Balochistan: now or never

If peace building cannot be done quickly, then remember, sir, that all has already been lost.

Farrukh Khan Pitafi August 05, 2012

Balochistan has become the ultimate test of our national conscience. The province has been betrayed by everyone including the Pakistani state, the successive provincial governments, the sardars and even the insurgents. The case of insurgents, the dissidents or sarmachars as they are often called, is the most instructive as their betrayal to their people is not widely recognised. They have repeatedly asked their Baloch brethren to die for an independence that would take them from one slavery to another. If you have any doubts, take a look at the plight of the Baloch in the neighbouring countries. The resource-rich region is far behind in human development making it a conspicuous prey for all ambitious forces in the region. That means that the province’s opportunistic elite, right now working closely with Islamabad, might get richer but the lot of the poor Baloch will not ameliorate even if the province wins independence. Meanwhile, more blood is being spilled every moment in Balochistan.

And the state’s role has been no less obnoxious. General (retd) Pervez Musharraf and his toadies managed to transform their personal dislikes into a campaign against the Baloch people. Since then, the state has not only killed its own citizens but also gathered a motley crowd of opportunists and sycophants around it that does its best to retard the prospects of peace. This class has two subsets. The one governing the province is corrupt and totally divorced from ground realities and the other, without any substantial following, resorts to aiding and abetting the alleged kidnappings and extrajudicial killings in the province. Together they have blinded the state apparatus.

This is not to say that there is no hope of peace at all. The post-Musharraf defence establishment seems ready to mend fences and build peace. However, the PPP-led coalition government has not been able to come up with any serious plan. A classic example was the recently held two-day national workshop called “Balochistan Situation: Perceptions and Realities — The Way Forward”, organised by the National Defence University (NDU) in Islamabad, which I attended. The prime minister was invited to give a policy speech on the issue. Unfortunately, whosoever had written his speech blew the opportunity. The prime minister spoke not only of foreign involvement — the proof of which has been hard to come by — but also categorically stated that no dialogue could take place with those who burn Pakistan’s flag. The speechwriter did not realise that in the civilised parts of the world, flag burning is considered a legitimate form of democratic protest.

The more pressing issue is of human loss in the province. Islamabad has always been aware of the province’s geostrategic, mineral and trade potential. Somehow, what it forgets is the plight of its citizens living above those mineral deposits and by ignoring them, it risks jeopardising 44 per cent of the country’s landmass.

Unfortunately, those who were complacent during Musharraf’s operations, today do not want the establishment to realise that the insurgents can even be brought to the table. It is, indeed, a responsibility of the country’s intelligence community to find out how to best engage the dissidents. The ongoing judicial activism, while admirable, cannot provide a lasting solution. The army repeatedly indicates its readiness to back a peace initiative. But such an initiative can only be taken by the federal government and that, too, without involving Mr Rehman Malik as no one takes him seriously in Balochistan.

The fact is that no one has a monopoly over the sufferings and the Baloch, the law enforcement agencies, the Pashtuns and settlers have all suffered and precious lives have consequently been lost. That means that instead of trying the Irish or the Sri Lankan approaches, we will have to finally follow the South African example of peace building. If this cannot be done quickly, then remember, sir, that all has already been lost.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 6th, 2012.