EVERY ‘Balochistan development package’ proposed by successive federal governments that has come to naught has only increased the sense of alienation among the Baloch. Such declarations appear to them to be no more than an exercise periodically indulged in to give lip service to addressing the province’s deprivation. In 2009, for instance, the PPP government announced the Aghaz-i-Haqooq-i-Balochistan package with great fanfare; that sank without a trace. In 2017, a few months before the general election, then prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi declared an economic package for the province which died a natural death with the polls. On Friday, during a meeting of the National Development Council, Prime Minister Imran Khan set up a three-member committee to prioritise areas where development should be undertaken in Balochistan, with a focus on communications, agriculture, energy and other important sectors. At the meeting, it was also decided to set up the Balochistan Mineral Company to enhance exploration of mineral resources in the province. Can this initiative succeed where so many others have failed? Has there been any introspection within the state apparatus that has brought some understanding of our hitherto ruinous policy towards Balochistan?
After decades of broken promises, political engineering and enforced disappearances, the trust deficit between the centre and the Baloch is vast. Yet it is not, one hopes, unbridgeable. The majority of them yearn to live in peace and dignity, with the space to exercise the autonomy that is their right under the 18th Amendment. One of their fundamental grievances is that Balochistan has been deprived of its fair share in the mineral wealth that lies beneath its land, and that it is exploited as a colony rather than treated as an equal member of the federation. The province has indeed long been viewed through a narrow securitised lens, with its people’s legitimate expectations being made to take a back seat to national geostrategic concerns. Such an environment has provided fertile ground for regional powers to make mischief and foment rebellion. While the ongoing insurgency has been simmering since nearly a decade and a half, recent attacks carried out by banned Baloch separatist outfits indicate they can still draw new recruits to their cause. These groups are also manifesting a shift towards a more lethal modus operandi. To neutralise them ironically requires not a security-centric but a political solution, one rooted in a rights-based approach that prioritises the aspirations of the Baloch.
Published in Dawn, July 27th, 2020