I avidly remember Nawab Akbar Bugti’s last interview that I conducted on his Vodafone for The Post, just days before he was killed in a cave where he was holed in August 2006. He had said, “Islamabad should talk to us…we (Baloch) are in a state of war, and the situation is 1971-alike…” The crusty octogenarian feudal lord and former CM was not just another bizarre soul. He was Oxford educated, and was considered as a ‘Man of the Establishment’ by many in the province and beyond. Thus, his words mattered.
Prime Minister Imran Khan, the other day on his visit to Gwadar, expressed his desire to “talk to the insurgents in Balochistan”. It was statesmanship, indeed. The PM’s utterance was supplemented by similar words of wisdom, the same day, as Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa told an elite audience that “Balochistan is in sharp focus of the country’s leadership and the army is fully engaged in providing and enabling synergy with other state institutions.” They walked the talk as a day later the federal government named Shahzain Bugti, MNA, as special assistant on reconciliation and harmony in the province.
Balochistan is at the crossroads of history and evolution. CPEC is set to rewrite its destiny. But its dividends can only be realised if the impoverished province’s inhabitants are at peace with themselves. They have a tale to tell of betrayals and repression. No doubt, Balochistan has been wronged. It is a welcome gesture that men at the helm of affairs admit that bitter reality in all humility.
This is the time for reconciling the Baloch, and undoing systemic injustices meted out to them. They were not only unleashed with excessive use of force, but also cheated politically. Merely dubbing an entire segment of society as ‘traitor’ hasn’t worked; nor it will!
Pakistan is an organic polity; and a glance at its nation-building in the last few years suggests that it has come out strongly. The erstwhile FATA, Pakistan’s tribal areas bordering Afghanistan, and Gilgit-Baltistan, the Northern Areas along China, have been successfully knitted in the national fabric. Terrorism stands defeated and parochial tendencies laid to rest. It is a great milestone in resilience.
Islamabad is in need of replicating the module in Balochistan. And PM Imran possesses a unique opportunity to do that as he is vocal for the rights of the oppressed, and exhibits every intention to undo the status quo.
Baloch grievances are political in nature, per se. While it is the largest and the most resource-rich of the five provinces, it is least developed. It encompasses 6% of the country’s population but covers nearly 43% of landmass. Irrespective of being numerically inferior, the locals were alienated to the core, marginalised intentionally and thrown in economic deprivation for jaundiced reasons.
None but Islamabad, and the culture of governance in vogue, are responsible for this mess. This is where it became a breeding ground for international players; and it goes without saying that apart from India; Afghanistan, Iran, UAE and Oman have nursed their vested interests in the dilapidated province.
A couple of issues should be addressed instantly; and prime among them are provincial sovereignty, interprovincial migrations, preferential budgetary allocation and last but not least safeguarding local culture and dialect. This is how the hearts of the aggrieved Baloch could be won. It should come out of the status of a backwater colony, and become part and parcel of national cohesion. The province is a goldmine as it possesses oil and gas, as well as precious minerals. It’s high time to tap the resources and that too by empowering the Baloch.
The prevalent enigma of violence and desperation has unfortunately bred trans-tribal Baloch nationalism. Yet, the province doesn’t have a separatist movement at all. Baloch tribesmen are proud Pakistanis and have stood in thick and thin with the State of Pakistan. Moreover, they never played to the gallery while airing their grievances; and were always thoughtful in seeking remedies from Islamabad. All they ask for is their due right to life and prosperity. Mr Prime Minister, the nation believes in you. Constitute a Truth and Reconciliation Commission for Balochistan and dispense justice, instantly.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 12th, 2021.
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