PML-N President Mian Nawaz Sharif has proposed an all parties’ conference to think of ways to rescue Balochistan from the critical mess it is in. He was speaking to journalists at Bugti House in Quetta on Friday during his two-day visit to the provincial capital. Before making the announcement he took nationalist leaders of the province into confidence, who have indicated that they are agreeable to the idea. During a meeting with Mian Nawaz, President of the National Party Senator Dr Malik Baloch and its Vice President Mir Hassel Bizenjo urged him to raise his voice at the injustice being meted out to the people of Balochistan. They felt that if mainstream parties did not take up their cause and quickly, the situation would be irretrievable.

The neglect of the country’s richest and largest province has so often been highlighted in the media that it is hardly a surprise. Despite this, very little development work has been carried out in Balochistan. That has inevitably bred a sense of deprivation among the local people, the more so because its wealth, the most prominent being the Sui gas, has been exploited to the benefit of the rest of the country, while it has remained deprived of its use. Capital Quetta received its first gas connection 40 years after its discovery in the province. Many other parts of the province still do not have the facility. Even accounting for the scattered habitations that Balochistan has and the lack of economic viability of laying long pipelines to supply gas to small populations, it is difficult to justify the denial of this facility to them on the ground that this resource belongs to their province. The prolonged denial of their legitimate rights has created a climate of defiance and disaffection.

The fallout is militant outfits, which indulge in acts of militancy against those whom they perceive to be either responsible for their fate or their accomplices. The situation serves as a fertile ground for hostile powers to exploit to their advantage. The feeling of deprivation has taken on a sinister turn with daily instances of disappearances and targeted killings, a cruel mystery that constantly rankles the people. Similarly outrageous was the murder of Nawab Akbar Bugti. The President’s apology to the Baloch for past injustices and the Aghaz-e-Haqooq-e-Balochistan that remains largely on paper, have not been enough to make amends. There is a need for large-scale development works to be executed across the province to remove the people’s grievances. If the proposed all parties’ conference can come up with an acceptable solution of the problem and the government seriously starts its implementation, it would the first step towards a long journey to give the people of Balochistan a sense of belonging.