear to our demand for an 80 percent share for provinces in the National Finance Commission," he said. He noted that the Committee had lost its mandate because it failed to submit its report by January 7 and that all recommendations made after January 7 were illegal and unconstitutional.

Many in Pakistan believe that the Baloch demand for a uniform gas rate throughout the country is justified. A long-standing grievance has been the pittance Balochistan receives as compensation for its natural resources. Sindh, according to one report, receives PKR 140 as royalty per million BTU (British Thermal Unit); Punjab: PKR 80 to 190; while Balochistan receives just PKR 36. According to one estimate, in 2004-05, Balochistan, which provides bulk of gas supply to the country, will receive Rupees 5.9 billion for gas royalty and development surcharge, while Sindh, which supplies a fraction of these volumes, would receive Rupees 19 billion. Further, the development surcharge calculated on the formula worked out by the NFC for the federal divisible pool is on the basis of population, a criterion that goes against the sparsely populated Balochistan, with only six million people.

The Baloch demand for provincial control on paramilitary troops, moreover, is also not without reason. Providing startling figures, Air Marshal (Retd) Ayaz Ahmed Khan wrote in The Nation on April 11, 2005, that federally controlled law and order institutions like the 33,000-strong Balochistan Constabulary has 32,100 Pathan soldiers and just 900 Baloch personnel. While Balochistan Police is overwhelmingly Pashtun, the 12,000-strong Coast Guard has only 90 Baloch on its rolls; and there are hardly any Baloch officers or soldiers in the famous Baloch Regiment of the Pakistan Army. Khan further states that the Pakistan Petroleum Limited, responsible for the extraction and distribution of Sui gas, does not give jobs to Baloch youth as a matter of policy.

Even with the best of intentions, consequently, the implementation of the Mushahid Hussain Subcommittee report will remain fraught with difficulties. Compounding these various problems is the fact that the present provincial Government's record of implementation is rather poor. The Balochistan Finance Minister disclosed that, in 2003-04, only 25 per cent of the annual development plan fund in the province was actually utilized.

Islamabad's current policy appears to be the considered use of both carrot and stick. The underlying idea is to maintain the current military presence and simultaneously rely on increased financial assistance to dilute resistance in the province. Raziq Bugti, spokesperson for the provincial Government, believes that, "If the development pace is hastened, the resistance will gradually diminish." While a political approach to the insurgency is now clearly underway, Islamabad will also look towards isolating what it perceives are recalcitrant Baloch leaders. Troubled by the incessant insurgent attacks on vital installations, General Musharraf had noted that only three of the 78 tribal chiefs in the province were "troublemakers", though this may fly in the face of the fact that insurgent attacks have left no part of the province unaffected.

Evidently, the low-level insurgency in Balochistan can be expected to continue in the foreseeable future, with the Baloch leadership becoming even more suspicious of, and estranged from, Islamabad. The Mushahid Hussain Subcommittee will have little impact on this trajectory in the near term.

COURTESY: South Asia Terrorism Portal

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