It has long been an open secret that paramilitary forces and intelligence agencies have been holding sway in Balochistan. This was finally acknowledged by the province’s advocate general, Salahuddin Mengal, in front of the Supreme Court, when he revealed that the Frontier Constabulary (FC) was picking up and even killing people. Although not a surprise, this revelation is important because the Supreme Court is the only institution in the country that has shown the courage to take on the army. The court must now haul up senior officers of the FC to explain the role it is playing in Balochistan.
However, the Supreme Court alone cannot solve Balochistan’s problems. The utter lack of confidence the Baloch have in the army and the federal government requires much greater action. Separatist sentiment is now running deep in the province and the provincial government lacks legitimacy because most political figures have boycotted mainstream politics. Bringing them back into the fold should be an immediate priority. This would require the army to recede and take a low profile, and an accounting of all those who went missing in the province. Following that, a far greater share in the spoils of Balochistan’s economic development needs to be given to locals. From the development of a deep-sea port in Gwadar to royalties in mining projects, the Baloch feel they have been deliberately cheated out of profits from their resources. Only after this is rectified, will the separatist parties begin to tone down their rhetoric.
The most pressing and hurtful issue right now, though, is that of the ‘missing’ people. Human rights groups and Baloch political parties claim as many as 13,000 people are missing in the province, while the provincial government acknowledges fewer than 1,000 people have been picked up. Even if the true number lies somewhere in between, these statistics need to be reconciled. After that, a promise needs to be given that no citizen of Balochistan need ever fear for his life just for exercising his right to political dissent.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 7th, 2011.