The situation in Balochistan is so hideously violent and complex that it becomes impossible to ascertain who is responsible for any single attack. Such is the case with the August 28 attack on a train that left three people dead. All we know so far is that armed gunmen started firing at the train, which was headed from Quetta to Peshawar and that FC personnel were on the train. Add to that the fact that the three dead were from Punjab and one would conclude that the attackers were probably Baloch separatists.
There is a lot of sympathy for the cause of the Baloch rebels but their tactics leave a lot to be desired. It is undeniable that they have been targeting the Punjabi community, seeing them as interlopers occupying their land. As justified as the grievances of the Baloch may be, this kind of collective guilt must not be allowed to stand. It is also undeniable that the Baloch feel alienated in their own land but the fight must be restricted to one for greater rights, not outright separation.
At the same time, there is no doubting that the centre needs to do more to bring the Baloch into the political mainstream. If more rights are given to the Baloch and they are allowed a greater share in the province’s resources, then support for the separatists will slowly melt away. There needs to be a genuine effort to address the grievances of the people of the province. Till this happens, the situation will only worsen.
For now there is no conceivable way to get the army and paramilitary organisations to withdraw from Balochistan. As the latest attack showed, the situation is far too tense for such a hands-off approach. Many of the Punjabis residing in Balochistan have been there for generations and simply cannot be asked to resettle based on the whims of a violent subset of the Baloch population. A solution to the Balochistan problem, as we can see, is as distant as ever. The word compromise is on no one’s lips, which makes it even harder to exclusively blame any one side for the violence.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 31st, 2011.