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Positive signals

September 29, 2012

AKHTAR Mengal’s appearance before the Supreme Court on Thursday to plead for a change in state policy towards Balochistan was a much-needed move. At the very least it has sent a positive signal that mainstream Balochistan has still not given up on the state of Pakistan — or at least parts of it — to come to the rescue of the violence-hit province. The SC’s efforts to rein in the unaccountable security establishment in Balochistan have not had much success to date but in the run-up to a general election, it is significant that the leader of a pro-Pakistan and moderate Baloch party, the Balochistan National Party-Mengal, has taken the opportunity to present his case on the national stage. Whether Mr Mengal’s prescribed solution — the six points he mooted before the court — will be implemented, or even listened to, in the quarters that matter when it comes to Balochistan is an open question. So far, the security establishment has not given any indication of its willingness to listen to voices of reason. Equally, the moderate voices from Balochistan and outside have largely not been heard in recent times. And perhaps the first step towards stabilising the province is having moderates speak up and put pressure in a concerted manner on the state security apparatus.

Mr Mengal’s return to Pakistan from self-exile is also significant in the context of the upcoming elections. The best-case scenario for Balochistan would be for the moderate Baloch and Pakhtun parties — the BNP-M, the National Party and Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party — to contest the upcoming general election and win enough seats to form a provincial government. That would reverse the disastrous decision of boycotting elections in 2008 that opened the door to self-serving interests in the province to grab power and to do virtually nothing to try and bring the warring sides in the province closer together over the past four and a half years — as has happened under the government of Chief Minister Aslam Raisani. The moderates need to put their best foot forward now, for enough time has already been lost in Balochistan.