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Tuesday, June 5, 2012

EDITORIAL: Troubleshooting in Balochistan


Prime Minister (PM) Yousaf Raza Gilani and COAS General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani are in Balochistan on a two day visit, ostensibly as a ‘troubleshooting’ trip. On arrival in Quetta on Sunday, the PM was ‘greeted’ by another sectarian attack in the city, which killed four Shia Hazaras and one policeman, while another policeman was injured. The incident is a very good reflection of the state of affairs in Quetta, let alone the rest of the province. There are two separate issues to be tackled. One, the sectarian mayhem unleashed by the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi against the Shia Hazara community; two, the ongoing Baloch nationalist armed resistance. On the former, it is amazing that despite the plethora of Hazara killings in recent days, no effective measures have been taken to quell the mischief of the terrorist fanatics. Neither has the Hazara community been extended any security, nor has a single sectarian murderer been arrested. It is ironic, therefore, for the PM to ‘order’ the Balochistan government to improve law and order. This too, like so many other exhortations before it (including from the Supreme Court) is likely to disappear into thin air once the PM returns. On the Baloch nationalist armed struggle, the PM has persisted with his blinkered approach to the problem. This approach relies almost exclusively on offering jobs and educational opportunities to the youth of the province, in the hope that this would wean them away from contemplating translating the widespread sympathies of the youth in Balochistan for the insurgents into active participation in resistance activities. The approach is a continuation of the ‘philosophy’ underlying the Aaghaaz-e-Haqooq-e-Balochistan package, which sees the problems of the province in terms almost exclusively of economic underdevelopment and lack of opportunities. While no one can quibble with the good intent behind the package and its successor steps, the whole thrust misses the point. Unless and until the alienated leaders and forces in the mountains or in exile are approached through appropriate intermediaries, and a purely political problem solved through political means and a negotiated settlement (something even the COAS has advocated in the recent high powered meeting on Balochistan in Islamabad), eschewing in the process the resort to military force and the notorious ‘kill and dump’ policy, no amount of jobs or educational opportunities will in and by themselves bring peace and reconciliation to the troubled province. The PM has stated in Quetta that the government intends to talk to the angry Baloch leaders, but he neither explained how this desirable move would come about, nor is there so far any sign that the government has taken any initiative in this regard. It thus remains just talk so far.

Governments tend to say only what is favourable to them in situations like the one that confronts Balochistan, and skip the bitter truths. This can only be likened to the parable of the ostrich with his head in the sand. The PM claims that provincial autonomy (through the 18th Amendment) and the ownership of the Baloch people over their resources are settled issues. With due respect, this is stretching the truth to breaking point. And that too at a time when Baloch leaders like Brahmdagh Bugti are saying the time for conferences and talks on Balochistan’s future has come and gone. In these circumstances the tired refrain that all is well in the best of all possible worlds can only act as salt sprinkled on the Baloch people’s wounds. Such salt was liberally used by the IG Frontier Corps the other day when he, in time honoured fashion, pointed the accusatory finger at the ubiquitous ‘foreign hand’ in Balochistan. The PM has now taken up that refrain and characterised it as foreign powers eyeing the resources of the province. Those old enough to have lived through the debacle of 1971 will recall how the genuine grievances of the people of East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) were either ignored or painted as ‘foreign inspired’, with the tragic consequences that flowed from that state of denial. Although the two situations are not exactly alike, Balochistan’s strategic location and potential wealth can tempt some great powers. By adopting a strategy of on the one hand ‘decapitating’ the Baloch intelligentsia through a slow genocide, and on the other offering the sops of jobs and educational opportunities, the government is persuading no one that it has a firm grip on the situation, or even a reasonable chance of success. *

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