Sardar Akhtar Mengal - a self-exiled Balochi leader and former Chief Minister of Balochistan - has come and gone. He spent four busy days in Pakistan. Appeared before the Supreme Court where he pleaded the case of the “repressed” Balochis. He also met a number of senior political leaders. Was able to speak and interact on the TV channels and with the print media.

But for this sudden visit, the burning Balochistan issue would have remained just one of the many critical questions waiting to be resolved. Mengal’s visit put it centre stage. It hit the headlines and became, so to say, talk of the town.

While conveying messages and speaking for the Balochis’ grievances and demands, he did not mince words. He put across his case bluntly and laid bare the facts as he saw them.

Major Pakistani opposition leaders promptly endorsed his six points. Mengal stopped short of making a bid for secession. He did make a reference to Mujibur Rahman’s historic six points and in passing also mentioned the possibility of a “bloody divorce”. He, however, kept a window open. There will be hope if his points are accepted and action taken to implement them. None of these are anti-Pakistan or outside the Constitution.

A quick look at these points:

(1) Stop military operations against the Balochis, overt or covert;

(2) Punish those responsible for killings and disappearances;

(3) All missing persons must be produced;

(4) Death squads and proxy entities created by the military intelligence agencies must be disbanded; and

(5) All Baloch political parties should have the freedom to play their legitimate role without any interference or mistreatment by the ISI and other military agencies.

What about the government’s reaction to these demands? The Supreme Court took it upon itself to ask the administration to respond. The reply boiled down to a flat denial of the charges made. There was an outright rejection of the accusations that a military operation is going on, that there are any death squads or even missing persons in the intelligence agencies’ custody. The PPP-led federal government’s attitude too has been, more or less, negative. The ever-ebullient Rehman Malik came out with a statement that the trouble in the province was because of the “foreign hand”. He, however, as usual, failed to provide any evidence.

In other words, both the civil central government and the army are not willing to seriously address the issues raised by Sardar Mengal.

Before he left for Dubai, Mengal articulated his thoughts about the administration’s reaction to his suggestions. He remained unconvinced about the army’s rebuttal with regard to the “missing persons” and the death squad. At a reception given to him by the Supreme Court Bar Association in his honour at Islamabad, he posed the question: “Was Balochistan like the Bermuda Triangle where one could not find any clues concerning disappearances?” He asserted that there was documentary evidence against uniformed officials caught picking up men on CC TV cameras.

Mengal’s detailed interview with a correspondent of a leading Pakistani newspaper, prior to leaving Pakistan, merits notice: “I have no expectations from the institutions that have spilt the blood of our young men…....I expect little to change,” Added the Balochi Sardar: “I came to do my part…....There are certain people, who have been wondering whether a political solution can work. Well now I have tried. The ball is in their court now. If they want to play fair, we are ready to play fair. If they want to kick the ball in our face, they should remember that we have faced this ball not once, not twice, but five times.” Here he referred to the betrayal by Ayub Khan in 1958 when guerrilla leader Nawab Nauroz Khan, Zarakzai’s son and five others were hanged; and also to the 1973 Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s military operation, which along with Iranian fighter jets crushed the uprising.

One may here assess the possibilities of progress after Akhtar Mengal’s visit. First, considering that the other Baloch resistance leaders in exile, especially those belonging to the Marri and Bugti tribes, may not be seeing eye to eye with Mengal. Already some negative notes have come from some of them. Again, the military is at least presently disinclined to go along with Mengal’s demands.

After paying due attention to the broader Balochi problems, one just cannot overlook the unacceptable killings of the settlers - Hazaras, Pashtuns - as also the displacement of tens of thousands of residents, who had been living in the province for decades. A proper agenda for the discussions of the Balochistan issues, therefore, includes these realities as well.

What next?!

The apprehension is that the issue, which hit the headlines during the last few days, may relapse into the background with at best the Supreme Court keeping it a little alive by its hearings and observations. To expect any substantial headway on the part of the (more or less indifferent and incompetent) provincial and federal governments would be tantamount to ploughing the sand.

Can one pin hope on Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan to keep the matter centre stage? Can they press for the formation of a high-level national commission to meet day after day and seek solutions in the light of the Supreme Court findings and directives? Can the PML-N keep the pot boiling at the floor of the National Assembly and the Senate so that the Balochistan question is not pushed to the backburner?

May one put a hopeful construction on General Kayani’s not-too-unambiguous remark that he was in favour of a constitutional solution of the Balochistan issue.

The worthless provincial government has to be replaced by a neutral caretaker administration in Balochistan - keeping in view that elections are in the offing.

Before ending the column, it may be in order to recognise that this mineral-rich and strategic part of Pakistan just cannot be allowed to remain unsettled and in turmoil because of another important reason. Here I allude to the continuing unwelcome interest Washington and one of our close neighbours have been taking in Balochistan. One may recall the new maps pertaining to this part of the world forged by a US military agency some years back and a resolution moved by a Republican leader in the US Congress. The recent fact-finding mission from the United Nations too could be part of a planned strategy for turning this destabilised province of Pakistan into an item of international agenda to redesign the country’s configuration.

     The writer is an ex-federal secretary

    and ambassador, and political and international relations analyst.