Prime Minister Imran Khan’s statement regarding the possibility of talks with insurgents in Balochistan is a welcome development. During his day-long trip to Gwadar on Monday, the premier...
Prime Minister Imran Khan’s statement regarding the possibility of talks with insurgents in Balochistan is a welcome development. During his day-long trip to Gwadar on Monday, the premier noted that insurgents may have been upset with the state due to past grievances and India might have used them for spreading terror inside Pakistan, but that “now the situation has changed”. The words were followed by the information minister tweeting that, following the dismantling of India’s terrorist network in Balochistan to a great extent, an agenda for talks with Baloch nationalists will now be formulated by the government. The statements reflect a much-needed change in policy with regard to the centre’s relationship with a province that has witnessed abiding alienation among its population followed by waves of insurgency, and which continues to host substantial nationalist fervour among old and young alike. The deep-rooted grievances of the Baloch are political and economic in nature, and thus require a non-security lens if they are to be scrutinised and truly resolved. Perhaps the greatest setback to peace in the province came with the insurgency that followed the killing of Nawab Akbar Bugti in 2006, with an entire generation standing alienated. It is this generation that needs to be brought back into the mainstream in a peaceful and dignified manner. For that to happen, the prime minister’s first step of opening the door to negotiations is promising. Also welcome is his acknowledgement that, had development work being carried out in the province been at par with the rest of the country, the insurgency would not have had the kind of fuel it does today.
However, let us not forget that we have been here before. Similar ventures – the most prominent being the peace push towards separatists by former chief minister Dr Abdul Malik in 2013 and before that the Aghaz-e-Haqooq-e-Balochistan package of the PPP government – have not been able to achieve the desired results, maybe because of a disconnect between various state entities. For the present proposed talks to succeed, it is pertinent that all stakeholders in the state are on the much-touted same page which may serve as the key missing ingredient that was elusive during earlier attempts at reconciliation. In this, the role of spoilers during such talks must be kept in mind. As the prime minister mentioned on Monday, Balochistan – via Gwadar and CPEC – is on its way to becoming a regional hub of economic activity thanks to Chinese assistance. This potential turnaround invites the country’s enemies to sabotage CPEC projects, as has been witnessed in the past, using local, disgruntled elements. However, as the premier hinted as well, had the Baloch been completely integrated into the Pakistani economy and not been harbouring grievances with Islamabad, their potential to be exploited by outside powers would have been little to none. For CPEC and Gwadar to be the kind of success story the state hopes, cessation of violence in Balochistan is a must.
The state’s exclusionary approach over the years and its tendency to handle almost everything from the centre has not been helpful. There is now a need to go beyond the cosmetic and broaden the people’s participation in all new projects in Balochistan. We hope then that the agenda the government is working on is formulated seriously and by keeping in mind all the realities of this neglected area. To be effective, it must include issues such as that of enforced disappearances, as well as the perennial problem of lack of development and scarcity of facilities in education, health, power, and water and sanitation for common people across Balochistan. There must also be a recognition that, unless there is a properly functioning democratic setup in the province with better governance, all talk about talks will remain hollow. The road to peace in Balochistan may be fraught with obstacles – but the only way is forward