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Monday, June 16, 2008

Concerns of Pashtuns in Balochistan

Concerns of Pashtuns in Balochistan
By Arif Tabassum, Dawn, June 14, 2008

THE proposed constitutional package may not be acceptable to all but no one can ignore its immediate beneficiaries. One point, which is particularly related to Pashtuns, is about the renaming of the NWFP as Pakhtunkhwa. Since independence, the majority of Pashtuns politically struggled for their national identity, being one of the main nationalities of Pakistan. Now, that moment has arrived when one hopes to translate this dream into reality.

However, some anti-Pakhtunkhwa elements have also become active to confuse the situation. ANP’s decision to take part in the elections and its alliance with the PPP was based on a strategy for long-term benefits, Pakhtunkhwa being the most important one. The article concerned in the proposed constitutional package meets the decades-old demand of Pashtuns, but there is a feeling that because of it Pashtuns of Balochistan may suffer its adverse effects. In fact, since the end of One Unit in early 1970s, the Pashtun districts of Balochistan have remained part of that province. This decision of the then Pashtun leadership remains questionable till today. Having their own regional and geographic spheres, Pashtuns of Balochistan are deprived of their political identity.

The Pashtun nationalist parties in Balochistan hold different political stances over the question of identity. Some of them want to merge with the Pakhtunkhwa (the NWFP); others demand a separate province while some progressives also see the dream of becoming part of Afghanistan. All these three political approaches have their own implications; by becoming part of Pakhtunkhwa, the Pashtuns of this province will not be able to compete with Pashtuns of Pakhtunkhwa, because the education system in Balochistan is neither of good quality nor have most parts of the region easy access to basic education.

Thus, there is a fear that this area will remain out of the competitive environment and will lag behind for more decades. Having its own identity as Southern Pakhtunkhwa, it will not be treated as a true federating unit because currently its contribution to GDP is insignificant. Thus it will get little share from the federal allocations. By becoming part of Afghanistan it will not be stabile enough to develop. All three options for seeking political identity are not viable and therefore of little consequence. A unified strategy through an alliance such as Pakhtunkhwa National Democratic Alliance (PNDA) can be considered and worked out.

However, the proposed constitutional amendment about renaming of the NWFP has received unprecedented appreciation from the progressive community of the country. All oppressed nationalities the country have described it as a revolutionary step, which will strengthen the federation. They also hope to be awarded with a similar status for protection of their rights. Baloch nationalists also appreciated it but a section of them has given the impression that since the Pashtuns are going to get their political identity as Pakhtunkhwa, the Pashtuns of Balochistan should now give up the agenda of seeking their identity and should rethink about calling a part of Balochistan as Southern Pakhtunkhwa. It means the Pashtuns of Balochistan should now think in terms of accepting the status quo and living within the current boundaries.

If we analyse the geographical status of Pashtuns in Pakistan, we come to the conclusion that they have been deliberately scattered into different territories so that they could not get united, perhaps because they are deemed a threat to the integrity of Pakistan. The Durand Line is the basic cause of this division. The majority of Pashtuns live in Pakhtunkhwa (the NWFP) while a major part of their population lives in Fata and the rest are compelled to live in Balochistan. This division raises some serious questions. Among the Pashtuns of Balochistan and Pakhtunkhwa, there are no direct communications links, no direct train and there are no direct flights between Peshawar and Quetta.

Under the given circumstances, though the Pashtuns of Balochistan are very much excited about the renaming of the NWFP, yet there are feelings of being left out of the game. Such feelings grew intense when the reconciliation process started. None of the actions or statements relating to reconciliation in Balochistan talks about Pashtuns. The emphasis of this reconciliation is only on the issues, which excludes Pashtuns as an ethnic group in the province.

Same was done in Musharraf regime, though none of the mega projects was started in Pashtun districts. The present reconciliation process repeats the same mistakes of excluding Pashtuns. The overall development scenario of Pashtun districts presents a sad picture. Politically Pashtuns have neither identity nor authority for the development of their areas. About 70 per cent of them are deprived of the basic education and health facilities. There are no post-graduate colleges or universities in the areas. The higher educational institutions in Quetta are not affordable for the poor families. The religious extremism is getting its roots deeper here.

The quality communication sources among these areas and their links to other provinces are absent. The only one economic source, agriculture, is facing serious threat, because the underground water sources are becoming dry rapidly.

All these factors have no place either in the reconciliation exercise or in the long-term development planning. Then, the suggestion to drop the question of identity because of the renaming of the NWFP as Pakhtunkhwa is seriously affecting the remaining political, economic and social forbearance of Pashtuns. They, however, support other matters in the reconciliation process. They have shown serious concerns over the killing of Nawab Bugti, disappearances, and control on provincial resources but it does not mean that the Pashtuns’ issues be ignored.

Aryana Institute for Regional Research and Advocacy (AIRRA) is seen as the ever first think-tank of Pashtuns. It is expected that it will work on the issues of extremism, exclusion and segregation of Pashtuns. One hopes such think tanks will lay emphasis on Balochistan a bit more to study its complex issues. The political identity of Pakhtunkhwa should not be seen as a factor to underestimate the fate of Pashtuns in Balochistan. Through political efforts and academic studies the issues of Pashtuns in Balochistan must be highlighted in its true context.

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