“Tonight I can write the saddest lines”.
The killing of Nawab Akbar Bugti, President of the Jamhoori Watan Party in a military operation has cast a pall of gloom on all those who love Pakistan. Echoes of history amplify the tragic significance of this moment. As in the case of the East Pakistan crisis in December 1971, an essentially political problem has been dealt with military means. Once again the attempt to establish the writ of the state may have unleashed forces that could in time further weaken it. This is because the sentiment of the Baloch for greater provincial autonomy has been intensified through the creation of a martyr. In this article we will discuss the nature of nationalism and the imperative of urgently granting genuine autonomy to all the provinces of Pakistan in order to strengthen the state.
Sentiment is the defining feature of nationalism. Max Weber in his seminal work, defines the term nation: “The concept undoubtedly means ….that one may exact from certain groups of men a specific sentiment of solidarity in the face of other groups”. Similarly W. Connor suggests that “….nations are self-differentiated ethnic groups at whose core is an intensely subjective psychological identification which exists beyond reason”. It is this sentiment at the core of Baloch nationalism that may have been re-ignited amongst the Baloch by the killing of Nawab Akbar Bugti and the delay in handing over his body to the family for burial. The statement by Sardar Mengal in the context of the killing is significant: “Nawab Bugti was a fighter for the rights of the Balochs and his death has drawn the line between Balochistan and Pakistan”. (Daily Times, August 27). The response to the delay in handing over Mr. Bugti's body is further reinforcing the perception that the values and norms, which the Baloch share with all Pakistanis, are being violated. Senator Shahid Hassan Bugti is reported to have said, “two days have passed since the tragic incident took place and the government should hand over the body to heirs in accordance with Islamic teachings, tribal traditions and human values”. (The daily Dawn, August 28).
The principal challenge for state stability in Pakistan has been to develop amongst its multiple provincial, cultural, and religious identities an overarching identity as citizens of Pakistan. Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah articulated this challenge precisely when he said:
“You may belong to any religion or caste or creed ___ that has nothing to do with the business of the state….. We are starting with this fundamental principle that we are all citizens and equal citizens of one state…. Now, I think we should keep that in front of us as our ideal and you will find that in the course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual but in the political sense as citizens of the state.”
The integrity of the state signified in the concept of citizenship in such a pluralistic society requires a structure of governance that nurtures each specific “creed” and cultural identity within a polity that is decentralized at the provincial level. It is precisely the confidence of having a voice in governance and in the distribution of economic resources that would give cohesion to the provinces and to each individual a stake in Pakistani citizenship.
Let us now consider the concept of the “writ of the state” the establishment of which has been explicitly used as a justification for the recent military action in Bhambore. The writ of the state is based not on armed force but on justice. Underlying the “writ” is an unwritten social contract between the citizens and the state, in terms of which the state is granted monopoly over the use of armed force in return for guaranteeing certain basic rights to citizens. Therefore if the state is seen to deprive the citizens of a particular province of their rights or is seen to exercise force without justice, then the underlying social contract that is vital to sustaining the writ of the state is violated. In such a circumstance the state is pitted against its own citizens as a militant provincial nationalism emerges and the state loses its monopoly over military force. The response to this confrontation must be to establish the writ of the state by re-establishing the underlying social contract. Military action cannot be a sustainable basis for determining the relationship between a state and its citizens. General Sahibzada Yaqub Khan who was GOC commanding East Pakistan in the early stages of the crisis, wrote in his letter to General Yahya Khan that a war with the people of East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) cannot be won. (Tragically his wisdom was rejected and he was promptly transferred back to Rawalpindi).
The inflammatory political consequences of the recent military action in Balochistan are apparent in the riots in Quetta, Nushki and Karachi. Worse still the seething sense of deprivation in Sindh could take the form of alienation from a polity in which the writ of the state is seen to be established not through a political consensus but through the barrel of a gun. It is therefore an urgent need of the hour to re-establish political negotiations with Baloch representatives and promptly grant the necessary autonomy to Balochistan and indeed to all the provinces of Pakistan. If this requires a constitutional amendment, the question is how can this be done? Now as never before a government of national unity before the next elections is required. Such a government could bring about a political consensus regarding the changes in the structure of governance and provincial autonomy that need to be achieved after the next elections.
The military action in Bhambore and the consequent widespread rioting in Balochistan signify a challenge to the writ of the state that is drawn from a break down of the underlying social contract. As Douglas North has argued when institutions fail to maintain the consensus of the actors within them and come into conflict with their norms, then it is an institutional gridlock that requires institutional change. In Pakistan today, there is a crisis of the institutional authority of the state. Overcoming this crisis through institutional change will make Pakistan stronger.
A viable democratic structure in Pakistan would need to meet at least three conditions: (a) Subordination of the military to the elected civilian government. (b) Devolution of power to the provincial level and granting the level of provincial autonomy that fulfills the aspirations of the smaller provinces. (c) Setting into motion a people centered economic and political process, which ensures to all citizens justice, human rights, basic services, and equitable participation in the process of economic growth. These are necessary conditions for a vibrant federation whose unity is nurtured by its diversity. Only a democratic polity and equitable economy can achieve an enlightened, tolerant and dynamic Pakistan.