Balochistan Chief Minister Aslam Raisani, by publicly chastising the central government for ignoring the province, will hopefully bring public attention to an issue largely overlooked because of the many other problems that plague the country. Raisani’s request that he be allowed to speak to insurgent leaders is a reasonable one but the separatist movement has been gaining traction and the scars left by army actions leave political forces in the province unlikely to compromise.
This was seen during Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani’s meeting with nationalist leader Ataullah Mengal in Karachi this May. While there was reason to celebrate the first meeting, the talks failed with Mengal declaring them a waste of time. That Mengal is a moderate force in Balochistan who refused to quit parliamentary politics to take up an armed struggle makes the likelihood of a political solution to Balochistan even more unlikely.
The much-ballyhooed Balochistan package, announced by the government in November 2009, has disappeared without a trace. According to the terms of the package, the names of all ‘missing’ people would be investigated and they would either be charged or released. The army was supposed to withdraw from the Bugti and Marri areas and all under-construction cantonments were to be halted. The package promised full provincial autonomy to Balochistan but ended up providing none. The situation in Balochistan is now so volatile that, as Chief Minister Raisani says, a solution must include talks with armed insurgents. But that is only the first, small step in solving a situation that has been ignored for far too long.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 10th, 2010.
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