While conditions in Balochistan have been worsening with the passage of time, no serious effort has been made by our rulers to address the issue with the care and determination that it demands.

There were sporadic efforts made by a few politicians in power. Quite some time ago, Mushahid and Shujaat contacted several local Baloch leaders and held talks with Sardar Bugti. They made some progress. These, however, came to nought as there was no follow-up and later during a military operation ordered by General (retd) Pervez Musharraf, Bugti was killed in somewhat mysterious circumstances. That was a fatal blunder resulting in lethal fallout. Bugti had never spoken against Pakistan or national interests. He was privileged to hold such responsible offices as Governor of Balochistan and State Minister, for some time in the central Cabinet. His killing by the Pakistan military provoked a sharp reaction among the already increasingly alienated and radical Balochi sardars and political activists. One of Bugti’s sons set up a ‘rebel’ camp in Afghanistan. He, however, was killed in an unexplained bomb blast. The disaffected and unhappy scions of other tribal chieftains, too, started insurgency, while simultaneously promoting propaganda activities abroad.

Poor handling of the worsening conditions, including the killing of government officers, professors, Punjabi “settlers” and Hazaras have resulted in escalation of attacks, even on the Pakhtuns. The recent murders of seven Pakhtun labourers, indeed, an ominous development. There is an impression that the security forces, and especially the intelligence agencies, allegedly have been picking up Balochi activists and disposing them off. Hundreds of Balochis have thus disappeared and many of them found horribly killed.

The federal government has been grievously remiss, to say the least, in grappling with the spiralling crisis. In an earlier rhetorical flourish, Mr Zardari had talked about an apology for the sins of omission and commission perpetrated in Balochistan. Prime Minister Gilani’s Aghaz-e-Haqooq-e-Balochistan, (a strangely loud and ambiguous title for resolving a multi-dimensional and highly complex set of problems) has remained just a “beginning” and failed to yield any appreciable result. The fact is that the government has been merely tinkering with a grave challenge of daunting proportions. On the one hand, the Prime Minister says that the Americans by critically talking about the Balochistan issue and encouraging the insurgent leaders (the reference here is to the hearing at the US Congress Foreign Affairs Committee about the Baloch insurgency and denial of human rights to them) crossed the “redline” and on the other, is of the view that there is no need to talk to outsiders. Then his naïve and unconvincing plea that law and order is a provincial subject and, therefore, the federal government cannot be held responsible for any remedial action. He knows very well that the rising insurgency, which has now assumed an international dimension, is no longer a provincial issue and, therefore, the national government cannot escape its obligations to seriously address it. After all, even the provincial government is a PPP-led entity and from this angle too, the central government’s concerns and responsibilities cannot be ignored.

Gilani’s call for an All Parties Conference (APC) is a good move. There is, however, no urgency visible. He says it will be held “as soon as possible.” But what is stopping him from holding it without delay? A burning situation just cannot be allowed to further flare up like this. It was also good that Nawaz Sharif visited Balochistan and talked to some of the alienated Balochi leaders. He, too, called for an APC. Despite this, the trouble is that there is no serious and sustained endeavour to do the needful on the part of either the government or the opposition.

As Asghar Khan once said: “We Pakistanis have seldom learnt anything from history. The enormous and heartrending tragedy in 1971 should have shaken us into a new frame of mind.” To let Balochis raise the banner of separation and allowing the situation to slip out of hands thus tempting outsiders to fish in the troubled waters is, indeed, unpardonable. It is myopic to assume that throwing in some money, starting some development projects and offering a few jobs would satisfy the raging Balochis, who feel that they have been and continue being maltreated, deprived of their rights and resources and their lives are being extinguished by invisible forces. It is sheer stupidity, insensitivity, deliberate neglect and poor governance that have brought the affairs in Balochistan to the present pass.

The remedy lies not just in attempting at this late stage to talk to some of the Balochi leaders. A sincere and, indeed, humble administration should go miles out of the way, to seek to bring all the stakeholders and especially the aggressively alienated Balochi activists inside and outside the country to the talking table. It has to be realised that the problem is rooted in lack of trust born out of the agonising way the Balochis (beginning with the Kalat merger episode in the fifties) were handled by Ayub Khan and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. How the Balochi sardars have come to view the army and the Punjabis? The Balochi memory bears the marks of wounds inflicted on it by one regime after the other. The recent happenings where even Baloch women are said to have been dishonoured and the gruesome murder of women of the Bugti family (Mir Bakhtiar Domki’s wife and daughter) are bound to add fuel to the fire. The new turn of violence, targeting Pakhtuns, will unleash uncontrollable bloody clashes, spawning a horribly troublesome situation.

An APC is not enough! A lot more needs to be done. Balochistan is no longer a provincial matter, as Mr Gilani is dishing out. It is a national issue with disturbing international dimensions. The PM himself is on record handing over papers to his Indian counterpart at Sharm El-Sheikh as evidence about the latter’s involvement in the happenings in Balochistan.

The question is: Do the politicians in power and the opposition have the will and the wisdom to comprehensively understand the various dimensions of the horrendous challenge which Balochistan is today? Can they find the time and energy to evolve a workable and viable programme to deal with the political, military, administrative and developmental aspect of this challenge? The province just cannot be left to an incompetent provincial administration and the Frontier Corps.

Time is of the essence. The corroded confidence of the disaffected Balochis cannot be restored by ad hoc, sporadic and inadequate measures. The government and the opposition will have to wholeheartedly immerse itself into a ruthless resolve to do whatever it takes, intelligently and expeditiously, to ward off the growing outside interference and douse the flames of Balochi rage.

The writer is an ex-federal secretary and ambassador, and  political and international relations analyst.

Email: pacade@brain.net.pk