Talking to Baloch insurgents
During his visit to Gwadar this month, Prime Minister Imran Khan expressed a desire to talk to Baloch nationalist insurgents. It goes without saying that the aim is to address their grievances, which are rooted in a sense of alienation accumulated over many decades.
Khan is not the first prime minister who has shown a willingness to extend an olive branch to the insurgents in the larger interest of the province, which, despite having some of the country's largest reservoirs of natural resources, has remained neglected and underdeveloped through the years. Notwithstanding Imran Khan’s sincere intention to resolve Balochistan’s issue, the question is, can he truly establish the province to become a democratically governed federal unit of Pakistan? This is no mean task and in all this time, practically no real effort has been invested in this direction.
Every economic package so far announced for the uplift of Balochistan has proved to be nothing but temporary balm on a damning wound. Balochistan is now in its fifth wave of insurgency. What began as a demand to make Balochistan a state with a treaty status with the British colonialist crown transformed into a struggle to ‘free’ the province.
Each strategy used by the state to manage the insurgency has so far backfired. But in 1978, the insurgents abandoned their insurgency in return for finding a parliamentary or democratic solution to Balochistan’s woes. For 25 years, until they again picked up guns again in 2002, a disgruntled new generation of Baloch waited to see Balochistan treated as an equal federating unit-- to no avail. The proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back and triggered the fifth insurgency was the killing of Nawab Akbar Bugti and the state’s narrow wisdom that followed.
The government has decided not to talk to the elements which have India’s backing in Balochistan, and has said it will review matters on a case-by-case basis. But this raises logistical questions. For example, how will the state differentiate between Indian-sponsored and independent insurgents?
Instead of owning the problem, the state has solely blamed neighboring rival India for turning Balochistan into Pakistan’s underbelly through funding nationalist insurgents. It is not that India has not played an exceedingly dirty role in stoking the insurgency. It certainly has, but a look inwards will reveal that the denial of rights to their own resources is what pushed Balochistan’s rebels into India’s waiting arms.
The government has decided not to talk to the elements which have India’s backing in Balochistan, and has said it will review matters on a case-by-case basis. But this raises logistical questions. For example, how will the state differentiate between Indian-sponsored and independent insurgents? And if the governance structure in Balochistan remains unchanged, will the exercise of holding dialogue be just a drill to change skin rather than turn hearts?
Going forward from here, Imran and the security establishment will need to be on the same page if efforts to placate Baloch rebels are to remain an attempt rooted in coherency.
When the former Chief Minister of Balochistan, Dr. Abdul Malik, initiated a similar talk with the insurgents, they asked him whether he had the mandate to solve the Balochistan situation politically. Unfortunately, Malik failed to give a convincing answer, and his well-intentioned gambit ran foul eventually.
Akhtar Jan Mangle, the Chairman of Balochistan National Party, has already termed Imran Khan’s initiative a non-starter, especially in view of the appointment of a political novice, the Jamhoori Watan Party chief, and MNA Nawabzada Shah Zain Bugti, as the Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Reconciliation and Harmony in Balochistan.
Not only does he lack political maturity, but he is also unacceptable to Baloch leaders such as Khan of Kalat, Javed Mengal, Hairbyar Marri, and others from his own clan.
It is needless to say that the people of Balochistan deserve a peaceful and secure life, especially now when the province is on the cusp of CPEC’s looming era of development.
– Durdana Najam is an oped writer based in Lahore. She writes on security and policy issues.