In its 70 years of history the majority of this great country remains deprived of justice, merit and fair play. We are generally in a state of discontent within ourselves while external enemies miss no opportunity to exploit these self-created cleavages to retard our rightful aspirations of becoming a great country. From KPK to Sind to Balochistan there are voices with varying intensities being raised for the treatment being meted out to them by the centre? While federating units everywhere do raise their concerns for the rights of its people, what is alarming in our case is the attitude with which these issues are taken. Besides perpetuating internal dissention, the issues have been a valuable card in the hands of inimical forces to exploit the gaps thus impinging our political and economic stability. It is therefore, essential to highlight these issues and suggest a possible way forward if there is a genuine desire for across the board unity and prosperity.

Over the last 15 years the country is in a perpetual state of internal war. As a part of global effort against terrorism, Pakistan has paid the heaviest price both in men and material. The war, as a consequence, also created a great divide between the state and the people of the directly affected areas. Despite the best of efforts to minimise the impact by the state, who will answer for the agonies of the people who lost their innocent near-and-dears besides having been evicted from their ancestral abode and displaced to camps? While for some it may be a no go area to highlight these aspects but people who have a feel of these areas owe it to the integrity of this great country to say the least. In KPK including FATA where the major war was being fought, the political government happily outsourced everything to the military withdrawing from its fundamental obligations to the people who elected them. In FATA the available system of governance was destroyed by the Taliban in the beginning and then subsequently marginalised by the military creating a political vacuum that remains genuinely unfilled to this day. With some TDPs still waiting to be resettled to their ancestral abode, the government is still struggling to decide the fate of FATA, mostly without taking the genuine stakeholders on board.

Balochistan is another sad story of injustices and exploitation inflicted on its common people both by successive governments and tribal chieftains. Both stakeholders share the sin for ulterior motives at the cost of its poor population. Successive provincial governments, mostly corrupt to the core, were easily manipulated and used both by the powers in the centre and foreign and domestic companies busy in the loot and plunder of its resources. Over involvement of the centre both during political and military regimes in its affairs has always been seen negatively by its people, further adding to its historical trust deficit with the centre. While war on terror in Afghanistan has seriously impacted the Pashtoon belt, sectarian influence mainly from neighbouring countries has dangerously infected the Baloch population giving space to terrorist organisations like Lashker-e-Jhangvi, further adding to the polarisation and alienation within the province.

What needs to be done? While there can be no magical solution, however it remains primarily the responsibility of those ruling Islamabad to effect a change for the better. I will address KPK and FATA first. One, the issue confronted was of flawed political and governance system that existed and was followed for years with ample vacuum existing available to be exploited by those with hard power. The Taliban did it and were subsequently defeated by a superior force with the backing of the state’s machinery. The ultimate fate of FATA therefore needs to be decided taking the local stakeholders on board. A fair and impartial referendum on whether to join KPK or be a separate province may be the right choice towards a solution. Two, the devastation inflicted on the region and its people should be attended to urgently even if it is at the cost of freezing development in other areas for a certain period of time. Three, till such time local infrastructure is developed, and as it is partially done, FATA’s youth should be extended general and technical education in settled areas on a war footings. A dedicated setup needs to be raised both at the centre and KPK to oversee this for next 15 to 20 years at the minimum.

On Balochistan; One, Its high time that the centre, including establishment, remove its misgivings about the people of Balochistan having the ability and right to rule themselves. Excessive interferences over the years from the centre, besides causing alienation has developed a perpetual mistrust between the centre and province. Two, Balochistan deserves to be developed at priority. The amount of resources that has been extracted from it for years would continue to fall in the realm of exploitation till such time its fruits are not shared with its actual owners. This also holds good for CPEC related benefits. Years of despondency and mistrust can only be addressed through concerted efforts by the state to attend to this neglected people if they are to be seen as proud Pakistanis. To begin with the federal government may pick up one district in remote Balochistan and convert it into a model district, to be followed by the remaining through a phased programme in concert with provincial government. Three, with increasing interferences from outside due to CPEC, the central and provincial governments and the military must remain on one page to confront the challenges. In this regard the political instrument must remain predominant sharing full responsibility rather than taking refuge in the role the military is asked to perform. Four, the right thing done during the period of General Musharraf was the conversion of B Areas into A Areas. This was subsequently undone by the following political government and its ulterior motives. The sooner the entire province is once again put under one set of laws, the better.

Our handling of FATA during the War on Terror, and Balochistan over the years, has numerous lessons for us. Unfortunately successive political and military leadership only resorted to those policies that helped them politically in perpetuating their rules. While our problems are enormous, the leadership has hardly demonstrated vision and statesmanship to see through these beyond their short term interests. Can there be a miracle of an urgent realisation and immediate change of hearts? A million dollar question that remains to be answered.