FAR from the power centres of Islamabad, Rawalpindi and Lahore lies Balochistan, a vast land where misery prevails with its people forsaken by the state and caught between armed separatists and security forces. Though the Baloch separatist insurgency is currently in a low phase, militants continue to attack security personnel, and the situation in the province is far from normal. Every so often, the military announces that leading Baloch separatists and their cadres have given up their arms, and promised to work for the betterment of Pakistan. The capture of Gulzar Imam Baloch, alias Shambay, which was announced last month, largely follows the same script. The former head of the banned Balochistan National Army was produced before the media on Tuesday, where he declared his willingness to serve as a bridge between the state and Baloch militants. Apparently, Gulzar Imam has realised the waywardness of his earlier path, and has vowed to play a role for the development of Balochistan through peaceful means.
As mentioned above, several Baloch fighters have earlier laid down their arms in similar fashion. Yet the question remains: if hundreds of armed men over the past many years have abandoned the gun, why does the Baloch insurgency persist? One explanation is the involvement of hostile foreign actors, which Gulzar Imam also brought up during his meet-the-press event. While it is true that evidence points to the deeds of malevolent foreign forces in Balochistan, the malaise affecting the province has far deeper, localised roots. Principally, many of Balochistan’s people feel they are marginalised; there are good reasons for these feelings. The fact is that the province is, in many areas, decades behind the rest of Pakistan. And the primary responsibility for the pathetic state of affairs lies with the administration, particularly the establishment, which practically controls the province. Parading ex-militants who now have become ‘ardent supporters’ of the official narrative may have a limited effect. But to really take the wind out of the separatists’ sails, Balochistan must be brought into the national mainstream, its people made partners in the province’s progress. This can only be done when the elected representatives of Balochistan’s people have actual power to steer their province in the right direction, and ensure that the popular will is respected. Militarised solutions to political and socioeconomic problems will not bring peace to Balochistan.
Published in Dawn, May 25th, 2023
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