Baloch insurgency

Updated March 11, 2016

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AT the time of Sanaullah Zehri’s ascension to the chief ministership of Balochistan it was not known what tack the new government would take.

Would Mr Zehri, a tribal chieftain with vast influence pursue reconciliation as the core goal of his new administration or would he continue the policies of the army-led security establishment?

Nearly three months into the new Balochistan administration, it appears that Mr Zehri is not serious about reconciliation and engaging the disaffected Baloch in dialogue. Perhaps the clearest sign of that is the frequency and intensity with which his government has boasted of the killing of Baloch separatists.

Consider the tone of the news conference held by a spokesperson of the Balochistan government on Wednesday to announce the death of a separatist militant. There was no attempt made to reach out to separatists, only a matter-of-fact announcement of the death of a wanted militant. Balochistan needs new direction.

Clearly, the previous provincial government, led by Abdul Malik Baloch, had not achieved great success on the reconciliation front. By the end of his term, Dr Baloch had all but given up on the possibility of a meaningful breakthrough in talks with separatists and militants.

The former chief minister had made some serious efforts, including travelling abroad and invoking the possibility of convening a grand jirga to encourage Suleman Dawood, the Khan of Kalat, to return to Pakistan, but none of his attempts were able to override the security establishment’s determination to crush the low-level Baloch insurgency.

If anything, CPEC and the vast investments it may bring to Balochistan have created a new determination to use military force to quell the insurgency.

As ever, the superior might of the security forces is likely to succeed — but perhaps at the political and social cost of alienating the Baloch population.

What Mr Zehri and his team need to do is create the space to engage the separatists. Partly that is a matter of will, but mostly it is a matter of priorities.

The tone and tenor of the new administration has drifted away from reconciliation and towards economic matters — an old approach. It is true that Balochistan’s dismal socioeconomic indicators need serious attention.

But it never has been an either-or scenario. Both policies should be pursued simultaneously.

Arguably, the core of the continuing insurgency in Balochistan is a sense of socioeconomic deprivation.

If those fears are addressed, the intensity of the insurgency is sure to lessen vastly. Successive governments in Balochistan have failed to change the security establishment’s hard-line views.

Perhaps a solution lies in the Islamabad-Rawalpindi relationship. The prime minister has both the status and political space to tackle hard matters. Moreover, it is a PML-N government that is at the helm of political affairs in Balochistan. Surely, that creates greater responsibilities in the province.

Published in Dawn, March 11th, 2016