There is no way around this fact; Balochistan, despite being the largest, remains the least developed, least secure, and sadly least news-worthy of Pakistan’s provinces. Yet for the most part, this alarming fact rarely becomes part of the parliament’s conversations. A veritable media gag enforced by attacks on journalists, and continued presence of militancy and the armed forces has kept the province in the dark. It is commendable whenever initiative is taken to right this wrong, and the National Seminar on Prospects of Peace and Prosperity in Balochistan must be given plaudits. And while a change in narrative is no substitute for concrete policymaking, it definitely is a start.

The Chief Minister of Balochistan, Nawab Sanaullah Khan Zehri once again extended an invitation to self-exiled Baloch leaders to the negotiating table for resolving their issues, building on the reconciliatory approach of the government. This process needs to be accelerated, to build on past breakthroughs. Narratives that engage the stakeholders rather than isolate them are key to stability.

The Chief of Army Staff began on a positive tone, admitting – which is a first for the armed forces – that “politics of violence” have hurt Balochistan, and the use of force brings nothing but destruction. The military’s heavy presence has always been justified as absolutely necessary by successive governments, admitting that it has caused complications is an evolved viewpoint; one the military has denied previously. This coupled with the extensive developmental plans outlined in infrastructure, education and energy fields during the seminar perhaps signal towards a gradual opening of Balochistan, to the media and to prosperity. However, the Chief’s remaining address makes us take that hope with healthy doses of salt.

For the foreseeable future the security sate in Balochistan is here to stay because the narrative of unnamed and uncounted ‘foreign foes” is still in force. There was no indication in Raheel Sharif’s address that the restrictions around the province are going to be relaxed and the media is going to be allowed access. Without this, alleged progress cannot be independently monitored and allegations of human rights violations cannot be investigated. Physical development alone cannot lead to progress, a culture of accountability and open discourse needs to be cultivated too.