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LAHORE, Jan 4: Speakers at a two-day conference on Friday urged the political and military leadership in Pakistan to engage Balochistan in national mainstream, involving its democratic forces to take part in the next election.

They termed Balochistan a country’s strategic treasure and an integral part which should be integrated and strengthened through joint efforts of political and military leadership.

The largest province was facing serious internal and external challenges of militancy, ethnic and sectarian violence and foreign interference that could be met by political will, uniform justice and development.

The conference on Balochistan was jointly held by the Pakistan Institute of National Affairs and the Punjab University. The speakers included political leaders from Balochistan and Lahore in addition to intellectuals, political scientists, journalists and defence analysts.

Pina Secretary-General Altaf Hasan Qureshee said the conference was aimed at evolving a roadmap of peace and development in the disturbed province. He said he hoped that Gen Ashfaq Kayani would take more confidence building measures to heal the wounds inflicted by previous military operations in Balochistan.

Dr Jahanzeb Jamaldini of BNP (Akhtar Mengal group) said political forces were under great threat, and contesting elections was becoming difficult. The people of Balochistan should be given political and financial autonomy and all sections of society should uphold the principle of merit and justice. He condemned killings and incidents of missing persons in Balochistan.

Syed Faseeh Iqbal said the hard stance taken by the Baloch militant youth could be softened by respecting sensitivities and traditions of the tribal society.

National Party Secretary-General Tahir Bizenjo said the Balochistan issue could be resolved by empowering its people.

Hafiz Hussain Ahmad of JUI-F lamented that Balochistan was ignored by the federal government as well as the provincial set-up.

A number of military operations had created hatred among the people against the establishment.

PML-N MNA Lt-Gen Abdul Qadir Baloch (retired) elaborated the multi-dimensional conflict in Balochistan and demanded that the Senate should be given more powers and rational representation to strengthen federation.

He said the main cause of insurgency was the killing of Akbar Bugti.

Abdul Hakeem Baloch said historically Balochistan was an integral part of Pakistan.

When there were doubts about the creation of Pakistan it was Khan of Kalat who offered to the Quaid-i-Azam that Kalat would be a part of Pakistan, he said.

Abdul Khaliq Hazara said over 800 Hazaras had been killed by sectarian extremists. He demanded religious tolerance and democratic ways to bring the culprits to justice and protect citizens.

PPP MNA Ayatullah Durrani said the real issue of Balochistan was massive corruption and the criminal mafia which were eroding the writ of the state. Anwaar-ul-Haq Kaker of the PML-N suggested that peace and tranquility could be restored in Balochistan by following the model of Madina state.

Abdul Qayyum Kaker highlighted the impact of corruption and unemployment in the province.

Syed Fakhar Imam said Pakistan’s future was directly linked to the strategically located Balochistan.

Shahid Hamid said the provincial autonomy had been devolved and adequate funds transferred to Balochistan, it was the responsibility of its people to develop their province as they desired.

He said some quarters exaggerated the figures pertaining to Balochistan that caused confusion. Nearly 98 missing persons were on the record of the Supreme Court as against thousands misquoted by the media.

S.M Zafar said he hoped that things would improve as civil society in Balochistan had become more organized and vibrant.

Prof Dr Mujahid Kamran thanked the participants, particularly the Baloch speakers, for attending the conference.

He said that his university was providing free education and stipend of Rs3,000 per month to each of the 100 students from Balochistan. He promised to increase this number.

Qayyum Nizami, Dr Hasan Askari Rizvi, Ehsan Wyne, Yasin Azad, Maj-Gen Muhammad Farooq (retired), Brig Farooq Hameed Khan (retired), Chaudhry Yaqoob, Brig Nadir Mir (retired) also spoke.

The conference also issued a declaration spelling out the roadmap.