Feb 8 - 14, 2010

Even in the 21st century, Balochistan presents a gloomy picture of Medieval Age. Its social sector indicators, which are among the most challenging in South Asia, rightly place it in the category of least developed and most backward province of Pakistan. On the other hand, with a strategic location in the region and having vast untapped natural resources, diversity of climate, simultaneously five ecological zones, fisheries and strategic mineral resources, the province has the potential to emerge as Pakistan's new economic frontier. Balochistan has witnessed so far four insurgencies in the years of 1948, 1958, 1962 and 1973.

The fiercely independent Baloch tribesmen have been resisting all attempts to subjugate them. The economic and social backwardness of the society in conjunction with a deeply entrenched sense of tribalism actually led to an escalation of hostilities in the province. Perhaps the most daunting challenge for present government is the improvement of law and order in Balochistan.

Worsening law and order situation in the province has raised security concerns among foreign firms working in the province and many Chinese engineers have lost their lives in acts of terrorism during last five years. The incidents of violence and terrorism that took place in different districts of the province including Gwadar during last three years had forced the government to carry out development activities at gunpoint, as it continued to beef up security in Gwadar. The local people have reservations about the Gwadar project. Baloch nationalist parties had also flayed the former government for ignoring the people and the Baloch leadership while it signed accords with various international firms without taking them into confidence. They call the federal government's decision of transferring the management of Gwadar port to the PSA as an infringement of rights of the Baloch people. The frequent recrudescence of tribal violence not only destroyed peace but also hampered development works and projects in different regions of Balochistan.

Policy of alienating the Baloch has been intensifying the feelings of deprivation and frustration in the province. What has actually engendered the sense of alienation in the province is the discriminatory attitude meted out with it for the last five decades. The conflict in the province has ever added to the sufferings of the people. The common person has been the real victim of the clashes between insurgents and the armed forces. The ever-neglected and discriminated masses of the resource-rich province are still living in highest deprivation level and lowest development level. They have seen no change in their lives even after exploitation of the province's mineral resources.

The people of mineral-rich Chagai district are still living in medieval age, as they are deprived of basic facilities of a decent life. If Chagai ever attracted Islamabad's attention, it was for conducting nuclear-tests or for its mineral endowment. Why its people could not attract the decision-makers in Islamabad? Local people do own the provinces' resources but they disown and resent over the centre-controlled development of their resources.

The parliamentary committee constituted under former government had also talked with Baloch nationalist leaders and prepared recommendations to end conflict in the province. But, the committee's efforts for carving out a political solution to the problem ended in smoke, as the former government had opted for a military solution to Balochistan crisis.

The killing of Nawab Akbar Bugti on 26th August 2006 in a military action certainly added fuel to the fire. The incident further deepened the crisis of confidence between the province and the center leading the insurgency-hit province from the reconciliation track to the violence again.

Balochistan is currently facing a mild insurgency. The provincial government has so far failed to protect the lives and properties of the settlers, which have migrated to other provinces in large number. Federal government has also been turning a blind eye to the incidents of target killings and bombing of settlers' houses in Quetta. The unarmed and peaceful settlers have ever been the soft and easy targets for the separatists. Six employees at a coalmine in Margat near Quetta were abducted and shot dead on April 11 last year.

Baloch Liberation Army, claimed responsibility for the Margat killings saying those targeted were people from Punjab and the NWFP. There are hundreds of incidents in which victims were the settlers.

Today, the separatists, who are pursuing their agenda outside the country's constitutional framework, are fueling the fire of a struggle for independent Balochistan, against the nationalists, who have been demanding their political and economic rights, as enshrined in the Constitution of 1973. The federal government has so far rendered a lip service to the just struggle of Baloch nationalists within the constitutional framework. A need is direly felt to marginalize the separatists from the Baloch nationalism. This would only be possible when the rulers take serious and tangible measures for granting political and economic autonomy to the province. The government should give a boost to its reconciliation efforts by taking such measures, which could bring dissidents on board, allay their sense of alienation and assuage their grievances.

What is needed is to create real security environment that will serve long-term objectives associated with the economic development of the province. What is critical for creating a real security environment is the creation of local stake and fair distribution of development gains. When the prevailing chaos and resentment in the society come to end, new doors to optimism, cooperation and prosperity would open. The politics of issues would find no rich grounds and be replaced by the economics of issues with viable solutions.

Prevailing situation in the province calls for a halt to any military expedition and initiating a constructive dialogue with genuine representatives of Baloch people. It also underlines the need for a participatory federation providing constitutional guarantees for social, cultural, and economic rights to the people without any discrimination. Political stability is the key to improve law and order and put the province on the path of fast-track development. No development strategy for the province will work without taking dissidents on board.