By S. M. Hali

Balochistan has become Pakistan’s Achilles’ heel. Subsequent governments, through gross neglect, have let the situation in Balochistan aggravate to a state that vested interests are sullying the situation. The Balochistan quagmire appears deeper because some US Parliamentarians have added to the deepening morass by labeling Pakistan a failing state, and sponsoring a resolution on Balochistan in their parliament. The average Pakistani, whose nerves have been frayed by the widening gulf of distrust between Washington and Islamabad, considers this another affront and part of the conspiracy theory to destabilize Pakistan.

Rational option would be to study the problem dispassionately and seek solutions to the mess. Unfortunately, the current dispensation ruling Islamabad has not helped matters. They should have pointed out that although the debate on Balochistan in a US Congressional Committee is based on resolution tabled by three Republicans, Dana Rohrabacher, Louie Gohmert, and Steve King, yet it is not binding on the White House. Instead of adopting cool reasoning, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani described the resolution as an infringement of Pakistani sovereignty; while Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar termed it as an ‘act of foolhardy global-vigilantism’ and said such acts could only aggravate Pakistan’s already estranged ties with US.

A more rational approach would have been to express disapproval of the move by the trio of US legislators but instead of looking for the proverbial “foreign hand” in every conspiracy, attempt should have been made to find ways and means of appeasing the disgruntled elements in the Baloch society. The balloon of the much touted “amnesty” that Interior Minister Rehman Malik had announced for the disgruntled Baloch leaders got deflated when it turned out to be “conditional”. The fly in the ointment was his belated clarification that “only the politically motivated cases would be withdrawn” but “the cases of terrorist acts, murders and other crimes against them would not be withdrawn.” Technically he is correct since only a court of law has the right to quash cases of heinous nature and it would be wrong for the government to exercise such a legal option. However, Mr. Malik’s initial offer of blanket amnesty left a bad taste in the mouth and further alienated the disgruntled elements. President Zardari’s attempt to douse the flames by expressing the wish to meet the estranged Baloch leaders and discuss their grievances in order to remove them was a case of “too little and too late.” During a call at Governor Magsi’s house where he had gone to condole with him the death of his mother, Mr. Zardari also referred to the apology he had offered. This would have been meaningful if he had been able to enumerate the projects his enfeebled and beleaguered government had achieved or even launched to allay the sense of deprivation among the Baloch people.

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To relegate the Balochistan issue to be just a case of deprivation, would be an over simplification of the problem. Over the last few decades, various international players have tried to fish in troubled waters. Balochistan is the richest province of Pakistan endowed with natural wealth but its people are the poorest in the country. They lack basic services like clean drinking water, health care, and education. Natural gas produced in the Sui gas fields doesn’t light their homes but is the engine of growth in the rest of Pakistan. The appalling neglect has long fuelled resentment among Balochis and stirred up nationalist sentiment among the Balochi elite. Army action has made the whole province a battle ground; military and intelligence agencies are accused of kidnappings, torture and extrajudicial killings, since 2004 when the present cycle of savage repression started. Recently, several high-profile killings of Baloch politicians have sparked strikes and demonstrations. On January 31, the wife and daughter of Mir Bakhtiar Domki, a member of the Pakistan Assembly from Balochistan, were shot dead in Karachi while going to a wedding. 

The US and India are opposed to the development of the Gawadar port of Balochistan, which was developed through the help of China as both are wary of China’s presence in the Indian Ocean. The US wants Pakistan to cooperate with its game-plan in Iran and permit the installation of listening posts on Balochistan’s border with Iran, just as Pakistan had looked the other way when the US used Shamsi airbase of Balochistan for drone attacks until recently. Reportedly, in recent years, the CIA has developed extensive ties to Jundallah, a Sunni Islamist group fighting to separate Iran's Baloch region. Tehran believes that the group has sanctuaries in Pakistan. Pakistan has long cried foul at the possibility of Indian spy agency RAW in launching insurgents in the strife-torn province of Balochistan through its ring of Consulates and trade offices in Afghanistan.

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It is high time that instead of blaming others for the imbroglio, Pakistan looks inwards for a resolution of the problem. The only solution of Balochistan imbroglio is to reach out to the people of Balochistan suffering from fear of unknown and uncertainty. Their lives and property needs to be protected while a meaningful dialogue process with the leadership including exiled Baloch leaders is required to bring peace in the province.  

The developmental works as the primary means of alleviation of the conditions of the people of Balochistan is the responsibility of provincial government. Provincial government must initiate developmental projects including hospitals, schools, roads, and other infrastructure in relation to ethnographic details and terrain at district level. The efforts of Balochistan Government in remaining steadfast in planning to excavate gold mines at Reko-Diq through their own resources must be lauded.  This will have a trickle-down economic affect on the common people of the area. There is a need to forge all out efforts to address social ills in the province, especially poverty, national reconciliation and injecting the spirit of mutual accommodation in the wake of economic downslide, increasing corruption, judiciary-Government impasse and open infightings between major political parties. Balochistan is an important pillar of Pakistani state and it must given its due importance. The spate of sectarian violence has shaken the roots of the oppressed Hazara groups in Balochistan and given cause for concern to human rights activists around the globe. Full protection to all citizens of Pakistan including Shiite community must be provided by the state. Perpetrators sectarian violence must be punished severely. Scholars of different sects must project a unified stance suggesting inter-sect harmonious milieu through softer media campaigns. Balochistan imbroglio can still be resolved if there is true urge in the government, armed forces and people of Pakistan.

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