Pakistan’s largest province, one that accounts for 44% of our landmass, remains our most underdeveloped one. The literacy rate is lowest amongst all the provinces, at 39%, and it contributes the least to the nations GDP. The state institutes are weak, underfunded, undermanned, and large swathes of the land operate according to locally administered customary law instead of being administered under the state’s writ. Its security problems are not one that can be subsumed in the national security problem; it has issues that are distinct to it and requires an equally distinct solution tailored for it. Yet, how can the federal government solve these issues when Balochistan remains in a media black-hole? How can any narrative on Baluchistan be built if the news coming out of the province remains few and far between, and the province stays out of the nation’s focus – added as an afterthought to most policy considerations?

Admittedly, there is insurgency in Balochistan, and it needs to be tackled. The border with Iran is plagued by sectarian groups, several of whom are affiliated with foreign nations and terrorist organisations. The border with Afghanistan serves as a major drug smuggling route, while the mainland is dotted and extremist groups like the Taliban. Perhaps the most damaging amongst them are the separatists groups, whose activities have been a major impediment in industrial and infrastructural development, especially in Gawadar. The state needs to respond strongly to all of these groups, but that response cannot, and must not, be heavy handed. For it necessarily entails collateral damage; blanket-policies, broad state powers and crude methods of quelling propaganda might be effective against the group themselves, but they also damage the common Baloch – whose genuine grievances are lumped together with more illegitimate demands.

We cannot blame separatist groups and foreign influence for all of Balochistan’s problems completely. Yes, they have been largely responsible for the violence, but they could only do that by exploiting pre-existing problems; namely the lack of government attention towards Balochistan and a disproportionate share in the land’s resources. The government must untangle the two threads in this knot, and treat them differently. What it also must not do is clamp down on people or organisations that are trying to bring the province on the nations agenda. The terrorism problem in FATA festered for years under Musharraf, who chose to deal with it away from the public’s eye, yet true progress on that count is being achieved in the present time, when the national narrative supports the state. The government needs to mainstream Balochistan, and trust the people – and the parliament – to distinguish between legitimate and illegitimate demands. It must not march into institutions, hoping to control what they think.