Kindling Hope in Pakistan’s Balochistan

For too long, Pakistan’s southwestern Balochistan province has been hit by a low-level insurgency. Small bands of Baloch nationalists are waging a war against the Pakistani state. They accuse Islamabad of exploiting the province’s rich natural resources while denying its people their very basic rights. Pakistani political and military leadership blames its neighbors for stoking violence in the province, which accounts for 44 percent of Pakistan’s landmass. At the same time it also acknowledges the injustice to the Baloch people in the past. Pakistani security agencies have often been accused of extra-judicial killings of Baloch insurgents, a charge the military strongly denies. Ikram Sehgal says Pakistan Army, instead, is playing a lead role in the development and integration of Baloch youth in the mainstream Pakistani society.
Posted on 09/12/13
By Ikram Sehgal | Via The News International
Pakistan's Balochistan province is home to Gawadar deep sea port that is being managed by China. (Photo by  Moin Khawaja, Creative Commons License)
Pakistan’s Balochistan province is home to Gawadar deep sea port that is being managed by China. (Photo by Moin Khawaja, Creative Commons License)

Contrary to belief that laws banning feudalism were first enacted in India immediately after independence (from Great Britain) in 1947, the East Bengal (later East Pakistan and today Bangladesh) State (later Estate) Acquisition and Tenancy Act 1950 meant to ban feudalism was actually drafted on 31 March 1948 and passed on 16 May 1951.  Consequently when Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan (Pakistan’s first premier) gave indications of imposing similar laws to ban feudalism in the western part of Pakistan, he was assassinated (on 16 October 1951).  Eliminating feudalism became part of the Indian Constitution only in 1953.

Multiple other reasons for Pakistan’s disintegration in 1971 aside, that move against feudalism really sealed the fate of the nation, no way its feudals were ever going to allow the contagion of anti-feudalism from spreading to their fiefdoms. The drafting of the recent Local Bodies Bills (for local governments) by all the Provinces is proof that feudalism is not only alive and well in Pakistan, in direct contrast to the rest of the world it is flourishing (cricketer-turned politician Imran Khan’s lofty claims about northwestern Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa notwithstanding, where his party is in the government).

The motivated interest of the Sardars (landlords) is to keep the populace uneducated and ignorant. Educated people ask inconvenient questions about their quality of life and the arbitrary justice they are subjected to. With non-Baloch teachers (from the Balochistan province) migrating pell-mell to escape being murdered by a few perverted so-called (Baloch) “nationalists”, teachers have become an endangered species. More dangerously, ignorance is exploited to deflect the anger of the populace for discrimination and neglect towards the Federation under the garb of nationalism rather than react at their own despotic and arbitrary rule.

The most potent initiative to break the shackles of the feudals in Balochistan is the Pakistan Army’s tremendous effort to educate the Baloch youth. The real impetus was given by Gen Kayani (Pakistan’s army chief) after on taking over as COAS. Directly assisting the Balochistan Education Ministry, Rs 186.8 million (almost two million dollars) has been spent out of Army funds to renovate/refurbish 110 schools in Quetta, Musa Khel and Dera Bugti districts (of Balochistan province) in a very short time.   Army-established Quetta Institute of Medical Sciences (QIMS) started with 100 MBBS students in March 2012, with another intake of 100 in January 2013. Compare this with 50 MBBS students inducted into Bolan Medical College (another medical university in the provincial capital of Balochistan) every year.

On September 6, 2013 Defense of Pakistan Day, Gen Kayani accompanied. Chief Minister Balochistan, Dr Abdul Malik, to the Sui Military College established by the Army 2 ½ years ago. Talking to the students, Kayani said, “Balochistan is the largest and extremely important province of Pakistan and Allah has blessed this region with innumerable resources. A strong and prosperous Balochistan is the guarantor for the strength of Pakistan. Within its limited means, Pakistan Army undertook all out efforts to ensure peace and progress in the fields of economy and education, in the province.  The first Military College of the country was established 88 years back, at Jhelum and I have the honor to be a student at Military College Jhelum. A Military College at Sui was an uphill task due many reasons. However, I am happy that we made this decision and the performance of Sui Military College is a testimony to it.  Insha Allah, it will play a vital role in nurturing the future military leadership.”

Today almost 24,000 students are being educated in 44 schools of the Army and the Frontier Corps (FC) located at Quetta, Chaman, Kashmore, Khuzdar, Sibi, Loralai and Zhob (all cities in the Balochistan province).

On the lines of a cadet college, Balochistan Public School was also opened in Sui.    Army Public School, Akra is providing education to deprived small children in Gwadar area, while Gwadar Institute of Technology provides technical skills to locals.  Chamalang Balochistan Education Program (CBEP) was launched in March 2006 to educate 1500 children of Kohlu and Loralai, major expansion took place in 2008-2010 with addition of another 3000 Children. Almost 600 Baloch students are educated in elite educated institutions across the country under the CBEP, the package including free admission and tuition, boarding and lodging facilities, uniforms and shoes, text books and notebooks etc.

General Kayani deserves credit for the extensive drive to ensure Baloch youth got equitable representation in the Army. 18000 soldiers were inducted after training at Quetta, Khuzdar, Sibi, Zhob, Sui and Kashmore during 2009-2012. Another 3500 in 2013 will bring Baloch representation in the Army today to 3.7%, more than double the due share (1.7%) of Balochistan according to the population, and it will soon cross 5%.

More importantly, 2000 candidates have undergone four weeks special preparatory classes organized by the Army’s “Southern Command” to cope with the final testing process for induction into the Pakistan Military Academy (PMA) to get a Commission, the Inter Services Selection Board (ISSB). This offsets the disadvantage Baloch youth from remote and backward areas have with respect to candidates from other parts of Pakistan.  Out of the 57 who attended classes recently, 24 joined 130th Pakistan Military Academy Long Course (Pakistan’s premier military academy), 88 presently undergoing training will shortly be tested for selection to PMA. There are 759 officers today in the Pakistan Army from Balochistan, during the last five years 329 young men (almost 50%) have been selected for PMA.

 

The Baloch elite siphon most of the funds meant to alleviate the poverty and miseries of their poor into their own pockets. This corruption went unchecked and unquestioned because the vast mass of Baloch populace remains deprived of education. During Kayani’s tenure Pakistan Army has made a significant impact augmenting the economic progress of the Province with whatever means available. Other than Kasa Hill Marble Project, Chamalong, Dukki and Musa Khel Coal Mines (all in Balochistan province), commissioning of number of large and small-scale projects has provided employment to thousands of people. In health units and dispensaries have been established and/or constructed/refurbished in Dera-Bugti. In Kohlu there is construction of roads, water and electric supply schemes and establishment of hospital; under construction highways include Siibi – Rakhni, Maikhtar – Chamalong and Khuzdar – Shahdad Kot.  Extremely important for the agricultural progress, Pakistan Army is working along with the Provincial Government for quick completion of Kachi Canal, already been delayed substantially.  This will result in cultivation of millions of acres of land.

The positive attitude of the vast majority of local population has been an important phenomenon quite contrary to the vitriol being aired by the feudals in a bid to influence mass perception.  To quote Kayani’s Sep 6 talk at Sui, “Wholehearted cooperation has been extended by different institutions and people in the area. I am delighted to know about the role played by the local population in the success of the College.”

In his two tenures as COAS Kayani has done a lot for Pakistan and the Pakistan Army.  For whatever reasons, he opted for professionalism and not Bonapartism, exercising tolerance despite considerable provocation (and opportunities thereof) from a visibly corrupt and thoroughly inefficient regime in order to sustain democracy.  His initiatives in Balochistan will certainly contribute to his lasting legacy as COAS Pakistan Army.

Not conducting any military operation in the Province as is propagated very wrongly, the Pakistan Army is certainly engaged in an operation the Sardars greatly fear, an operation to end the curse of feudalism by imparting education on a fast-track basis to the youth of the Province.

The writer is an Islamabad-based defense analyst.

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