Government’s response on Balochistan
President Asif Ali Zardari has said Balochistan is the topmost priority for the government and he is willing to visit the province to talk to the Baloch leaders. The president went on to say that he would make sure that the people of Balochistan became part of Pakistan’s society. He asserted that he was aware of the injustices to the Baloch people and would not abandon his brothers in such difficult times. With due respect, the manner in which the government has made the Balochistan issue its ‘topmost priority’ leaves much to be desired. The thrust of the government’s approach, starting from the president’s apology to the Baloch people for past excesses and leading up to the Aghaaz-e-Haqooq-e-Balochistan Package, has been predicated on a deliberate and misplaced concreteness that relies on offering development to the troubled province’s youth without addressing the real ground situation. The elephant in the room that the government chooses to ignore is the fact that the present course in Balochistan is dictated by the military establishment. The policy of kidnapping, torturing and then dumping the dead bodies of nationalists all over the province is surely not the idea of the government, federal or provincial. However, neither government has been able in the last four years to restrain the military and intelligence agencies from their dastardly and arguably eventually disastrous course. Given this reality, what sort of reciprocity does the president expect on a visit to the province from the alienated Baloch leaders? And it should not be forgotten either that these are the moderate leaders who do not necessarily subscribe to the idea of separation and independence for Balochistan. That so far is the declared position only of the Baloch leaders in exile or in the mountains. Since there is little if any chance of a dialogue with those extremely angry and alienated elements, any presidential visit without dealing seriously with the complaints, immediate and long term, of the Baloch would once again prove an exercise in futility, a dialogue of the deaf, with neither side conceding the other’s point of view.
First and foremost, the government has to abandon the flawed notion that ‘development’ can trump politics in the province. No amount of announcement of development projects, schools and other institutions can mollify the estranged province. The government must talk to the military establishment to withdraw the hated FC from the province, stop the kill and dump policy, recover the missing persons under a lawful approach to dealing with them, and last but not least, find ways and means to talk not only to the ‘available’ Baloch leaders (albeit they too are reluctant to engage unless the conditions enumerated above are met) but also those in exile or in the mountains. All this requires a major rethink on the approach to the province’s problems. These immediate steps could transform at least the atmospherics and open up space for a genuine dialogue. Off the cuff announcements such as those by Interior Minister Rehman Malik that cases against the insurgent leaders will be withdrawn, only to be cast into the shadows of doubt barely a day later, are not helpful. They only serve to widen the credibility gap. The Foreign Office has chimed in with the usual mantra of a ‘foreign hand’ churning up trouble in the province. These claims are neither new nor, in the absence of any evidence, credible. They too only serve to stoke the fires of anger and alienation and make the apprehensions triggered by the hearing and resolution in the US Congress self-fulfilling prophecies. Restraint, honesty of purpose, a turn from repression to genuine dialogue is the only way forward. The present course portends disaster.