Between the devil and deep sea

(THE NATION, DEC, 20,2004)

Between the devil and deep sea

The latest bomb blast in Quetta, that is believed to be aimed at targeting the army personnel, resulted in slaughter of innocent people. Once again, Baloch Liberation Army (BLA), a hidden outfit that is engaged in an armed struggle against the government that aspires to liberate Balochistan by means of an armed struggle, has accepted responsibility for this blood-spattered event.
The government has termed it an act of terrorism of those elements that wish to derail the developmental process in Balochistan. However, the government reiterated its stance that such acts of terrorism were not likely to undermine its resolve in fighting terrorism and developing Balochistan. President Pervez Musharraf, in a statement that condemned the attack, said the perpetrators of this assault would not be spared.
Despite the expectations that the formation of the Senate’s subcommittee on Balochistan, headed by Senator Mushahid Hussain, and its recent visit to Quetta, Dara Bugti and Gwadar would improve the political situation in Balochistan and all issues would be settled amicably, the occurrence of the recent bomb blast manifests the fact that the situation in that province is unchanged.
The ongoing insurgency in Balochistan is directly linked with the mega projects being constructed in Balochistan. Candidly confessing the injustices of past with the country’s largest but the least populated province, President Musharraf, soon after taking charge as the head of this country, launched a series of mega projects in Balochistan. He claimed all these mega projects were aimed at eradicating Balochistan’s sense of deprivation and backwardness and bringing it at par with rest of the provinces.
The mega projects include Gwadar deep-sea port, Mirani dam, Coastal highway and Sandik gold project. In spite of the masses immense happiness over the induction of these projects in that area, the nationalists in Balochistan began to resist these mega projects by saying that they were not aimed at developing Balochistan but, they alleged, the government wanted to convert the Baloch majority into minority by providing the outsiders an opportunity to settle in Gwadar and possess property.
They too insisted that the government must assure the local people will be given the first priority in jobs and the non-locals, who are predestined to come to that region as soon as Gwadar port begins operating should not be given political rights.
The Baloch nationalists sounded justified in their demands, as unless the local people were provided jobs, it would not be probable to eradicate the backwardness and poverty of Balochistan. At the same time, there emerged two kinds of pro-Balochistan elements. One was that of the nationalist politicians who maintained that they were not opposed to development but they had a few reservations that should be removed. These parties insisted that their reservations must be paid heed and removed. These nationalists included the Balochistan National Party of Sardar Attaullah Mengal, National Party of Dr Hayee, Jamori Watan Party of Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti.
When the agitation of Baloch leaders and BLA rose to a great extent, the government realised there was no way but to negotiate with the Baloch nationalists to deescalate political tension in Balochistan. Subsequently, a Senate’s sub-committee was formulated. The committee’s formation was widely welcomed even by those leaders who had in past expressed their reservations about the mega projects. Kachkool Ali leader of opposition in Balochistan Assembly who represents National Party, welcomed the committee’s formation and expressed hope that it would facilitate in bridging the gap between the government and the Baloch nationalists.
Sanaullah Baloch, a leading young Baloch nationalist senator from Balochistan National Party of Sardar Attaullah Mengal, too was included in the committee that was given the task of identifying Balochistan’s problems and give its recommendations within 90 days. The committee also held a cordial meeting with the seasoned Baloch leader Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, who too expressed satisfaction over his talks with Senator Mushahid Hussain and said that he was hopeful that unlike the past experiences, this committee would come with Balochistan-friendly recommendations.
But BLA, that too claims to be struggling for the rights of Balochistan, does not seem to be pleased with the all process. Since this organisation is hidden and not much is known about its policies, it is very hard to know what BLA actually thinks about the government’s plans to settle the Balochistan crisis. But its attacks manifestly show that its is not delighted with the democratic way of bringing the Balochistan crisis to an end and it too is bent upon ‘snatching’ the rights of Balochistan by violence.
This is a very complex situation, as one group within the Balochs desires the resolution of problems by democratic means while the other is obstinately perpetrating acts of terror. These attacks in the province can only worsen the situation in Balochistan. It is yet to be seen what strategy the government devises to deal with this problem. When president Musharraf says his government is not to be browbeaten by these acts of terror, it should, at the same time, be admitted that violence and prosperity cannot live in one area. Gwadar is too small a town to be a paradise for investors and for the terrorists simultaneously. Either one of them can live there.
After the Quetta bomb blast, a very difficult situation has developed in Balochistan. If on one hand the nationalist parties seem to have little or no control over the Balochistan Liberation Army, BLA, one the other hand does not seem to be willing to halt its attacks on the government’s interests. However, the future of Balochistan situation entirely hinges upon the government’s future plans. We need to wait and see.

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