In the last two weeks, after a gap of many years, talk of counterinsurgency and the Taliban were eclipsed with that of the Baloch nationalists/insurgents/separatists (the term of choice to describe the disgruntled from the largest province of the country differing between various media outlets).The focus was so sharp on Balochistan that back-to-back stories were filed every day and given prominent space in newspapers while columnists wrote daily on the situation and even the television talk show hosts took a break from the Memogate and Supreme Court to clamour about it. The impetus to this flurry of activity was of course provided by the unexpected meeting of the US House Committee on Foreign Affairs on the situation in Balochistan.
Meanwhile in the Parliament too, the issue of unrest in Balochistan was taken up by the legislators. The government presented details of the funds that have been and would be spent under the much-hyped Aaghaz-i-Huqooq-i-Balochistan, and seemingly on paper the progress has been positive.
The National Assembly was informed that under the head of Gas Development Surcharges (GDS) arrears prior to 1991, the federal government would give Rs120 billion to the province over a period of 12 years. Of this amount, the government has already released Rs10 billion and another Rs6 billion would be spent by the end of fiscal 2012.
To create 5,000 posts for graduates of Balochistan, the government will be spending Rs3.418 billion over four years. Of this amount, the government has released Rs1.54 billion.
Moreover, for the resettlement and rehabilitation of internally displaced persons of Dera Bugti, the government has released one billion rupees. The federal minister for finance and revenue in a written reply informed the house that the government was fully committed to releasing these funds for the welfare of the people of Balochistan.
However, for all and sundry including the elected representatives from the province, these funds and measures are a façade. Lt-General (retired) Abdul Qadir Baloch of the Pakistan Muslim League–Nawaz (PML-N) and an elected legislator from Balochistan claimed that the present provincial government was busy distributing millions of rupees among its legislators to keep the provincial government intact.
"In the house of 65, PPP only has 14 MPAs. It is not difficult to fathom the real reason it has been able to keep them in the government by doling out millions of rupees without any proper audit," Qadir Baloch told Dawn .
According to PML-N legislator from Balochistan, there is only one man in the opposition as nearly all members have one portfolio or the other. "Each member of the Balochistan provincial assembly has received Rs250 million as development funds, whereas as an MNA I have only got a development grant of Rs20 million," he complained.
Hence, he opines that the government has only released a fraction of the sum it claims it has given to Balochistan under the package. "I wish I could someday inform the house how much money has been released for the development of the province," he said.
When Dawn questioned Syed Nasir Ali Shah, a PPP MNA from Quetta city, about the apparent inability of his party's government to address the problems of the province, he did not disagree: "The government is busy taking cosmetic measures and not broaching the real issues. Since 70s no government had made any real effort to address concerns of Baloch people."
Mr Shah, a vocal critic of the PPP governments in the centre and province for their poor performance, added: "Since the creation of Pakistan, we have only wanted provincial autonomy which is very much allowed within the constitution of the country. However, no federal government has honoured this commitment."
Mr Shah further claimed that peace could only be wrought about if the government "spoke to the real Baloch" who according to him "are currently hiding in the mountains".
"The government should talk to the estranged Baloch people and bring them back to mainstream politics if at all it was interested in a real time change in the province," he said. "It's ironic that on one hand the COAS tells the world that the army has gone back to the barracks and on the other hand the number of missing people keeps rising. When we ask for an explanation, my government puts the blame on foreign hands," he complained.
For now the PPP government is undeterred from passing public statements about its efforts for reconciliation with disgruntled elements in the province. Last week, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani announced that an All Parties Conference (APC) on Balochistan would be convened. He accepted that his government despite best efforts could not maintain law and order situation there. Moreover, he also admitted the fact that the case of the missing people had tarnished the image of Pakistan internationally, and a resolution was needed to address it through consensus among all political parties.
Both General Baloch and Mr Shah, however, are too jaded to think too much into this effort.
"In the past, many such initiatives had been taken by various governments which proved to be complete failures. I don't see anything positive," responded Mr Shah.Whereas Qadir Baloch commented: "Baloch nationalists need to be taken on board, otherwise, the APC would not make any difference."
Given the rocky trajectory of Pakistan's journey, this is yet another game that will be played out over the next a few years. With elections expected this year, it is the PPP government's responsibility not to treat this merely as a power tussle – money will have to be pumped in no doubt for real development and to appease sentiments of the neglect, and the government will have to be more forthcoming in its communication with the Baloch. The steps taken now will matter more than ever for decades to come.