Balochistan Crisis: The need for Dialogue & Reconciliation

Addressing the Balochistan crisis, CPEC could be a game-changer for national growth.

The Prime Minister has recently called for reconciliation efforts with the insurgent elements of Balochistan. It is the largest province of Pakistan by area and yet the smallest province by population.

It comprises 7% of the total population. It forms the southwestern border of Pakistan. Balochistan means “the land of the Baloch”, however, over time, it has become a multiethnic settlement as a result of political and demographic changes. Today, it comprises Balochs, Pakhtuns, Punjabis, Urdu speaking Sindhis, Brauhis, and Hazaras.

Fertile Ground for Inimical Forces?

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This ethnically heterogeneous and multicultural territory has been an unstable zone owing to insurgent and militant elements acting against the state and fanning the flames of secession. The Balochistan issue is a tale of unaddressed grievances, including but not limited to political and economic injustices inflicting the locals since independence. History has shown how genuine grievances left unaddressed can become a fertile ground for inimical forces to exploit.

Historically, as well as today, the Baloch population has largely been excluded from resource devolution and brick and mortar projects carried out by the state. They have also been alienated in the political process as none of the Baloch parties has been able to win an election and form government. Moreover, the military offensive in Balochistan to prevent dissident elements has only added insult to the injury. The case of missing persons and extrajudicial killings welcomes new recruits towards militancy and extremism, creating a perpetual cycle of unrest in the province.

Apart from this, governance and administrative abilities have remained missing throughout the province since independence. Lack of transparency and accountability, coupled with corruption at the provincial level prevents resources to reach the grass root despite the federal government’s generous efforts. Balochistan, despite receiving a much larger chunk from the NFC share than before has not seen much improvement in the service delivery and development sector.

Aghaz-e-Haqooq-e-Balochistan project

Addressing the Baloch conundrum, nearly all of the recent governments have tried to provide egalitarian projects and find a political solution to the crisis. In the early 2010s, the government inaugurated the Aghaz-e-Haqooq-e-Balochistan project to improve education avenues for the locals. Later, in the National Action Plan of 2014, a special clause was added for reconciliation with Baloch insurgent leaders. For shuttle diplomacy, the then government hired Dr. Abdul Malik, the Chief Minister of the province to start reconciliation with Baloch insurgent leaders seeking asylum abroad.

However, the reconciliation effort hit a wall when priorities were shifted and this issue was no longer of paramount importance. Like before, the recent proposal of reconciliation with the Baloch has various shortcomings that could once again derail the efforts. Firstly, the current process does not include the nationalist leadership of the province. Dr. Malik and BNP-M’s Akhtar Mengal should have been consulted to show seriousness about the reconciliation process.

Apart from this, a broader committee is needed to ensure consensus. Political stakeholders from parliament can be welcomed. This will bring mutual agreement and policy continuity.

In terms of the way forward, the first and foremost priority is to address the grievances of the Baloch people. Resource distribution should be egalitarian with transparent spending and accountable state machinery. Moreover, apart from brick and mortar projects, health, education, and sanitation projects must be introduced in far-flung areas to show state seriousness and concern for Baloch people.

Role of China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) in Balochistan 

China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) could be a game-changer for Balochistan. The trade prospects from Gwadar port, infrastructure projects including roads and rail projects, internet integration avenues, and plans for special economic zones could revamp the current dilapidated state of the province to become a regional trade epicenter and investment zone. It will also generate job opportunities for the locals and will empower them to have a better political voice. However, these prospects could only be materialized if the state has the will to prioritize the people of Balochistan more than anyone else.

In conclusion, the Balochistan issue can only be solved through dialogue after seeking a political solution. For far too long, the people of Balochistan have been marginalized and excluded from national growth. This has only exacerbated their grievances, culminating in the form of insurgency and militancy activities against the state. The recent initiative of reconciliation with insurgents is a step in the right direction. However, it must be carried out in a result-oriented manner, welcoming more stakeholders and nationalist members of the province as well. For far too long, we have used religion and language for national integration, it is high time that we supplant them with performance and judicious policies.

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