The recently launched report of the fact-finding mission to Balochistan by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) stirs up as much anxiety as it radiates a ray of hope. It is too early to say that Balochistan is on its way to recovery. However, it will not be an overstatement, if we say that it is back from the brink. This is not to undermine the seriousness of the heinous events, which are frequently happening there. Most worrisome finding of the mission is that the patterns and trends have not been reversed. Nevertheless, the emergence of indigenous urge to recover out of the mess is something encouraging. Special focus on Balochistan by Pakistan’s CJ and the government-appointed committee on missing persons, headed by Justice (retd) Javed Iqbal, alongside the HRCP, provide us multiple windows on Balochistan; these three entities have come out with similar observations about all major vows of Balochistan. The HRCP mission had visited the province from May 15 to 19, 2012, in order to review the impact of recent Balochistan-related measures by the government. It interacted with a cross-section of people and opined that there is a genuine will and commitment to find solutions, and the numerous challenges facing Balochistan could be effectively tackled. However, it pointed out the stark reality that the government’s strategy in Balochistan has not been able to make any headway. Hence, there is an urgent need of a course correction. It has rightly pointed out that “in many fundamental respects, the situation had not changed in Balochistan”, since the mission’s previous visit in 2011. During the intervening period, “enforced disappearances and dumping of bodies continued” with impunity. At perceptional level, “Frontier Corps and intelligence agencies are believed to be involved in enforced disappearance of people.......In some cases their involvement had been proved beyond doubt.......The law and order situation had worsened and sectarian killings (have) increased in all districts.”The mission has reported some signs of improvement though each with a stipulation, which present a foundation, provided we consistently build upon it. It is of the view that the SC’s hearings in Quetta are having a positive impact. However, these are not being followed up by concrete, corrective measures at political and administrative level; hence, the effort may soon lose the public’s confidence. It is encouraging to learn that the youth and political activists were more willing to talk and engage in efforts to resolve the crises politically; and they look forward towards the upcoming general elections. There is need to capitalise on this through free and fair elections. To give credence to the process, it would be appropriate to invite national and international observers. All mainstream political parties have a responsibility towards achieving this end. Hopefully, nationalist parties would also stand up to the occasion and adjust to the changed political environment, instead of resigning to the politics of boycott. The mission has rightly opined that if the nationalists become part of the political process, the overall political environment would improve. Under existing structures, unfortunately, even the democratic process reinforces the powers of tribal chieftains. Due to prevalent socio-cultural inhibitions and structural weaknesses, Balochis have a long way to go before reaching the level of democracy that the other parts of the country enjoy. However, there is a need to show perseverance and keep inching towards that objective. The mission is of the view that: “Despite the government’s oft-voiced desire for a political solution to the crisis in Balochistan no progress had been made on engaging through talks with the nationalist elements. Even preparatory steps towards that end remained lacking.......The provincial government was nowhere to be seen in the crises. The Chief Minister was away from the province for a lot of time and the provincial government held meetings regarding Balochistan outside the province. The provincial government seemed to have earned a lot of discredit in a short span of time....... After the 18th Amendment and the NFC Award, more funds had certainly become available to Balochistan, but those did not seem to have trickled down. A general observation was that corruption had spiked by the same margin.”It further highlights the “multiple layers of violence and tension” contributing towards the worsening of law and order situation, radiating an aura of general insecurity and an environment of public under siege. Corporatisation of kidnapping for ransom and perception of collusion-cum-incompetence, as a major cause for proliferation in urban and highway crimes are alarming indicators. Yet, more serious indicator is the conclusion which most people have reached in Balochistan - that the criminals were not arrested because they enjoyed the patronage of the authorities, including the politicians. It is, however, commendable that the mission has gone beyond mere finger-pointing ritual; it also suggests a strategy by pointing out that the issues in Balochistan “had long been looked at in the perspective of a Baloch insurgency and Baloch rights.” It recommends having a “holistic look at all the problems in Balochistan, including those faced by a substantial Pakhtun population, the Hazaras, non-Muslims and settlers as well as economic and livelihood issues in the province.” Balochistan has its peculiar paradoxes, requiring continuous monitoring and a cautious approach. The crumbling tribal structure is trying with all its might to hold on to power; suitable alternative socio-political structures are not evolving at the requisite speed. Hence, there is a void in the context of the ownership of the woes of Balochistan. The ray of hope is frail, the window of opportunity is short, we need to seize the moment and build upon it through a coherent national strategy.

The writer is a retired Air Commodore and former assistant chief of air staff of the Pakistan Air Force. At present, he is a member of the visiting faculty at the PAF Air War College, Naval War College and Quaid-i-Azam