Receding waters leave behind deep resentment in Balochistan

Even as rescue work continues across Pakistan’s Balochistan Province, the lapping waters have brought with them a seething sense of outrage.

Perceptions of unfair treatment by the central government which in 2005 triggered a bloody conflict in the Dera Bugti and Kohlu districts of Balochistan, have been strengthened by complaints regarding delays in the start of relief work in the province.

“In my home district of Jaffarabad people are living on road sides and by canal banks with no shelter despite soaring temperatures. There is a shortage of food and clean drinking water,” former Pakistan Prime Minister Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali said after visiting the district which lies along Balochistan’s eastern border with the Punjab.

As a result of canal breaches, much of the area remains under water and in many areas aid distribution has been hampered by broken link roads.

The death toll in Balochistan has risen to 200 after at least 50 more bodies were discovered in various parts of the province.

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“For the first three or four days, there was almost no aid getting through to people in coastal areas, and the suffering for thousands left without food or other essential supplies can just be imagined,” said Zahoor Ahmed Shawani, a senior lawyer and the provincial chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) for Balochistan.

Baloch militants

Heavy rains have, at least for the moment, squelched the fighting that had continued sporadically between militants and paramilitary forces in Dera Bugti and the Awaran area in southern Balochistan, but deeply-felt passions that fuelled the conflict remain. Heavier fighting had died away by the end of 2006.

“The treatment Balochistan received during this disaster simply shows what the rulers think of us. Young Baloch people will no longer accept this treatment as third rate citizens,” said Zuhair Baloch, 22, a student in Quetta.

Statistics compiled by the HRCP show that over the past six months, there have been at least 80 bomb blasts and 95 incidents of rocket fire across Balochistan.

Often, government buildings in Quetta have been targeted.

“Most recently, the pattern of terrorism has involved the use of hand grenades hurled by motorcycle riders outside cafes or other businesses,” Farid Ahmed, the provincial HRCP coordinator in Quetta, told IRIN.

A few days ago two people from Punjab Province had apparently been targeted in a grenade attack in Quetta and killed, he said, adding: “No one knows who is responsible.”

''The treatment Balochistan received during this disaster simply shows what the rulers think of us. Young Baloch people will no longer accept this treatment as third rate citizens.''

The suspicion is that such incidents indicate a fierce anger that remains in Balochistan against the central government and the majority Punjab Province, which is perceived as controlling the Pakistani establishment.

Over a dozen websites run by groups who say they are fighting for the rights of the Baloch people were blocked by the Pakistan government last year and remain inaccessible, but mobile phone text messages and emails have united young Baloch people who say they want the rights of their people to be protected.

Arms are easily available across Balochistan and thousands of people in the area illegally possess arms, complicating the situation. The fact that rockets have been used in the attacks gives an idea as to the scale of the problem.

Sense of anger

The Pakistan government has tried to tackle the situation in Balochistan by launching major development schemes in the remote province.

“The development of Balochistan is a priority for us,” said Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz several days ago, after visiting rain-hit areas of the province.

He cited the new port being built at Gwadar on Balochistan’s southwestern coast as an example of government efforts in this regard, and said it would provide large-scale employment in an area where socio-economic difficulties are many.

Photo: Kamila Hyat/IRIN
Rain water still floods villages and streets in Balochistan

However, people like Zahoor Ahmed Shawani say such schemes “serve little purpose” unless the people of Balochistan are engaged in “decision-making concerning their own future”.

He held that so far schemes launched by the central government had not aided Baloch people, and that the activities of paramilitary troops and intelligence agencies have, in recent years, added to the sense of anger in the province.

“Hundreds of Baloch people remain missing, while paramilitary personnel have been guilty of harassing citizens,” said Shawani.