Born and raised as privileged individuals, it’s often the case that we end up raising our voice and concern for the rights of Muslims far away in Palestine or Myanmar, forgetting our very own neighbourhoods that have been struggling for their rights for decades. Many of us who do even end up raising our voices, seldom do so beyond social media, doing more harm than good to the Baloch cause — a cause which is more about getting an equal playing field and less about Baloch independence. My experience with Baluchistan has been different, and naturally my problem-identification and solution is also counter-intuitive.
Successive governments in Pakistan, both democratic and military, have tried to reach middle ground to resolve the crisis in Baluchistan — yet as it appears, most attempts have failed miserably and if anything, fuelled further anger. There are two reasons for this. First, there is absolutely no understanding of the Baloch problem among Pakistan’s political leadership that is mainly elected through Punjab. Also, the solutions are partly those advised by the Baloch elite — which unfortunately, is part of the problem. Second, all efforts to reconcile Baluchistan have been short-sighted quick solutions rather than long-term ones that require continuity in policies and truck-loads of patience.
If the current PML-N government is serious about Baluchistan, the narrative around fixing the province has to change. The repeated emphasis on the area’s minerals and natural resources as the key to Pakistan’s and Baluchistan’s future doesn’t really go down well with the Baloch people, who feel reduced to being considered as commodities. Moreover, natural resources shouldn’t really be what the government should be eyeing — Baluchistan has something much richer and lucrative for the government to invest in: the Baloch youth!
During my brief stint of teaching at top public universities in Pakistan, I haven’t the slightest doubt that in terms of intellect and thirst for learning, students from Baluchistan (both Baloch and Pakhtun) are way ahead of most students from other provinces. While Baloch students do sometimes struggle with technical skills like English writing and reading, they compensated it with extraordinary hard work and a desire to learn — a remarkable trait that was not sporadic but consistent amongst hundreds of Baloch students whom I taught over two years. In fact, at so many instances, I felt that the acute understanding of politics, literature and philosophy demonstrated by Baloch students was positively intimidating and I had to really prepare myself for lectures to be able to answer their questions. This is the Baluchistan I saw, and this is the Baluchistan I feel does not only have the potential to bring about rapid change, if invested into, but would prove more lucrative than natural resources for Pakistan in general.
However, this highly intellectual youth is being robbed of its basic right for decades — the plunder that has no equal in our history. Never mind the unequal treatment in development, letting sardars run Baluchistan, or the matter of the hundreds of missing persons — the worst damage inflicted on Baluchistan is through fake domiciles that are issued by those privileged individuals from mostly Punjab who can’t otherwise qualify for government jobs because of stiff competition. Instead, they get an easier way inside the bureaucracy by hijacking a seat of some deserving Baloch candidate. This trend of getting fake domiciles has been marginalizing and discriminating against hundreds and thousands of highly intellectual and deserving Baloch students and professionals. It is tragic that the Baloch youth is treated in such unfair terms and on top of that, its allegiance to the nation is questioned.
The government must immediately take notice of such practices and ensure that an increasing number of Baloch youth are able to enter the government. While the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor allows for the development of infrastructure in Baluchistan, it has to be complemented with a large investment in special programmes, specifically for the Baloch youth, along with measures taken to end all sorts of discrimination in the province so that wonders can be achieved.
The writer is pursuing a PhD in Government & Public Policy from the University of Sydney and serving as a Project Director of Peace and Development Unit at the Planning Commission. He tweets @HNadim87