Over the years, the ruling elite has been polluting the public mind with baseless assumptions and storylines regarding Balochistan. This leaves little room for logical debate on the province and on the appalling socio-economic and political realities that have resulted in the Baloch people’s hostility to the state system.
Despite massive media outreach and the Internet revolution, the rigid perception about Balochistan and its people remains unchanged. Facts about Baloch society and its tribal structure, as well as the outdated government-sustained tribal system in which corrupt tribal chiefs are in collusion with the establishment are rarely analysed. These tribal chiefs have played a leading role in the wholesale destruction of the Baloch society.
The establishment’s standard narrative on the crisis in Balochistan revolves around such standard assumptions as: the sardars and nawabs are the main cause of the province’s socio-economic backwardness; the Baloch uprising is foreign-funded; and Balochistan is fully empowered and governed by the locals.
No serious efforts have been made to understand Balochistan beyond the fact that the province is a mineral-rich region that produces natural gas, and is a colony populated by tribal warlords and their impoverished subjects. There is no denying that the power-hungry tribal chiefs are widely responsible for Balochistan’s woes. But these sardars derive their legitimacy from Islamabad, and are sustained by the government and the civil-military-establishment. However, while the Baloch deeply respect their tribal traditions and culture, this doesn’t hinder their participation in socio-economic development.
The first universities, schools and other centres of learning in Balochistan were established by moderate and nationalist Baloch tribal chiefs who were staunch opponents of colonial rule in the Subcontinent, particularly in Balochistan. In the early 1930s, Nawab Yousuf Aziz Magsi established the first educational institution – Jama-e-Yousufia – in Jhal Magsi. He brought revolutionary changes in Baloch society by encouraging education and opposing the sardari system, despite being a sardar himself. Being very concerned about the welfare of the Baloch youth, he widely campaigned for social and political reforms in the province.
As far back as the late 19th century and the early 20th century, the Khan of Kalat provided scholarships to young people to help them gain access to education in some of the best colleges and universities of India. He also sought the help of the British to establish schools and colleges in Balochistan.
Until 1972, Balochistan was completely ignored when it came to education and economic development. The first Baloch government, headed by Sardar Attaullah Mengal and his visionary education minister, Mir Gul Khan Nasir, gave to Balochistan a university and hundreds of schools and colleges, including a medical college. Special economic zones, including the Hub Industrial Area were a brainchild of Baloch nationlist sardars who wanted their people to be empowered.
In 1972, a resolution was moved in the Balochistan Assembly demanding that the federal government abolish the sardari and jirga systems, since the assembly itself did not have the power to legislate such radical changes. The PPP government at the time took no action in this regard. On February 14 1972, eight months later after the passage of this resolution, the National Awami Party presented the resolution in the National Assembly. On June 8, 1972, a resolution was introduced demanding “the eradication of outdated institutions such as the sardari system, the jirga system and the tribal system so that the province of Balochistan may progress socially and economically.”
In his speech Balochistan’s senior minister Mir Gul Khan Nasir told the speaker: “Four things have been pointed out as hurdles to the economic and social progress of Balochistan in this resolution. These are: the sardari, tribal and jirga systems, and all other measures by means of which the people of Balochistan have been, and are still being, exploited.”
He explained in his speech: “Sardari in the beginning wasn’t a parasitic institution, but when the sardars became agents of an imperial power, the integrity of this institution began to deteriorate. With the passage of time...some knights rose from within the ranks of the sardars...and succeeded in diminishing its influence. But despite this, we do not wish to keep this rusty skeleton of the sardari system as a monument or memorial of the past because as long as this institution remains, even as a vestige, it will keep our nation divided into various tribes and sub-tribes, which will render it impossible for us to achieve economic progress. Therefore, the main objective of presenting this resolution is to completely eradicate from the face of this earth the disease-stricken sardari system...”
In Quetta, Chief Minister Attaullah Mengal unequivocally spoke in favour of the resolution, saying, “Now that the tribal system has lost its advantages, keeping it is going to act as a hurdle in the development of the people of these tribes. And the large amounts of annual allowances being given to the royal families of the states that merged with Pakistan and the sardars are putting undue pressure on the country’s economy. Therefore, the sardari system should be abolished...and the annual allowances to former royal families should be discontinued. And all the responsibilities of the sardars need to be transferred to other institutions, just like in the other parts of the country.”
Despite the opposition of pro-establishment nawabs and jams, the Balochistan Assembly adopted the resolution with overwhelming majority. But Islamabad paid no heed to the demand. Furthermore, any socio-economic development of the Baloch bothered the regional powers, resulting in the dismissal of the first truly elected Baloch government and also in a full-fledged military operation.
To be concluded
The writer is a former senator from Balochistan. Website: www.sanabaloch.com