The Quetta blast was horrific, but not the worst the country had experienced. So what prompted the outpouring of horror that resulted from it? One reason seems to have been that Balochistan is already behind in the development race, and this blast provided another reason for the debate to resume. However, there is a more sinister reason: the National Action Plan does not seem to have worked.

That the blast had to occur before the debate on Balochistani development could resume is an indication of two things. First, the opposition of the establishment to the debate taking place at all. The establishment (or rather the military) views such a debate as unpatriotic, because ‘the other side’ is either Baloch separatist, or headed in that direction. Then there is the hard fact that the attention of the rest of the country is not drawn to Balochistan unless it is by some such horror, because Balochistan is ‘written off’ as the least populous province (though admittedly by far the largest). Balochistan is seen as being subject to being exploited, whether or not the Baloch people benefit in any way. The source of Sui gas, the site of the nuclear tests, and now the site of Gwadar, the terminus of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). The establishment takes a particular interest in the land, because the latter two, which are pet establishment projects, would probably not be possible without Baluchistan forming part of the federation.

Development is not as progressive in Balochistan as other provinces for a number of reasons. One is the greater geographical spread which means that the naturally scattered population needs more resources for the same effect. Just as an example, 100 km of road in the more densely populated Sindh will serve more people than in Balochistan. But roads (and much longer ones) have to be built in both provinces. Another problem is the use by tribal sardars of development funds and the fruits of development, much more so than of leading men in other provinces. It is perhaps paradoxical that these very sardars parlay their position into winning elections and acting as the political controllers of these funds, but it is true.

Development becomes even more of a problem in cases like Gwadar, which require labour, skilled and unskilled. While Balochistan is unable to provide the skilled labour or supervision required for development, past experience shows that even unskilled labour is imported. Whatever the reasons, it creates problems for such projects as the CPEC, when they enter Balochistan. It is also worth noting that the armed forces are heavily invested in the project, to the extent of raising a fresh division and dedicating it to guard Chinese installations and personnel.

Is it a great leap of faith to blame the Quetta blasts on India? India is manifestly disturbed at the Chinese presence in Baluchistan, and is apparently seeing this presence in the same terms that Pakistan is: the first time that China is across the Indus. The Great Game became one of preventing China moving south. Now it has a port in the Indian Ocean. India’s response has been to get involved in the development of the Iranian port of Chahbahar, which should make Pakistan pause as to exactly what role Iran is playing in the region. PM’s Foreign Adviser Sartaj Aziz blamed Afghan intelligence for the blast. This was not as much of a cover-up of a possible Indian role as it might seem, because there is virtual certainty that the Afghan and Indian governments are hand-in-glove.

One of the notable features of the episode was how the blame was fixed on the intelligence agencies for it. This is probably not just because of the dominant role of the military’s agencies in the War on Terror, but also because they are thought to be behind the existence of the Taliban’s Quetta Shura, extending to the protection that allowed the Taliban chief Mullah Omar to live out his days in Quetta, and to his successor Mullah Muhammad Akhtar Mansour, who was killed by a US drone strike in Baluchistan. At the same time, it should not be forgotten that Quetta and its outlying districts were part of Afghanistan, being detached from it by the British in the First Afghan War in 1842, and are inhabited by the same Durrani tribesmen as are on the other side of the Durand Line. The Taliban consist in the main of Durrani Pashtuns.

The military intelligence agencies may not be designed originally to act as a glorified Special Branch, but as they perform the function, they have adjusted accordingly. There is institutional friction with the police forces, which find they are not as effective or as greatly trusted, and they constantly complain, perhaps rightly so, about their comparative shortage of resources. However, they agencies provide a convenient stalking-horse for the armed forces as a whole, not just out of uniformed solidarity, but because of the political role they play, which becomes overt in times of military rule.

One sign of the importance of military intelligence agencies is the defence of them by the Chief of Army Staff inherent in his statement at a security meeting at GHQ that the National Action Plan (NAP) needed implementation. This adds to the pressure on the civilian government, which is generally under pressure for not having implemented the NAP. The agencies, which seem to want power without responsibility, should not have a role in the fight against militancy, but since they have one, cannot escape questioning about the Quetta blasts. That they are ‘national institutions’ is no answer to the criticism that they failed to provide intelligence on time. To answer that the NAP is not being implemented is to duck the question. NAP will only succeed if it is implemented for years, because it is a highly ambitious scheme to remake society. The Quetta blasts were carried out because Pakistan is a particular kind of society. The making of that society took decades, and can only be undone in a longer period of time that has been available.

The formation of a committee headed by the National Security Adviser, a retired lieutenant-general, represents an attempt to make NAP work by handing it over to the military. It is symptomatic that the committee asked for the help of the COA and the Interior Minister, neither of whom is on the committee.

This may well illustrate the bankruptcy of the vision of the establishment: if NAP will not work at once, then what will? Is the country supposed to withstand disasters such as the Quetta blast while the agencies try new methods? Or is NAP simply an excuse? Is the military going to take over because it can impose the NAP better than any civilian government? But if there is no improvement after such a takeover? The NAP might be an efficient means of going after religious elements, and it may well reduce militancy in the future. But for the present, it serves no purpose against militancy than serving as a scapegoat for those failing so signally to stop such disasters as the one in Quetta. It is dangerous, in fact, because it provides a readymade excuse for failure to those who took on the task of preventing such outrages.