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Winning Back Balochi Youth

By Imtiaz Gul

Weekly Pulse, July 08, 2011

Balochi youth continues to bear the major brunt of the nationalist insurgency in Balochistan, Pakistan’s largest but the poorest province. It is also marred by the collusion between the ruling elite - tribal sardars, nawabs – and organized crime, which operates in the form of about 76 criminal gangs involved in robberies, extortions, and kidnappings for ransom. 

Unemployment in the province stands at an all time high. Educational institutions in Baloch areas are either mostly closed or only partially functional – either because of the threats by the Baloch militants or sporadic military sweeps through the areas, or strikes called out to protest the victims of target-killings. Education at large suffers even otherwise because of frequent strikes. In 2010, for instance, more than 100 working days were lost to the breakdown in law and order or because of political action, mostly by Balochi nationalist parties.

What is more worrying is the continued closure or frequent interruptions in the academic activities, which is nothing less than an intellectual disaster in the making. An additional debilitating factor is the gradual but systematic elimination of the intellegentia – professors, doctors, and technocrats - largely Punjabi or Urdu-speaking settlers, or the Shia Muslims. 

In this grim context, the youth sees little perspective, and often talks of the disconnect that currently exists between Balochis and the rest of the country. 

Cumulatively, the dysfunctional educational institutions and the loss of intelligentia – regardless of what cast or creed, ethnicity or nationality they belong to – is the real attrition that the Baloch society is suffering today. People who for generations have been in the fore-front of educating future generations, are now in the line of fire. As a consequence, the Balochi youth is the biggest loser. 

Most Balochis look at the Chief Minister House and the Governor House and the Serena Hotel as symbols of an indifferent but affluent and mighty Islamabad, the capital is viewed as the perpetrator of the an oppressive ruling elite – represented by an omni-present Frontier Corps. Most of the non-governmental organizations and foreigners are usually restricted to the Hotel or the Cantonment area, 

At a recent seminar in Islamabad, a social activist, born in Quetta, also shared her experiences with her colleagues in Islamabad and elsewhere. Oh, you managed to study in Quetta, was how many of her colleagues and participants of consolations would ask me, recalled Dr. Irum. Many would ask me about the reasons for the intellectual backwardness and economic deprivation, recalled Dr. Irum. 

A bright student from the Balochistan University, Zahid Khan, narrated similar experiences with Pakistani citizens from other regions. At times, people look at us in a way as if we were some strange creatures, from a different planet. Most people are ignorant about the prevailing political and social conditions. 

Balochi youth experience the disconnect when they visit Islamabad and Lahore, where, according to many Baloch youngsters, people are surprised to learn that they can speak English as well. These youngsters are also hurt to see the sea-difference of education standards of Balochistan and Islamabad. 

Most of the youth find little empathy among their interlocutors in Islamabad or other major power centers. There little is little appreciation for why the Balochi are wary of the Islamabad’s ruling elite, and particularly cross with the military establishment, which is seen as the major source of instability in Balochistan. 

Some of the points of the Aghaze Huqooq Balochistan Package also relate to the youth and reflect the concern for the youth. The package promises more than 10,000 new jobs to the Baloch youth. A few thousand jobs, we understand, have also been created, or at least are in the process. An official associated with the implementation process told a seminar on June 30th that more than 5000 vacancies offered by the federal government had already been filled up, while the provincial government is in the process of hiring people on another 6000 jobs. If this hiring target young educated Balochis, it can certainly help rub off some of the resentment that is currently running very high in the Balochi regions of Balochistan. Ayatullah Durrani, a PPP member from Balochistan, also made some logical suggestions during the policy dialogue held jointly by the ACTIONAID and the Centre for Research and Security Studies. 

Durrani agreed with most of the complaints coming largely from young Balochis but asked whether Jamalis, Jogezais, Achakzais, Raisanis, Bugtis or Rinds etc. ever dared to set up a single educational institution instead of competing in the latest brands of cars from Japan? He conceded shortcomings in the implementation of the Rights’ package but underscored unity and sincerity among the lead politicians for achieving the objectives. You cannot clear the backlog of over six decades – it will take time, but for that all Balochis have to speak with one voice, Durrani advised. 

One would hope that the provincial and the federal government continue implementing the Rights’ package which in turn would likely as a glimmer of hope for the tens of thousands of disenchanted Balochi youth. 

No real initiative for ameliorating the lot of women. No psycho-social support for women affected by conflict or calamity. Women in Balochistan are already living a degraded status – who exist merely to serve the family and clan. One of the objections on the AGHB also relates to women; no real initiative for women mentioned in the Package, which also displays the insensitivity towards the female population. 

No government initiative on the issue of cantonments except the announcement by the army chief, Gen Kayani, when he informed the locals that instead of the proposed cantonment in Dera Bugti, a college would now be built to meet the local needs.

Most participants underlined the need for implementation mechanisms to keep track of progress on political, administrative, constitutional matters (as promised in the Rights’ Package). Tracking implementation must be the cornerstone of the government policy to ensure transparent and timely implementation of the package. This will hopefully restore the confidence of the disgruntled and alienated Balochi youth as well.

The writer heads the Centre for Research and Security Studies, Islamabad

Email: imtiaz@crss.pk