Baloch Separatism and Pakistani Federalism – Yasser Latif Hamdani

The Balochistan separatists’ case rests on a fallacy. They claim that Kalat State – a princely state- was somehow placed on a different footing than other princely states of India. If this were the case, someone forgot to inform the British.  I refer to Imperial Gazetteer of India, V. 4, Page 96. Kalat State and Lasbela State are listed as two native states under the control of British political agent of the Balochistan agency, just as twenty states in Rajputana such Bundi, Karauli and Alwar. This is an inferior position to the states that enjoyed political relations with the crown for example Hyderabad or Travancore. Given that no princely state of any kind was allowed to assume sovereignty after partition – not even those which had a better claim than Kalat- the Baloch argument does not fulfill the legal criterion.

Still Pakistan needs to come to grips with Balochistan issue.  Both sides to the conflict need to realise that there are two positions that are untenable. First position is the pigheaded belief of the Pakistani establishment that it can impose a Pakistani identity by force on the Baloch people. The second position is the belief of the Baloch nationalists that they can somehow wrest a large tract of Pakistan’s territory and secede on the basis of an exploded argument of princely state sovereignty which has been universally rejected.  Both of these positions are utterly ridiculous and need to be ruled out.  Pakistan’s policy makers need to realise that Baloch will sooner die than accept an imposed identity. This does not mean of course that they cannot be accommodated in a Pakistani federation but such accommodation would have to be voluntary.  The tragedy is that our deep state has no compunctions in letting them die.

The problem of Balochistan requires a reconsideration of Pakistan’s federalism de novo.  In doing so it must be underscored that the procedure is as important as the final solution.  This calls for a simultaneous election of a separate constituent assembly – by a constitutional amendment- in which every province would have equal say.  Without this the final solution will suffer for want of credibility.  Next the basis on which the constituent assembly should proceed on should be the Lahore Resolution and its most liberal construction i.e. constituent units must be autonomous and sovereign. A revival of the Kalat State and Bahawalpur States, governed by the documents of accession signed by their rulers, as two additional constituent provincial units of the federation of Pakistan, with adequate representation in the senate and the National Assembly is ultimately the only solution that would solve this intractable issue.

It must be driven home repeatedly that federal and constitutional issues cannot be resolved through bombing the people. Such intemperate actions on the part of the state betray a predatory mindset that is incapable of playing the long game.  Any workable long game in Pakistan has to be predicated on certain basic assumptions. First and foremost Pakistan is a multicultural, multilingual and yes a multinational state.  The second assumption is that if you concede such cultural, lingual and nation concerns, gradually these cease to be political issues.  The third assumption is that the political unity of the federation is vital and should be preserved at any cost and compromise.  If this means a policy of pampered consociationalism for the Baloch Nationalists, it must be conceded.  Instead of a just and equitable solution, even a solution that is less than just and equitable for other provinces, especially Punjab should be considered and adopted. This would be the highest form of statesmanship and patriotism.

This is not without precedent.  Canada’s relations vis a vis Quebec and the Quebecois people is a key example.  French Canadian nationalism which is much more fundamentally separatist in orientation has been kept – not against their will- within the federation.  The separatist urge in Quebec has transformed into what analysts call Plan-B Nationalism, harping about separatism to get a better deal from the center.  By pampering the Quebecois the Canadian federation has managed to keep the country together.  Now even the most trenchant French Canadian Nationalists are merely Plan B Nationalists.  The breakup of the Canadian federation despite all the centrifugal forces is unlikely.  To do this in Pakistan, the center must be able to offer the dissidents something at the center.  Without such a negotiated give and take, Islamabad will continue to be hard-pressed to keep Baloch separatists under its control.

The idea of democracy is not necessarily unbridled majority rule. Frederick Douglass spoke of democracy in terms of taking turns. Federal centers that see themselves as the delegator and the provinces the delegates of sovereign power seek to overturn this basic principle of democracy.  It is always the provinces which delegate and it is center to which the powers are delegated. Provinces are the masters of the center and not the other way around. This is the essence of true federalism and if Pakistan is re-thought along these lines, there is no reason why we cannot even at this late a stage resolve our issues with various contending identities.

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