Islamabad-Balochistan is of immense geo-strategic importance, more so now, given the various ongoing projects under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). The province shares border with Iran and Afghanistan and a coastline with the Arabian Sea. Balochis have indeed been discriminated against for most part of Pakistan’s history. The record as far as treatment of other ethnic, sectarian and religious minorities in Pakistan is concerned isn’t too remarkable either.

Many Pakistanis – both public at large as well politicians, fail to realise that every major sectarian, ethnic and religious identity in Pakistan is of transnational character. Punjabis, Urdu-speaking people, Sindhis and Kashmiris also live across the border in India, and there are significant Pashtun and Baloch populations in Iran and Afghanistan. Same is true in case of sectarian and religious identities.

Unfortunately, a significant number of individual citizens cannot escape blame, when it comes to deep-rooted ethnic, sectarian and religious prejudices in our society.

Indeed, apart from a relatively small number of sectarian and religious identities, all these identities are fundamentally accidents of births. No Punjabi or Pathan choose to be one or qualified to become one through any personal effort. To paraphrase George Carlin, you can be happy to be a Khan or a Chaudhary, you cannot be proud.

Over the years, successive political and military leaders have failed to use these identities to forge harmony at home, and cooperation and peace abroad.

This incompetence and/or conscious pedalling of politics of hate on the part of those at the helm of affairs in the country certainly allowed external actors to push for their agenda inside Pakistan in general, and in the region in specific.

When it comes to Balochistan, few years ago, we all remember three US lawmakers Steve King, Dana Rohrabacher and Louis Gohmert introduced a resolution in the legislature regarding independence for Balochistan, arguing the Baloch had a historic right to self-determination.

Rohrabacher in a statement had said the political and ethnic discrimination Baloch suffer was tragic. Last year, Rohrabacher also moved a bill to designate Pakistan state sponsor of terrorism.

Without disputing the discrimination and suffering Balochis have faced over the years – the effort on the part of the three lawmakers given their background was a clear case of a bunch of xenophobes telling others to stop being bigots.

To give an idea, Gohmert, once came up with the ridiculous concept of “terror babies”, Rohrabacher throughout 1990s lobbied for the Taliban, and King once said Al-Qaeda would be “dancing in the street”, if Obama was elected president.

Given the transnational character of ethnic and sectarian identities, if their logic is followed, a few dozen states would have to be carved out from Bangladesh to Turkey leading to instability in more than just one country. An independent Balochistan will also destabilise Iran and Afghanistan.

Moreover, there exist demographic constants that is an “Independent Balochistan” will still share border with Punjab, Sindh and KP, and will depend on them for commerce, trade etc. The challenges facing Pakistan are real and the country cannot continue to shoulder the burden of apparent delusional behaviour both on the part of the masses as well as policy makers.

Measures need to be taken to address the very serious challenges of instability and divisions facing the province in particular and the country in general.

Encouraging political reconciliation, promoting regional trade, keeping the role of the military only when it is extremely necessary, greater provincial autonomy, increasing the number of administrative units, addressing past grievances, and affirmative action based on income level are some of the measures that need to be taken. These measures, in general, can help resolve grievances of the smaller provinces, while serving long-term genuine interests of the State.

–The writer is a member of staff