No viable strategy for Balochistan
By Malik Siraj Akbar
While Balochistan continues to simmer and people are continuously picked up by intelligence agencies, Islamabad appears to have no plan to help straighten the mess it has created in Balochistan or to extricate itself from it.After the August 26 killing of Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, a former Baloch chief minister and governor of Balochistan, a sharp division has developed among the political observers in Balochistan and elsewhere. While some observers argue that the ongoing insurgency in Balochistan would gradually simmer down, others contend that Bugti’s killing would give impetus to the Baloch armed resistance. While the insurgency has not gained momentum, a number of measures taken recently by the government have significantly contributed to worsening the situation in Balochistan.During the ongoing week, the police in several parts of Balochistan embarked on a drive against Baloch political activists. This has come in the wake of the upcoming long march of Balochistan National Party (BNP) of Sardar Akhtar Mengal, a former chief minister of Balochistan and the son of leading Baloch leader, Sardar Attaullah Mengal. In this connection, a number of leading Baloch leaders and student activists have been rounded up in the districts of Gwadar, Turbat, Panjgur, Khuzdar and Mustung. All these leaders have been detained under the Maintenance of Public Order (MPO), a move meant to foil the BNP’s long march.Scheduled to commence from Gwadar on November 30, BNP’s long march, called Lashkar-e-Balochistan, is the first large-scale exhibition of democratic resistance by Baloch leaders against Islamabad’s policies. The long march was intended to protest the allegedly ongoing military operation in Balochistan, the mega projects and the construction of cantonments in three districts of the province – Kohlu, Sui and Gwadar.BNP leaders maintain that the long march was meant to protest the large number of extra-judicial arrests and mysterious disappearances of the Baloch youth at the hands of state intelligence agencies. BNP, which had decided to quit its seats in the Balochistan and National assemblies and the Senate against the killing of 79-year old Nawab Bugti, is also being supported by two other prominent Baloch political parties: Jamhoori Watan Party (JWP) of late Bugti and National Party (NP) of Dr Abdul Hayee.Furthermore, Mir Suleman Dawood, the Khan of Kalat, who recently convened a jirga of 85 Baloch sardars and 300 tribal notables that decided to move the International Court of Justice (ICJ) at The Hague against the violation of an agreement signed between Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the governor general of Pakistan and then Khan of Kalat Mir Ahmed Yar Khan, also announced his support for the long march. “The massive crackdown across the province might escalate tensions in Balochistan,” states one observer. “The government needs to find a peaceful solution to the Baloch grievances instead of opting for punitive measures.”Today, the situation in Balochistan continues to remain as uncertain as it was before August 26. However, the more the government delays finding a political solution to the Balochistan crisis, the more intractable the situation would become. While Balochistan has seen continued insurgency in the last 59 years, the latest round seems to be different. “In the past we didn’t know what we were fighting for,” recollected Dr Hakeem Lehri, a veteran Baloch politician, while talking to TFT. “Today, the Baloch struggle is more goal-oriented and is largely waged by the middle-class educated young Baloch.”The crux of the problem is the absence of a negotiating environment. No sincere effort is being made from either side to build confidence and hammer out a politically win-win solution. As luck would have it, both sides appear to be convinced that the use of force is the sole means of settling the issue. But the issue itself is defined differently by both sides, so there’s no meeting point.The failure of Senator Wasim Sajjad’s parliamentary sub-committee on to table its recommendations constitutional matters even two years after its formation indicates the lack of willingness on the part of the government to move the process forward successfully. Baloch leaders sceptically point out that if the committee has not even been able to put forth its findings, a task it was supposed to perform within 90 days, how can they be assured that its recommendations would be sincerely implemented?Presently, there is no political move on the part of the government to solve the problem in the province. Outstanding issues, including that of maximum provincial autonomy, abolition of the Concurrent List, construction of cantonments etc continue to hang fire.Unless such a negotiating process, experts maintain, is initiated, reciprocation and settlement of the political disputes becomes irrelevant. An unstable Balochistan, besides endangering the future of the Gwadar Port, is detrimental for the prospects of the proposed multi-billion Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) gas project. Even those in the saddle seem to be running out of options for bringing peace to Balochistan.