The longstanding tension between the Baloch and Islamabad has assumed a new dimension as a result of two major changes. Firstly, the media revolution in Pakistan has heightened the awareness of the situation in Balochistan and at the same time the problem became internationalised. Secondly, today people who are involved in the insurgency are mostly under the age of thirty and belong to the middle class. The policies of the establishment have raised the level of resentment in the ordinary Baloch. What this means is that today the state of Pakistan is not fighting with a bunch of separatists or terrorists but it is facing resistance from Baloch doctor, teachers, lawyers, poets and other educated people.
The history of Balochistan shows that the interests of the common Baloch have always had the least priority in the minds of our ruling elite. Our rulers have only paid lip service to the problems of the province instead of taking concrete measures. Take the example of the current government. Although President Zardari publicly apologised to the Baloch nation and initiated the “Aghaz-e-Huqooq-e-Balochistan” package, but the government did not start a single development project in the province which could make a difference in the life of the ordinary resident of the province.
The people of Balochistan have their own unique history, culture and worldview. The policy of military solution adopted by the establishment in Balochistan has led them see the state of Pakistan as a colonial master. Lack of democracy in much of Pakistan’s history has also hindered political efforts to remove Baloch grievances. During martial laws or dictatorship the army rule has always favoured a military solution over the political one. For instance, Gen Pervez Musharraf openly declared that the insurgents in Balochistan will not know what hit them. Can we imagine how such a statement by the then president of the country affected people who have suffered torture, inhuman treatment and abuse of their rights at the hands of their own state, which should be the guarantor of their rights? It is the direct result of this military policy and killing of Nawab Akbar Bugti that today the Punjabis settled in Balochistan for generations are being killed because of their ethnic identity. The killing of innocent Punjabis shows that after the murder of Bugti the Baloch insurgents see our army as a Punjabi army and attempts to settle scores with the establishment by killing Punjabis. Of course, one cannot deny the involvement of international players in the area due to its geo-strategic location.
The biggest obstacle in a peace process for Balochistan is lack of trust between the Baloch and our ruling elite, and the Baloch have good reasons for not trusting the government. How can the Baloch leaders trust the state of Pakistan when abductions and extrajudicial killings are on the rise? The conditions have markedly deteriorated since 2008. Organisations like Human Rights Watch have documented continued enforced disappearances and an upsurge in the killings of suspected Baloch militants and opposition activists by the paramilitary Frontier Corps. Across Balochistan since 2011 at least 300 people have been abducted and killed and their bodies abandoned—acts widely referred to as “kill and dump” operations.
All politically aware people and parties in our country know that the situation in Balochistan is heading towards the point of no return. The Baloch leaders and nation are not ready to trust us and they take any promises for the improvement of the conditions as a joke. If the killings and lawlessness continue then the unfortunate episode of East Pakistan can be repeated. We Pakistanis are a very emotional people who believe in politics of slogans rather than politics action and services. The Balochistan conflict will not be solved through slogans or killing insurgents.
The present government recently issued a statement that Islamabad will only enter into negotiations with those Baloch separatists who will throw away their guns. After a series of broken promises it is an unrealistic expectation that the Baloch will trust us once again and disarm themselves. In order to negotiate with the separatists the military and civilian leaderships of Pakistan need to take confidence-building measures which narrow the distances between the nationalists and the central government.
Three things must be immediately done to regain the confidence of the Baloch. Firstly, the government should immediately take steps to stop the disappearances in the province. However, this cannot be done without the authorisation of the establishment as we all know that it does not matter who is president or prime minister, because ultimately our armed forces are the most powerful institution of the country and the kill-and-dump crimes cannot be stopped until they join in the effort. Secondly, officials who are involved in the missing persons’ cases should be brought to justice. This act will help the Baloch realise that the state is serious about combating terrorism and unconstitutional acts. The Supreme Court is already playing its role by trying to address the issue of missing persons. The government should support the chief justice’s efforts to end this bloody war. Finally, we need to put culprits in the Bugti murder on trial. The suggested steps seem impossible as the concept of justice is alien to our country but we do need to adopt some strong measures if we want to save this country from destruction.
The writer is a legal caseworker at the Islamic Human Rights Commission in London.