Unless the government urgently takes decisions required to redress the grievances of Balochistan, the momentum generated by measures like the release of Akhtar Mengal and Shahzain Bugti is going to be lost. The extremists in the establishment and their counterparts in the Baloch resistance are likely to foil all these attempts. What Akhtar Mengal has said during public meetings at Hub, Khuzdar, Kalat and Quetta amounts to an invitation for reconciliation that few Balochi politicians are currently willing to extend in view of the threats from the militants in the mountains. Akhtar Mengal's courageous offer needs to be responded to with all the seriousness it deserves. Those in Balochistan who have taken up arms advocate complete liberation and brand all those who seek the resolution of the province's grievances within a federation as the agents of Pakistan's security agencies. This has put a number of Baloch nationalists leaders on the defensive. Even killings of innocent people like that of the Vice Chancellor of Balochistan University and young cricketers in Quetta are not condemned. The victims are dubbed as spies. It is highly courageous on the part of Akhtar Mengal to talk of reconciliation under the circumstances. He can do this on account of the prestige he enjoys as an outspoken defender of the Baloch cause and a man who has endured the wrath of the military led government in the process without flinching. He also enjoys strong tribal backing. According to Mengal talks on issues that concern the Balochi people need to be preceded by confidence building measures. These include the end of military operations in Bugti and Marri areas, release of thousands of political activists currently languishing in jails, location of hundreds of innocent persons illegally taken away by the intelligence agencies, rehabilitation of over 250,000 Marris and Bugtis who were forced to leave their homes that was a result of the military operation and payment of compensation to them. While PPP leaders continue to make apologies to the Balochi people for injustices done under Musharraf rule, nothing has so far been done to put an end to their sufferings as pointed out by the Balochi leader. There is an urgent need to undertake measures that provide confidence to the people of Balochistan that the government is really serious in resolving their grievances. What stands presumably in the way is the mindset of the military establishment. It is apparently no different from what it was before the February 18 elections. As Senator Mushahid Hussain put it on Friday while speaking on the floor of the senate, hawkish elements in the military establishment had sabotaged the recommendations of the parliamentary committee set-up in 2006 to resolve Balochistan related issues. The coalition government needs to respond positively to the all too genuine demands put up by Akhtar Mengal to initiate talks on the real agenda. This agenda revolves around securing the rights of the Balochi people over their land. The central most question is the issue of the ownership of the natural and geographical resources of the province. These include Sui gas, Saindak gold and copper reserves, the coastline and the Gwadar seaport. Besides opposing the Gwadar project, Mr Akhtar Mengal has also rejected the agreement for the IPI gas pipeline project as it has been signed by the federal government without taking the Balochi leaders into confidence. The Balochi nationalist leaders are not against development and progress. Most of them are well educated and many have travelled widely. They have seen the vast resources of the province being exploited to the maximum in the past without bringing any benefit to the people of Balochistan. This they are no more willing to allow. In order to maintain the federation a new formula for development has to be evolved. This has to ensure maximum autonomy involving the recognition of the right of the local population over its resources and would require the involvement of the Balochi people in all decisions related to the exploitation of their resources. This is both reasonable and just. Once this has been achieved, both Gwadar port and the IPI gas pipeline can be built. The Balochi leadership will thus ensure that the projects benefit the local population and that they have no negative effects. Once the Balochi people are convinced that the mega projects are in their interest, they would themselves ensure their security. E-mail: azizuddin@nation.com.pk