NATIONAL Party President Hasil Bizenjo has reiterated his party’s sensible belief that the only path to resolving Balochistan’s issues is political dialogue. A central committee meeting of the NP in Quetta has also called for the return to Pakistan of tribal leaders in exile and suggested that their path back to the country is being blocked by elements hostile to peace here. Taken together, the NP’s statements suggest that a long-standing militarised approach to Balochistan’s political problems continues to dominate. If peace in the province is to be achieved, that approach must change. The unhappy reality of Balochistan is that a long-running low-level Baloch insurgency has been treated by the security establishment as merely a byproduct of other regional security challenges. At various times, an insurgency rooted in political grievances of some Baloch has been cast as externally sponsored to destabilise Pakistan or retard economic growth in the province and the country.

With the advent of CPEC, the strategic importance of Balochistan to the state has been further elevated. While undoubtedly important to the economic future of the country, CPEC projects in Balochistan have drawn persistent criticism from Baloch leaders and activists for not doing enough for the Baloch people directly. That familiar pattern — of Balochistan’s strategic significance being deliberately held above the socioeconomic needs and political rights of the people of Balochistan — also needs to change. The long-running Baloch insurgency continues primarily because it feeds off the legitimate grievances of many Baloch people. While it is possible that some Baloch separatists have sought the assistance of outside powers, a proxy war between rival states is not the primary reason that swathes of Baloch areas remain in turmoil and have become virtual no-go areas for the rest of the country. The militarised approach to security in Balochistan, rather than a broader view that encompasses socioeconomic progress and political rights, has become a fundamental part of the problem and cannot be part of the solution for the province.

Certainly, the Baloch separatists and leaders in exile must also reconsider their own strategies. The suffering that a decade and a half of insurgency and counter-insurgency has inflicted on the Baloch people is significant and undeniable. While on the fringes of the insurgency there may be no room for any kind of compromise with the Pakistani state, it still does appear that the majority of the Baloch prefer a political settlement inside the framework and Constitution of the Pakistani state. If sections of the state have taken an uncompromising line on Balochistan, the separatists and their leaders in exile have exacerbated the problem by their own inflexibility and intransigence. However, the comments made by the NP suggest that a fresh opening for peace may be at hand. The separatists who are willing to talk must be urgently engaged in dialogue.

Published in Dawn, September 28th, 2017

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