DURING the current budget session, Sardar Akhtar Mengal, chief of the Balochistan National Party-Mengal (BNP-M) announced his decision to quit the ruling coalition, causing a setback to the PTI government. This latest voice of dissent does not augur well for the nation.
The government has been accused of displaying a “non-serious attitude” towards Balochistan’s problems and of failing to implement the two agreements arrived at with the PTI leadership before the formation of the government soon after the 2018 polls. Two pressing issues referred to by Mengal during his speech focused on missing persons and non-implementation of the Counterterrorism National Action Plan (CT NAP). The BNP-M and PTI signed a six-point MoU in August 2018 for an alliance at the centre. The points related to the recovery of missing persons, NAP’s implementation, six per cent quota for Balochistan in federal government departments, early repatriation of Afghan refugees and construction of small dams in the province. Failure to address these reflects a fatal flaw in Islamabad’s policymaking.
By not attempting to heal Balochistan’s wounds, the powers that be have unleashed anger and anguish among the Baloch. Top of the list is the issue of missing persons. From 2013 to 2017, a kill-and-dump strategy was pursued by state agencies against Baloch activists. Mass graves were unearthed. This draconian strategy was sensibly revised to a carrot-and-stick approach by the establishment that resulted in the return of a few hundred Baloch activists who had earlier been abducted by the civil armed forces and intelligence agencies. However, even after the signing of the MoU, militancy by insurgents and the state’s violent response have continued.
The path of reconciliation lies within the Constitution.
A consensus was achieved through CT NAP in December 2014 by all political parties and the military establishment on the need for a genuine effort at reconciliation with different factions of Baloch politicians and activists willing to accept the constitutional framework for peace. Visits to London and Geneva by important government representatives for talks with Balochistan Liberation Army and Baloch Republican Army leaders in 2015 reflected sincerity. However, behind-the-scenes overtures were stalled due to both sides’ hardening stance. The BLF leader, representing the middle-class youth, by staying near the Pakistan-Iran border, had managed to wrest control of the low-grade insurgency for the first time from tribal chieftains. Security analysts claim that at its peak the number of BLF militants was about 6,000. The number has reduced after the state’s carrot-and-stick approach.
The solution to the issue of missing persons and the path of reconciliation lies within the Constitution and implementation of NAP. Use of force will not win hearts and minds. Our two premier civilian and military-led intelligence agencies have operated without a legal framework for too long. They must be made accountable to the law and parliament. Two previous attempts by civilian governments to bring federal intelligence agencies within the ambit of the law were scuttled. There should at least be a parliamentary committee on national security to review NAP’s implementation. I feel sorry for our legislators who go out of their way to please the powers that be. Conforming to an authoritarian agenda amounts to allowing a creeping coup.
Unfortunately, the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances has been an utter failure. Pakistan has failed to enact a law on enforced disappearances despite international commitments. The state has lost credibility and the commission’s chairman seems more interested in holding multiple public offices than having sleepless nights at the agony of families whose near and dear ones have disappeared.
The BNP-M’s demand for the 6pc quota has been ignored by the PTI. How many federal secretaries and heads of departments and agencies of the federal government are from Balochistan? Not even 2pc. The quota of candidates from Balochistan wanting to join the civil service through the Public Service Commission should be enhanced. Baloch youth should be given scholarships to study at top colleges and universities throughout Pakistan. They need to feel empowered by the state instead of being subjected to hostility. They are us; we are them. Empathy, compassion and understanding of Baloch culture should be developed. It should also be mandatory for civil servants from other provinces to serve at least two years in Balochistan to qualify for promotion at mid-career levels. Civil servants in Islamabad are mostly unaware of Balochistan’s history, culture, geography and values.
Repatriation of Afghan refugees from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan was an important part of CT NAP. This has been consigned to cold storage due to strategic compulsions in the context of the Afghan conflict. With Pakistan playing a key role in peace negotiations in Afghanistan, the time is right to discuss the modalities of repatriation. Having served as chief of police in Balochistan, I am aware of the power the Afghan refugees wield during elections for certain Pakhtun-led political parties who have facilitated the making of national identity cards for Afghan families settled in and around Quetta. Children born in refugee camps in north Balochistan rightly claim Pakistan as their homeland. A wise solution must be found instead of forcefully sending them back to a conflict zone.
The demand for dams in the province to resolve the acute water crisis must be addressed for CPEC’s success. It was a proud moment for Balochistan in 2010 when the NFC award was finalised in Gwadar. The financial rights of the forsaken province were finally recognised. Any attempt to change or modify the NFC, as recently suggested by the prime minister, would have serious implications. Even more surprising was the prime minister’s statement in Karachi (where he did not even meet the Sindh chief minister) that the 18th Amendment needed to be ‘reviewed’. The review and adjustment mechanism is built in the Constitution through the Council of Common Interests. For that, the prime minister must sit with the chief ministers to iron out matters.
With Covid-19 raging in Pakistan, all eyes are on the political leadership. Can they rise above their differences and unite the nation in this hour of trial? Being a great sports hero, Imran Khan understands the power of promise. He must honour his pledge to resolve Balochistan’s issues, because Baloch lives matter.
The writer is former IG of Balochistan Police and author of The Faltering State and Inconvenient Truths.
Published in Dawn, June 20th, 2020