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Balochistan crisis

June 30, 2011

A fact-finding report by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, ‘Balochistan: blinkered slide into chaos’ has underlined the grim state of affairs in Pakistan’s geographically largest province: “Agents of the state, as well as the insurgents and extremists operating in the province, share a common disregard for rights of the citizens”.

Violence is being carried out by all sides. The insurgents have attacked and murdered Punjabi ‘settlers’, Baloch moderates and security personnel. Sectarian extremists have killed Shia Hazaras in the province. And the state, having seemingly discarded any semblance of respecting due process, has gone after insurgents and their supporters, allegedly abducting and killing scores of Baloch youth over the last year.

Several points need to be made. First, the insurgent and sectarian violence is outrageous and must be condemned. On the Baloch front, a separatist agenda pursued through the barrel of a gun is unacceptable. The problems of Pakistan, which includes those of the Baloch, must be resolved within the framework of a federal Pakistan. Second, the state’s response to the violence in Balochistan must be rooted in some principles. Responding to Baloch insurgent violence by abducting and killing insurgents and political supporters, as the HRCP and others have alleged is occurring, means the security forces have abandoned a basic responsibility: working within the confines of the law. While the security forces in Balochistan may justify their tactics on the grounds of another principle — ensuring that the many can live in relative peace and security and free from the armed threat of a few — there is a clear sense that more humane, legal measures for countering the insurgency have not been pursued with anywhere near the gusto as the illegal tactics have. Surely enough time has passed to have strengthened the judicial process to put on trial alleged insurgents rather than disposing of them in extrajudicial killings.

Third, the provincial and federal governments, which appear to have surrendered the security policy in Balochistan to the security establishment, must bear some of the blame. Standing on the sidelines, they have watched the cycle of violence unfold with minimal concern or attempts to intervene. When elected governments give up on their basic responsibilities, the chances of peaceful solutions to problems disappear. Fourth, Baloch moderates have been shamefully quiet for the past couple of years. Having unwisely boycotted the last elections and perhaps worried about getting caught in the cross-hairs of the Baloch extremists, the moderates have withdrawn from centre stage. But what is the future of a province where the most popular political leaders show no moral courage or leadership?