Spoiling peace

Published January 7, 2024
The writer is a security analyst.
The writer is a security analyst.

WHAT if the doors of Prime Minister House had opened for the Baloch protesters demanding an end to enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings, and what if the president of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan had given them a chance to share their painful stories?

Wouldn’t this have been a substantial confidence-building measure for a province suffering from insurgency, terrorism, bad governance, and economic crisis for decades?

The victims’ families — currently camped out in the open in the midst of the Islamabad winter — had come for justice and needed empathetic treatment from the state. They were given a brutal reception by the police and heard spiteful remarks from caretakers in the government.

If the caretakers’ response to the protesters is taken as the response of Pakistan’s institutions, it can only be interpreted as a sign that the centre remains unwilling to rethink its strategy for dealing with Balochistan.

If that is the case, how does one interpret the efforts by the security establishment to open a dialogue with Baloch society, especially its youth? Either the state institutions are confused, or they have been trapped by those who seek to spoil peace.

Stedman’s theory of the spoiler problem in peace processes can help shed more light on this situation. The theory is a pillar in conflict studies: it defines spoilers as leaders and parties who believe that an emerging peace threatens their power, interests, and worldview.

Like all ordinary Pakistanis, the Baloch simply yearn for respect.

Each spoiler is a distinct entity, and Stedman identifies four key challenges in managing spoilers: position (inside vs outside), number, goal type (limited, greedy, total), and locus (leadership vs followers). These factors influence how spoilers disrupt peace processes, as ‘inside’ spoilers use covert tactics, while ‘outside’ ones resort to overt violence.

In short, the Stedman theory can be described by thinking of a peace process as a fragile bridge being erected over a chasm of conflict. The spoilers are shadowy players who, driven by various motives, are determined to topple that bridge before it is complete.

The conflict in Balochistan is multifaceted, and the state and society are still struggling to find a strong bond for cohesion. In state policy, the province is considered a special case in all respects — from governance to resource distribution and political empowerment to security; everything has created a class of cronies.

The cronies are from diverse backgrounds, including state institutions, the political and tribal elite, religious clergy, bureaucracy, and contractors. They seek power and money from the crisis: resolving the conflict is never in their interest.

The state’s interest lies in stability, and institutions believe in maintaining the status quo. They see factors and actors challenging their order with suspicion. The state relies on the wisdom of its cronies, and it fears dialogue with actors who do not agree with its worldview and policies. If political compulsions build pressure to widen interactions with other stakeholders, the spoilers from the crony club start sabotaging the process.

The reason is simple: Stedman identified their greed and the fear of losing the advantages they enjoy behind their destructive tendencies. The worst aspect of the process is that they advocate using coercive measures and continue constructing and widening their definition of ‘enemy’.

For spoilers, all those who disagree with their policies, narratives, and worldview fall in the enemy category. This is interesting because the cronies themselves come from varied ethnic, religious, tribal, and social classes. They construct an exclusive and dichotomous definition of patriotism through which only they qualify to be patriots. For example, they portray themselves as modern yet oppose progressive political and social ideas. They claim to be religiously moderate but make alliances with religious fanatics. Stigmatising and labelling adversaries are spoiler tactics to win the support of powerful institutions.

Spoilers not only destroy peace processes, but they also fail their patrons and create hurdles in the way of any effort for reconciliation and cohesion. They articulate the situation in a way that holds the key to peace and stability.

Balochistan’s simmering discontent, fuelled by long-standing grievances, has defied repeated attempts at reconciliation. The state institutions have been experimenting with a host of measures to address the crisis, including giving amnesty. If we look deeper, the spoilers, who have somehow become ‘custodians’ of the peace process, can easily be identified. It is due to them that nothing changes.

They spoilt the Aghaz-i-Haqooq-i-Balochistan package during the Pakistan Peoples Party government (2008-13). The PML-N government (2013-18) followed in the same footsteps after making reconciliation with Baloch insurgent leaders a clause of the National Action Plan, announced in January 2015. The PTI government was no different in its approach. The security institutions also attempted to engage in a broader dialogue with the Baloch people, especially its youth. However, nothing really worked.

The reasons for these failures are also well-known, as is how the spoilers dismantled each of these initiatives. Balochistan demands two crucial things: first, addressing the issue of missing persons, and second, holding free and fair elections in the province. The state institutions seem willing to listen to all other grievances except these two.

Baloch families protesting their loved ones’ disappearances demand nothing but an end to enforced disappearances and the establishment of the rule of law. Different governments have attempted to address these issues through various initiatives and commissions, and even the superior courts have taken notice, but a definitive resolution of these challenges remains elusive.

Security institutions often seek impunity for actions taken during conflicts, but the missing persons issue in Balochistan has become a critical human rights crisis. Spoilers have exacerbated the situation by justifying these acts and politicising a purely human rights matter with inflammatory rhetoric and by manipulating media resources.

Like all ordinary Pakistanis, the Baloch people simply yearn for respect. The current chief justice of the Supreme Court is known for his strong stance on human rights and has a history of visiting persecuted journalists. A single gesture of empathy from him could have a transformative impact.

The writer is a security analyst.

Published in Dawn, January 7th, 2024

Opinion

Editorial

Bulldozed bill
22 May, 2024

Bulldozed bill

WHY is the Punjab government so keen on imposing dangerous legislation that would be unacceptable to any...
Out of the abyss
22 May, 2024

Out of the abyss

ENFORCED disappearances remain a persistent blight on fundamental human rights in the country. Recent exchanges...
Holding Israel accountable
22 May, 2024

Holding Israel accountable

ALTHOUGH the International Criminal Court’s prosecutor wants arrest warrants to be issued for Israel’s prime...
Iranian tragedy
Updated 21 May, 2024

Iranian tragedy

Due to Iran’s regional and geopolitical influence, the world will be watching the power transition carefully.
Circular debt woes
21 May, 2024

Circular debt woes

THE alleged corruption and ineptitude of the country’s power bureaucracy is proving very costly. New official data...
Reproductive health
21 May, 2024

Reproductive health

IT is naïve to imagine that reproductive healthcare counts in Pakistan, where women from low-income groups and ...