Balochistan simmers

Another crevice begins to widen

The arrival of the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances in Pakistan sends another wrong signal regarding the widening gulf between the Pakistani and international perceptions about the simmering problem in Balochistan.

The Chair-Rapporteur of the visiting Working Group has clarified that the objective of the mission was neither investigative nor an effort at fact finding. Instead the Mission was here to “act as a bridge between the families of the missing persons and the concerned governments”. Read with the fact that the invitation to the UN Working Group was extended by the government of Pakistan which has been reluctantly acknowledged by the Foreign Minister of the country, should one conclude that it is, in effect, an avid admission of the failure of its policies to address one issue that is increasingly finding its way into international headlines?

The timing of the arrival of the Mission in Pakistan is another issue that needs attention. A few months ago, the Supreme Court launched a serious effort to unearth the missing persons. The apex court has held many meaningful sessions exerting enormous pressure on the security agencies and other government departments to disclose the whereabouts of the missing persons and to produce them before the bench. The effort has met with some success as a few have returned to their homes, but a large number are still reported as missing. Such an effort had never been launched in the past and the security agencies were generally considered to be beyond the domain of law. The effort that is finally underway to bring them within the realm of law and, in the process, address the simmering problem of the missing persons should be acknowledged and supported. Let it also be recorded that this effort is still underway and the Chief Justice has repeatedly vowed that it’ll continue till all the missing persons return to their homes. The case, therefore, remains sub-judice. Why then, at this critical juncture, has the government considered it wise to invite a UN Mission to come and look into the matter? Should it follow that this is a vile move to embarrass the good work of the judiciary? Its credentials already seriously dented because of involvement in sordid machinations to affront the apex court, the government needs to come up with a credible explanation.

Now to the issue itself which has to be viewed as part of the larger problem of Balochistan. For too long now, efforts have been made to push it under the rug. Like an ostrich, our policy-makers believe that, after a while, the problem would go away. Instead, over years, it has only enhanced in expanse and ferocity. Also, it is now the focus of international attention which may be partly geared to embarrassing Pakistan. But, that cannot be cited as an excuse to make the world believe that peace prevails in Balochistan when, instead, the situation is deteriorating rapidly and the writ of the state is fast obliterating. Killings are a daily occurrence and sectarian carnages have become a routine happening.

More than anything else, the conflict appears to be a clash of well-entrenched mindsets. While succeeding ruling mafias, military and ‘democratic’ alike, have believed that it is their inherent right to use the resources of the province as they deem fit (ala former East Pakistan), the vastly aggrieved people of the province disagree vehemently and lay a claim on their resources to be used principally for their development before being transmitted to other parts of the country. This should be viewed in the context that while Balochistan is by far the richest province of the country in terms of natural resources, it remains the least developed of the federating units. The aggrieved feeling has accentuated with the passage of time and, today, it is like a simmering cauldron that may soon become an inferno. The tragedy is that there is least awareness of this gruesome prospect and only half-hearted efforts are being made to douse the flames that are gradually raging out of control.

I have repeatedly asserted that the situation cannot and should not be left to the security agencies to handle. They have not been able to do it in the past and there is no way they can do so in the future, more so now that the situation is far graver than it ever was. In the process, the unnecessary penchant among out policy-makers and security agencies to put the blame on foreign-engineered conspiracies should also be remedied as the problem actually lies within us and the manner in which we have tried to address the issue through all the years that it has been simmering and begging for attention. It may have escalated but, perhaps, it is still not completely out of control. For the issue to be addressed in earnest, it would require a genuine change of approach both in terms of the dynamics of our understanding and the tools and instruments that we have traditionally used to solving it.

The national leadership, both political and military, should also make an effort to learn from our history and ensure that past mistakes are not repeated that have cost the country dearly. No one wants that, but the way things are going, the unfortunate eventuality may not be far away. Balochistan, in more than one way, is integral to the security and sovereignty of Pakistan and a negotiated settlement there is a pre-requisite for peace in the rest of the country. The problem can be addressed only through a political initiative that should aim at a minimum confluence of interests and then building on that over years to provide a sustainable base for peace, progress and prosperity of the people living in the province. The need is to cross the threshold of a mindset that is antiquated and does not quite fit in with either the demand of times or the feelings of the aggrieved people of the province.

The writer is a political analyst. He can be reached at [email protected]

Raoof Hasan

The writer is a political analyst and the Executive Director of the Regional Peace Institute. He can be reached at: [email protected]; Twitter: @RaoofHasan.