Now that the Balochistan issue is finally receiving long overdue recognition, there is one point that needs to be kept in mind. The military’s actions in the province have always existed outside the legal realm. Baloch activists are picked up and whisked away and their forced disappearances are not subject to any judicial scrutiny. The debate over Balochistan should not only be about separatism and natural resources; it needs to encompass the unaccountability of the military. The gross injustice imparted to the Baloch can only begin to be rectified if the military’s power is gradually reduced. This will allow the civilians to implement the Balochistan package, announced with much fanfare in 2008, and start negotiating with the separatists.
Right now, the Baloch know that dealing with the civilian government is not worth their time, since it does nothing to curtail the power of the military. Obviously, there are hardcore separatists who hold the civilian government in as much contempt as the military and want nothing less than to breakaway from the country. But the majority of the Baloch can be convinced to remain a part of the Federation, so long as they are given the same rights that the rest of the country enjoys.
The proposed All-Parties Conference (APC) on Balochistan could have been a good start, but the PML-N has rejected the idea saying that such a conference would be futile until all ‘missing’ people have been recovered and both the military and the separatists are brought to the negotiating table. In one sense, the PML-N is correct that the odds of the APC’s success are minimal. The gargantuan task of curtailing the military’s power to operate as it pleases in the province can only begin once the civilians start speaking up. For that to succeed, the political parties will have to set aside their differences on other matters and address what may be the most pressing issue in the country today.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 1st, 2012.