THIS week has seen activity in Balochistan that promises a thaw after a long and lonely winter. On Wednesday, former Punjab chief minister Shahbaz Sharif said that the decision by the PML-N government to sack the Akhtar Mengal-led government in 1998 was a mistake. Such an admission can heal wounds faster than countless visits to Balochistan by the Sharifs and other politicians and their endless condemnation of Gen Musharraf’s actions in the province. And those looking anxiously for other cracks in the ice hardened over the past decade can also take heart from the words of caretaker Prime Minister Mir Hazar Khan Khoso in Quetta on Thursday. He argued that the people of Balochistan wanted to participate in the coming elections.

It is heartening that a Baloch politician is so sure of his people’s desire to take part in the political process. What lends credence to his words is the decision of the mainstream nationalist parties to return to the electoral fold after having stayed away the last time. Elections and the political process can make a difference even if violence is being perpetrated by forces that are not in the control of those who were voted in. Wary though they may be, nationalist forces do seem to have realised that their five years in the wilderness were of no help to them or the province. They only ended up ceding ground to an incompetent and allegedly corrupt government — no one tried to talk to those who had picked up arms; the ugly disappearances that had begun under Gen Musharraf manifested themselves further in the dumping of mutilated bodies; and a sectarian monster reared its head to nearly engulf a community. Leaders such as Akhtar Mengal and Mehmood Khan Achakzai, representing a large section of the Baloch and Pakhtun populations of the province, may not be able to reverse this altogether but their participation in the polls will be a step in the right direction. The winter has been a long one but it now needs to end.

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