The attempt on Malala’s life, dumping of defaced dead bodies in Balochistan and surfacing of body bags in Karachi are some of the facets of terrorism running high in Pakistan; intricately linked together by a common financier, trainer and arms provider. Logistics trail leads to one source, though operatives have diversified origins and purposes. All these acts need unequivocal condemnation by the entire nation.

Under these circumstances, a reiteration that there is no foreign interference in Balochistan is an act of extreme ignorance or criminal connivance, or may be a combination of the two. Against this backdrop, the Supreme Court has emerged as a beacon of hope. At least it provides a shoulder against which the aggrieved ones can lean and cry.

Balochistan is under constant national focus with the missing persons’ conundrum as a key human rights issue resonating at the international level. Sardar Akhtar Mengal’s appearance before the Supreme Court was a pleasant event. His interaction with national political leaders indicated an urge to bring Balochistan out of the unfortunate situation that it is going through since the early seventies.

Mengal’s six points were reasonable in content. However, equating them with Sheikh Mujibur Rehman’s six points was essentially a political rhetoric directed at emotional blackmail. Neither Mengal is Sheikh Mujib, nor is Balochistan East Pakistan. Mengal, nevertheless, was widely of the mark in his reference to neutral international supervision for the peaceful resolution of the Balochistan conflict. His citing of the UN-backed processes in East Timor, Kosovo and South Sudan was certainly erratic. Any attempt to involve the UN is obviously unacceptable and will be vehemently opposed by all Pakistanis.

Mujib’s six points went far beyond the constitutional framework of that time. But Mengal’s points were well within the constitutional provisions, mainly focusing on ordinary civil rights. The Baloch sardar has submitted his case before the apex court; hopefully, he would pursue it as a legal matter, lest it should fizzle down as a politically motivated oratory. However, a posture of denial by the government was a disappointment.

Unambiguous charges, on the one hand, and forceful rebuttal, on the other, have made the situation hazy. Confutation to Mengal’s position also came from amongst Baloch leaders, which indicate ample playable space between the two extreme stances. Mengal is certainly aware that the majority of hardcore Baloch, like Raisanis, Bizenjos, Magsis and an overwhelming majority within Marris, Bugtis and Mengals, do not support Balochistan’s secession. Likewise, Pakhtuns and Hazaras have never talked about leaving the federation.

The Chief of Jamhoori Watan Party, Talal Bugti, recently said that the use of force by state institutions had caused “irreparable damage to our province.” He questioned whether there was anything in Mengal’s six points that went against the interests of Pakistan. Also, he claimed the credit for being the originator of the six points. However, his stance was more moderate and compatible with a political solution within the framework of the Constitution. He indicated his party’s willingness to rejoin the political process and participate in the coming elections, provided the government acts on the six points, opens up Dera Bugti and rehabilitates the displaced Baloch, including the Bugti people affected by the insurgency.

Apparently, the political process has started in Balochistan and the things would move in the right direction. It appears that nationalist parties have realised that the boycotting of elections is neither useful for them, nor a common Baloch.

Despite Mengal’s stance that the Baloch issue is no more a matter of fair resource distribution or provincial autonomy, he got overwhelming support from all mainstream political parties. In an apparent response, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani also commented: “The army fully supports any political process, as long as it is within the Constitution of Pakistan.”

As of now, there is a serious political vacuum in Balochistan. The civil administration has collapsed. The politicians have lost both public confidence as well as legitimacy. Certainly, the current political dispensation in the province has lost its credibility and is beyond the scope of patchy repair. The starting point could be fresh elections and revivification of the benefits envisaged in the 18th Amendment and 7th NFC Award. A mere allocation of funds and constitution of committees and commissions would not bring respite.

Balochistan is essentially an internal problem of Pakistan, warranting a consensus-based political solution aimed at redressing the grievances - factual or perceptional. In a joint security meeting, in May this year, the national leadership resolved that the issue needs to be tackled politically rather than militarily. Hence, the federal and provincial governments need to lead the process.

As regards external interference, the Foreign Office should effectively play its part in highlighting such involvements at appropriate international forums. Countries suspected of playing a catalytic role in deteriorating situations must be engaged constructively by sharing the information. A professional approach needs to replace ambiguity and evasion.

Further, the beating, which the Frontier Corps (FC) and other law enforcement agencies (LEAs) are getting, is uncalled for. Irresponsible statements by the Provincial Ministers have heavily contributed to tarnishing their image. Talal recently said: “The fate of FC should be similar to that of the Federal Security Force created by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and was finished off by General Ziaul Haq.” He said that police should be responsible for controlling law and order in city areas. He conveniently skipped as to who would control the rural areas. There are many narratives circulating about the high-handedness of the FC. Even if these are mere myths, very strong negative perceptions have successfully been created, which cannot be just wished away. It seems that the FC’s maligning is part of a concerted campaign to force it to withdraw and push Balochistan into an anarchic situation beyond redemption.

Indeed, bold steps should be taken to counter the prevalent negative perception about the FC and other LEAs. There is a need to redefine the rules of engagement for them. Without a viable force in place to implement law and order, the FC’s pulling out would only benefit the elements working to destabilise Pakistan. If it is necessary, an alternative structure may be raised and a timeframe for its withdrawal may be announced. This would remove a major irritant in the way of an early calm.

The Baloch nationalist political parties often call for an environment where they could freely practice politics without interference from the agencies. This demand is genuine; however, such conditions could only emerge as a result of satisfactory law and order situation. But poor law and order would prevail till sectarian and ethnic killings of Punjabis and Hazaras do not come to an end. So, it is a chicken and egg situation! Yet, we all need to strive for this end.

Anyway, Mengal’s return may be part of some understanding. In Talal’s reckoning, he may have received the go-ahead from concerned military quarters to return and rejoin the political process. Whatever the case, both Mengal and Talal have an opportunity to regain their lost political space. Other Baloch nationalists also need to come forward and join the process.

Akhtar Mengal deserves praise for having the courage to come to Pakistan and make his peace offer. He summed up the outcome of his visit: “The ball is in (your) court now. If (you) want to play fair, we are ready to play fair.” Hence, it is time for the political leadership to seize the moment and move ahead. Surely, the political solution should aim at empowering a common Baloch, rather than appeasing a couple of tribal chieftains.

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-AzamUniversity.