Balochistan can no longer suffice with mere promises of the central government
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his interior minister Chaudhary Nisar Ali Khan have fundamentally got a common problem: They both talk about the security forces and the intelligence agencies in third personal plural. Mr. Sharif and Mr. Khan both refer to the state institutions as “they” while apply “we” when talking about themselves. This either shows that the new government has not fully adjusted to its new offices and responsibilities or it still views the security apparatus beyond the control of the civilian government. Another possibility could be an intentional attempt on the part of the democratic government to exempt itself from responsibilities for which it is technically and morally required to provide an explanation.
Since new governments were formed in Islamabad and Quetta, at least four major violent attacks have taken place in Balochistan, mainly Quetta, claiming the lives of nearly a hundred innocent citizens. These include the attack on the Ziarat Residency, bombing of a university bus carrying female students; the suicide bomb blast an the siege of the Bolan Medical College Hospital last month and the recent suicide bombing at an Imam bahargha in Quetta. In addition, dead bodies of the missing Baloch persons have also been frequently recovered since the new government came into power.
During their visits to Quetta, the prime minister and the interior minister cited lack of coordination between various government agencies and departments as the main reason for unabated terrorist attacks. This could partly be the reason for the surge in the recent attacks. Prime Minister Sharif should know he cannot keep up the ‘we v/s they’ rhetoric for a long time. He is the head of the government and every intelligence agency and security force should be answerable to the prime minister. The chief executive of the country cannot shy away from his responsibilities for a long time by only saying that ‘they’ are not performing their duty while ‘we’ are attempting to grapple with the situation. This is no joke but a dire situation that involves the lives of innocent people. The government should move very fast to end this cycle of violence that is regularly taking away precious lives of unarmed citizens.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and opposition leader Imran Khan’s soft and conciliatory attitude toward the Taliban has emboldened all the extremist religious terrorist groups, such as the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, which has been actively conducting terrorist attacks on civilian population. The Prime Minister should review his approach toward the religious groups and order a crackdown against them. They are the enemies of the country and the people who inhabit it. The longer the government keeps glorifying or justifying these religious groups, the more human lives they will claim.
Within a few weeks, the fanfare about the historic election of Sharif as the prime minister for a third term and Dr. Malik’s as Balochistan’s first non-elite chief minister will fade away and attention would be focused on actual problems. That said, the prime minister and the Balochistan chief minister should prepare to face tough questions regarding their progress in improving the situation in Balochistan.
Unfortunately, P.M. Sharif does not have a road-map to address the conflict in Balochistan. Here is a three-point strategy we think he should apply to normalize the situation in the province.
First, Mr. Sharif and his team should start a serious conversation with the Pakistani army. This conversation, if they wish so, should not include any representatives. This should purely be a conversation among the Punjabi elite (mainly politicians and the army commanders). Mr. Sharif should educate the army about the destructive outcome of its policies in Balochistan and how these policies have taken the country on the verge of collapse. The Prime Minister should hold talks with the army chief about the issue of the missing persons, military operations and Baloch representation in the army. Until the army and the elected government at the center are on the same page, prime minister’s pledges to Balochistan will hold not significance. In talks among themselves, the Punjabi elite should discuss what kind of relationship they want to keep with Balochistan. Later on, they should clearly state whether they want to keep Balochistan as an equal, respected federating unit or a colony whose mineral wealth, not the people, would have importance for the central government.
Second, Mr. Sharif should himself should reach out to disillusioned Baloch leadership, starting from veteran politicians like Nawab Khair Baksh Marri and Sardar Attaullah Mengal. These two prominent leaders, who still influence the politics of their children, live inside Pakistan and they should be met and told that the conflict has had a very heavy price for the common man in Balochistan. The longer the conflict continues, the more ordinary citizens will suffer. They should, in a nutshell, find a solution that is acceptable to all stakeholders and capable of ending the bloodshed in the province.
Third, Balochistan can no longer suffice with mere promises of the central government. An important way to win the hearts of the local people is to ensure the development of the infrastructure, including improving the state of education, health facilities and other domains of life. If the P.M.L.-N government pushes the Balochistan government to end corruption at official level, ensure good governance, create jobs and develop the infrastructure, there is no reason people’s sense of deprivation should not be eliminated.
Unfortunately, Mr. Sharif still does not have a clear Balochistan plan. He only verbally states his commitment to resolve the issue which is not enough. The prime minister should have a plan and ensure its smooth and immediate implementation.
MALIK SIRAJ AKBAR
The Baloch Hal