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ISLAMABAD, May 26: Mainstream and nationalist political parties on Saturday unanimously called upon the government to stop the military operation in Balochistan, take steps for resolving the missing persons issue and work for a political solution to heal the province’s wounds.

The call was made at a ‘National Conference on Balochistan Issue & its Solution’, organised by the Supreme Court Bar Association here.

Nawaz Sharif, the PML-N president, PTI chairman Imran Khan, PPP leader Raza Rabbani, PML-Q secretary general Mushahid Hussain Sayed, National Party chief Dr Abdul Hai Baloch and Qazi Hussain Ahmed, the former chief of Jamaat-i-Islami, were some of the prominent speakers.

Nawaz Sharif held dictators responsible for Balochistan’s grievances, saying that their policies had forced people to take up arms. He said the situation started worsening after Akbar Bugti’s assassination, recalling that even members of his family were not allowed to attend his funeral.Mr Sharif, overtaken by introspection, admitted that “directly or indirectly I was also a part of what happened in Balochistan”, but promised not to be “used by the military establishment” in future.

He said had President Asif Ali Zardari redeemed his pledges and worked for the nation’s welfare, he could have stayed in the President’s House for another two terms.

Mr Sharif recalled that when Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani announced a financial package for Balochistan, he had advised him to take steps for recovery of missing persons and arrest the murderers of Akbar Bugti.

Imran Khan, chief of the Tehrik-i-Insaf, asked the government to announce a general amnesty for Baloch activists, give provincial autonomy and introduce a local government system in Balochistan.

He called upon politicians to come forward to solve the Balochistan issue because military operations had always failed in the province.

Raza Rabbani, the PPP stalwart, said Balochistan had always been ignored by governments, but the time had come to admit that “we have made mistakes”.

He said when the 18th Amendment was under consideration, parliamentarians from Balochistan asked him how would it be ensured that provinces would get their rights. They feared that the amendment would further strengthen the centre, Mr Rabbani said.

Dr Abdul Hai Baloch, chief of the National Party, said solution of the Balochistan issue was not difficult. Problems aggravated because every government at the centre tried to impose its decision on the province.

Mushahid Hussain Sayed said “involvement of the agencies” should be stopped to ensure peace in Balochistan.

He said transparent elections should be held in the province to restore people’s faith in the federation.

Qazi Hussain Ahmed said that during Ayub Khan’s regime, the army was allowed to arrest any person without assigning a reason.

“We have to admit the Baloch have the first right over natural resources of the province,” he said.

Dr Abdul Malik Baloch, a leader of the National Party, said the government should dissect its mistakes instead of blaming the Baloch for all problems.

He said about 500 political workers had so far been killed in the operation, urging the government not to “involve agencies” in the next general election.

Supreme Court Bar Association’s president Yaseen Azad said the situation in Balochistan was not very different from that of former East Pakistan in 1971. The agencies had been interfering in all matters, he alleged.

“We should go for a political solution because courts cannot solve issues of governance.”

Former SCBA president Asma Jahangir said the time had come to decide whether “we want to have Balochistan or not because if we once again manipulate election results, we will lose the province”.

RESOLUTION: The conference adopted a resolution unanimously.

The resolution read: “The politics of garrison should be replaced by the civilian authorities that genuinely represent the will of the people.

“It is crucial to ensure that all those responsible for authoring and killing of Akbar Bugti should be forthwith arrested and brought to justice in an open trial.

“The situation in Balochistan is complex and solutions too, must be found in multiple directions, including renegotiation of

the question of provincial autonomy with economic resources to the province. Nevertheless, the participants emphasised that the crisis was one which could only be resolved through political dialogue, negotiations and through building confidence between the people of Balochistan and the federal government.

“Post-introduction of the 18th Amendment, an effective mechanism should also be set up to ensure that all natural resources in Balochistan are under the control of people of the area, while peaceful negotiations continue to meet new challenges.

“All those citizens of Pakistan who are long settled in Balochistan irrespective of their language, caste or belief be equally respected and their social and economic rights be protected.

“A concerted effort should be made to respect the economic, ethnic, linguistic and cultural rights of all those living in Pakistan and, in particular, of the Baloch nation. This consultation recognises that diversity of cultures in the country and aspires to celebrate it rather than oppress it.

“The Supreme Court of Pakistan should be commended for taking up the case of missing people in Balochistan but the conference urges that those accused of heinous crimes of killings and disappearances should be brought to justice.

“An inter-parliamentary committee should prepare a white paper on the human rights violations carried out in Balochistan during the Musharraf regime to the present day. The report should be presented and discussed in parliament.

“All political prisoners and missing persons in custody of different state agencies be released forthwith.

“All religious leaders of different sects should commit themselves to create the culture of tolerance and religious harmony respecting each other’s beliefs and ideological thoughts.

“In parallel to political negotiations, all military and para-military operations are to be stopped forthwith and the army and Frontier Constabulary are to be called back to cantonment.”