Constant cacophony and controversy have confounded the Balochistan issue. The more we delve in debates and discussions, more doubts and distractions surround the problem. The politicians have been crying themselves hoarse over the injustices done to Balochistan, especially by General (retd) Pervez Musharraf’s self-serving policies. All have been demanding in unison to redress the genuine grievances of disgruntled Baloch leaders and people in order to douse the embers of seething discontent that can, as is morbid dread of many, lead to its dismemberment in East Pakistan fashion.

The Government of Pakistan has not been oblivious of this state of affairs. It had responded positively by announcing reforms package Aghaz-e-Haqooq-e-Balochistan Package (Beginning of the Balochistan Rights Package), which aimed at appeasing the people of Balochistan. The Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Balochistan, Senator Raza Rabbani, had claimed that Aghaz-e-Haqooq-e-Balochistan was not only a package of some privileges; it would also prove to be the beginning of the end of the sense of deprivation prevailing in the province for the past 60 years. But it failed miserably to achieve the desired results. Rather the situation has grown grotesque, as mass killings and mysterious disappearances have not come to a halt.

Consequently, the blame game has intensified. Target killing of teachers, intellectuals, judges, businessmen and travellers of Punjabi origin is being attributed to militant separatist Balochs. Conversely, the intelligence and law enforcement agencies are accused of gross excesses, including abductions and killing of Baloch separatists. The Supreme Court of Pakistan has taken serious view of missing persons’ phenomenon. The intelligence agencies have denied their involvement in any such activity. The federation and intelligence agencies, through the Chief Secretary of Balochistan, submitted a joint reply to the three-member bench of the Supreme Court, headed by the CJ, that there were no missing persons in their custody and no death squads, as was claimed by Sardar Akhtar Mengal, were operating under their supervision.

It was a straight and outright denial of the allegations. There is no way to challenge its veracity. The problem is that reality can be contested, but perceptions are hard to be corrected. Perceptions are usually the exaggerated version of reality spread by some elements to influence all. The perception about Balochistan is what the apex court believes, the politicians believe and the world at large believes. So a flat answer to the court may not bring solution to the problem, as the perception would persist and haunt us. It is so because it took years of mishandling of Balochistan issue that has created indelible perceptions. These perceptions are off-springs of successive military operations and killings of antagonists. The murder of Nawab Akbar Bugti added 3-D features to the perception. Everything done then seems to be coming at us now. Whether it is real or not, it makes us duck to avoid it and leaves us aghast.

We cannot keep fighting the facts, though they might be less severe than the perceptions. But they are more contested. Facts may comprise a long and rueful list of terror attacks in the province by BLA, killing of FC personnel, migration of jilted Punjabis and involvement of India and Afghanistan. One or all may be true. But there is no doubt that the perpetrators will deny all this stuff. In the same stride, one will have to take into consideration Musharraf’s assertion as well that situation in Balochistan is not as bad as being portrayed and only three tribes (Mengal, Marri and Bugti) are creating trouble. At the same time, he is blamed for orchestrating the murder of Akbar Bugti, which he vehemently denies. So denials and blames will not lead us to peace, but may propel us to more discord.

We must target the hard part. Perceptions are that Balochs are being wronged and Balochistan is likely to part ways with us. Perceptions need to be corrected. Our strategy should be to address the perceptions with the aim to remove them to the hilt. It is a battle for hearts and minds: a battle we cannot afford to lose. In internal strife and animosities, it is imperative to pay heed to grievances of the aggrieved party, howsoever exaggerated and preposterous those may be. Lending the ear sincerely and patiently would set the ball rolling. Baloch people should not only be given due share, but, more importantly, be made to have the feeling of sharing. Besides, it is imperative to maintain a constant communication with the angry and the aggrieved. More pragmatically, the key to solution of the issue is to hold free and fair elections so that genuine leadership holds the reins of the province. Gradually, perplexing perceptions would be pacified. Peace would prevail.

Is it the happy ending of the story? Unfortunately, the sad part of this tense and terse situation is that in this hullabaloo, the serious case of horrendous sectarian killings in Baloshictan and recurring massacre of Hazaras has been given a backseat. Silence over it is deafening. This gruesome reality is an equally ugly side of the monstrous state of affairs staring in our face. Why all those raising the clarion for the miseries of Balochs forget the despair of their province fellows? Why all those taking up the case of Balochs are not considering the Hazaras worth their attention?

Balochistan needs an all-encompassing treatment extended to all nationalities, including Balcohs, Punjabis, Pashtuns and Hazaras. Only this recipe would make us limp towards peace and tranquillity. Sincere care, kindness and justice will mend the perceptions and realities will take care of themselves.

The writer is a security and defence analyst. He holds master’s degree in Intelligence and International Security      from King’s College, London.