Friday, January 31, 2014

Daily Times Editorial Feb 1, 2014

PM’s Balochistan yatra On his first visit to the troubled province of Balochistan since taking office, Prime Minister (PM) Nawaz Sharif called for a civil-military joint strategy to resolve the problems of the province and ensure a durable peace. After briefings from top officers, the PM praised the commendable role of the security forces in attempting to secure peace and tranquillity. On a parallel track, the PM talked about accelerating the development programme of the province to ensure jobs for disgruntled youth. In this context he mentioned the Gwadar-Rato Dero and Khuzdar-Naag highways, for which Rs 8 billion has been allocated by the federal government, and the Kalat-Chaman highway for which Rs 10 billion have been set aside. The provinces, the PM added, would be given 90 percent of the revenue earned from the highways. These projects would have a positive impact on the economic development of the province and also provide jobs for the youth. The government, the PM revealed, was planning to overcome the power shortage by providing solar-based energy in rural and far-flung areas. This makes eminent sense and is long overdue, especially in underdeveloped provinces like Balochistan, where the relatively small population tends to be scattered over a vast area. The per capita cost of extending the national grid to these scattered and sparsely populated communities is prohibitive. Solar energy could fill the gap at an affordable cost. Nawaz Sharif also referred to his Pakistan Youth Business Loan Programme, intended to encourage entrepreneurship amongst the youth. He reiterated that its funds allocated for one province would not be transferred to any other province. The PM underlined his government’s determination to deal with terrorism and sectarianism, which have had the province in their grip for years. Expressing the country’s solidarity with the unfortunate Shia Hazara community that has been under horrific attack the last two years in particular, Nawaz Sharif announced that Shia pilgrims travelling to or from Iran would be facilitated through special flights to be operated by PIA. That would obviously put an end to the spate of attacks on pilgrims on the route, of which the latest one was not long ago. COAS General Raheel Sharif, who was accompanying the PM, visited the Combat Training Area in Quetta Cantonment where the army’s training programme for Balochistan’s police and constabulary are in progress. Apart from training, the army had provided 5,000 weapons and 500,000 rounds of ammunition to the Balochistan police in 2013. The COAS emphasised the army’s continuing commitment to providing equipment and training to raise the capacity of the local law enforcement agencies. Perhaps fresh from his creation of a committee of mediators to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table, the PM decided the effort needed to be replicated in Balochistan to talk to the nationalist insurgents. Although the committee has not yet been announced, a great deal will depend on its composition, given the complicated and long standing problems of Balochistan. The mediators would have to be first and foremost acceptable to and carry credibility with the insurgents if the process is to have any chance of taking off. The approach of the authorities to the insurgency so far has exclusively relied on force. This has created new sets of problems, amongst which the missing persons issue has of late resonated throughout the country and even in the Supreme Court. The Frontier Corps (FC) stands accused of being responsible for what is called the ‘kill and dump’ policy, reflected in the crop of dead bodies that appear to have been badly tortured and mutilated turning up all over the province. Rightly or wrongly, this is a cause of further alienation and anger in the province. To illustrate the grave nature of the problem, the discovery of mass graves recently in Khuzdar has once again brought the issue into the limelight. Part of the problem stems from the fact, as admitted by the Balochistan government before the Supreme Court the other day, that the provincial government has no control over the FC. This creates the anomaly or contradiction that while the elected government is charged with managing the political aspects of the province’s problems, their best intentioned efforts cannot bear fruit in the face of dead bodies continuing to turn up. One hope is that with the enhanced training and equipping of the police and constabulary, they may incrementally be in a position to take up law and order and security duties, thereby relieving the FC of this onerous task and allowing the paramilitary force to be re-deployed back where it originally belongs: guarding the border areas. Collaterally, the removal of the FC will be a major initiative to improve the political climate in Balochistan and give the government of Dr Abdul Malik Baloch a better chance to open up channels with the insurgents for a peace push. While terrorism and sectarianism afflict the province, it is the insurgency that should top the list of priorities of the government.

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