Another negotiations offer
Newly installed Chief Minister Balochistan Mir Abdul Quddus Bizenjo has offered yet another olive branch to the self-exiled Baloch leaders. Being the youngest chief minister ever to grace the seat of power in Quetta as a result of the ousting of former chief minister Nawab Sanaullah Zehri, Mir Bizenjo is sufficiently cognizant of the traditions of Baloch tribal society to speak of the self-exiled leaders with the respect expected, especially the Khan of Kalat, Agha Suleman Dawood Ahmedzai. The other dissident leaders were described by Mir Bizenjo as sons of the soil, which casts their credentials in an unusual patriotic light. The Khan went into exile some time ago promising to bring up Balochistan’s case before the International Court of Justice. Not much headway has been apparent in this cry from the heart at the situation prevailing in the Khan’s home province for many years now. While the offer of renewed negotiations with the self-exiled leaders appears appropriate if an end to the troubles in Balochistan is aimed at, there are many questions revolving around the present and past such offers. It may be recalled that when Dr Abdul Malik of the National Party was chief minister (a tenure he shared with his successor Nawab Zehri of the PML-N), he too tried to reach out to the exiled leaders. In fact it was reported at the time that he had travelled to London to meet the Khan and all other exiles to be found there. However, Dr Malik’s well intentioned peace making foray ran aground when he could not satisfy his exiled fellow Baloch whether he had the mandate and power to implement the commitments he was prepared to make regarding the exiles’ honourable return and respectful treatment at home. This was in the context of the by now well known fact that it is the military that calls the shots in Pakistan’s poorest and most troubled province, particularly where the nationalist insurgency is concerned. Not much has changed on the ground since, which makes Mir Bizenjo’s effort open to question too. Only time will tell whether this new offer is more than ritual noises.
One case of an exile returnee is evoking great interest. The late nationalist giant Nawab Khair Buksh Marri’s son Gazain Marri returned from almost two decades of self-imposed exile some months ago. It was not clear whether he had negotiated the terms of his return with the authorities. Certainly his initial arrest on arrival at the Quetta airport raised eyebrows. Since then, the government of Nawab Zehri that seemed interested in his incarceration is gone and the courts have either acquitted or granted bail to him in the cases against him. A free Gazain is a rare poster for the reconciliation policy. That policy has yielded, it is claimed, the surrender of over 2,000 insurgents over the last two years, although independent observers are sceptical about the credentials of those who purportedly have come in out of the cold. Speaking of posters, the Free Balochistan variety that appeared in public spaces and on transport in the UK and then the US have been removed by those governments, with the US in particular emphasising that it upholds and respects Pakistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. However, there is little room for complacency here as the human rights concerns about Balochistan, including the phenomenon of disappearances and extra-judicial executions could cause problems with the west sooner or later. Logic and the greater national interest suggest that there is no escape from engaging with the insurgents at home and the exile leaders abroad if the fire in our house that allegedly opens the door to foreign interference, particularly Indian, is to be doused. Of course this does not mean accepting separatism but within the four corners of our constitution and laws, there is much middle ground for negotiation. Separatism has been fuelled by a sense of grievances unaddressed. If these can be taken up and addressed in the manner indicated above, it could offer hope of a genuine negotiated political settlement of Balochistan’s troubles, to the satisfaction of all stakeholders.