IN theory, it is a significant concession by the state, addressing one of the principal demands of militants in Balochistan: along with the release of the so-called missing persons in the province, offering an amnesty to those involved in militancy has been seen as a major step towards the end of the long-running, low-level insurgency in the province. But the announcement by the Balochistan apex committee, a high-level provincial body consisting of government and military officials, of a general amnesty for militants who surrender and the creation of a rehabilitation programme for such militants is unlikely to immediately change the security environment in the province. Unconditional surrenders and handover of arms to the state followed by an attempt to reintegrate armed Baloch into society are not uncommon — indeed, in recent weeks there have been reports of several low-level tribal leaders turning in their weapons to the Balochistan government. The real challenge in Balochistan centres on the militants who, in the vernacular, are believed to have taken to the hills and the non-tribal leaders who are driving much of the insurgency through swathes of Baloch-dominated areas in the province.
Will anyone of those Baloch elements be tempted to opt for even a temporary ceasefire in the wake of the apex committee’s announcements? It seems unlikely. For one, the insurgency itself is believed to have fractured, and splinter groups are harder to induce with state-sponsored incentives as well as more likely to be determined to keep fighting to establish their credentials. More fundamentally, however, none of the rhetoric emanating from the state suggests that there is a rethink of the militarised strategy for dealing with Balochistan’s militancy problems. Consider just some of the heated rhetoric surrounding the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, with blunt vows by both government and military officials to do whatever is necessary to ensure the project comes to fruition. Given that the principal known opponent in Balochistan of mega development projects by the centre are the Baloch militants, how does the tough line taken on the construction of the CPEC chime with an attempt at a more conciliatory, softer approach towards the militants themselves?
Surely, as the recent Mastung carnage and various other attacks over the years have underscored, the Baloch militants’ violent approach tends to undermine the nationalist goal of a more autonomous and prosperous Balochistan. Surely also the state has a responsibility to, as was reiterated by the committee, to ensure security by taking on irreconcilable and unwaveringly militant elements. But over a decade of trying to pacify Balochistan by crushing armed dissent has yielded precious little: large parts of Balochistan are today as inaccessible and cut off from the rest of the country as they were a decade ago. Balochistan is a political problem that should be settled through political means — until that reality is accepted, Balochistan will continue to bleed.
Published in Dawn, June 28th, 2015