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Opinion

May 26, 2017

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The Balochistan narratives

There are three main narratives propounded by the stakeholders in the conflict in Balochistan. The first is simple. It involves the aims of the separatist leader Dr Allah Nazar Baloch, an ideologue of the banned BSO Azad and head of the banned Baloch Liberation Front.

The second narrative is that of middle-class Baloch leaders who mostly issue statements from abroad and seek help from imperialist countries and India to pressurise the government. They aim to produce greater benefits by striking a deal. The third is put forward by political parties -- like the PML-N and the National Party (NP) -- and the business class, which are clearly propelling the capitalist development agenda and supporting paramilitary operations in the province. To hardcore nationalists, these parties represent a great harm. This has resulted in a polarisation between the middle class and the rural poor.

The space between militants and pro-development/pro-military operation groups is occupied by the reformist middle-class leadership. While they have shown concerns disappearances and other excesses, they also want to benefit from projects like CPEC. The ideological lines among the different nationalist organisations have been blurred, making it difficult to draw a clear distinction. These organisations are not only separated by space and time but also in terms of the social groups they represent. Action is the determinant factor here.

On March 26, 2017, I read a few news stories on the website of a local newspaper published in Quetta that drew attention to some interesting aspects of the current situation in Balochistan. In the first news story, Balochistan Chief Minister Nawab Sanaullah Zehri was quoted as saying that Gwadar would soon be transformed into a shimmering coastal city owing to CPEC and the advantages it enjoyed of being a deep-sea port. Zehri said that Gwadar would become the hub of economic and business activities and that CPEC was accompanied by a large number of welfare projects. He said Gwadar was attracting massive investment and investors’ confidence in the country had been restored. He invited businessmen to invest more in Gwadar and other projects since a business-friendly environment has been created. His “government is committed to protecting…investment and profit”.

In the second news story, IG Frontier Force Major-General Nadeem Ahmed Anjum was cited as saying that Mohammad Ali Jinnah loved the people of the province and that the Baloch would not allow any damage to be inflicted on Pakistan. In the presence of provincial minister Sardar Mohammad Aslam Bizenjo and other officials, he praised the Baloch for their bravery and patriotism. He maintained that unity between the security forces and the people of the province had been fostered and that the people of Balochistan and the military and political leadership had decided to follow the ‘developmentalist’ agenda. He also criticised those elements who want to derail this process. The army commander said: “Instead of guns we have [placed] books and pens in the hands of [the] youth”.

The military and political leadership considers investment a counter-strategy against separatist elements. They feel there will eventually be a significant change in public opinion in the wake of CPEC -- the massive use of natural resources and the resultant emergence of a middle class.

However, there is a prevailing sense of unease about the associated modus operandi of the federal government. Sections of the Baloch political elite lack the political will to promote CPEC. Despite their wishes, the Baloch elite are finding it difficult to make a case for themselves in the strife-struck territories. They are caught between two varying narratives. The Baloch middle class only wants to benefit from the situation and use it to further its class interests.

How will this strategy work? To explain this, we must draw attention to the third news story in which Senator Israrullah Zehri, the central president of the Balochistan National Party (Awami), highlights the conspicuous contradiction of the middle class.

His views are in stark contrast to that of the central government, the military establishment as well as the separatists. On the one hand, he put his faith in parliamentary politics while on the other he rhetorically understood that rights have to be usurped from the clutches of those who have grabbed them.

He says no one should be allowed to plunder the resources of the province and that, in the presence of the Afghan refugees, the census will not be accepted. According to him, under CPEC, Balochistan’s connectivity with other parts of the country is obvious, while there is no planning in sight as far as the economic zones are concerned. He thinks CPEC is designed to benefit only Punjab and there are no plans to develop Balochistan under such projects.

The rapid development along capitalist lines, accompanied by the iron and armed hand of the state has brought a change in the nature of ideology and demands at work in the nationalist politics. This shows the impact of uneven development on political actors and the common people. There is a corresponding change in class interests and narratives and, to a large extent, in politics itself.

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