The week began with cause for cautious optimism as Prime Minister Imran Khan, during a visit to Gwadar, said he is considering talking to insurgents in Balochistan. Unfortunately, many elements of the speech made on the occasion were politicised, as he blamed previous governments for failing to do so, never mind that every democratic government in recent memory has actually tried. Blame for their failure is shared by all stakeholders, although it obviously goes more on outside elements, most prominently India, which has publically provided moral support to separatists, and allegedly, also cash and weapons.
Imran also accused previous governments of ignoring development in Balochistan. A major part of the problem here is Balochistan’s political leadership, which remains almost exclusively tribal or clan leadership. While such is also the case in other provinces, nowhere is it as pronounced as Balochistan. The end result is that the political elite has little interest in public service. In some cases, they also have an active interest in keeping their regions backwards to maintain their personal socioeconomic power.
Indeed, despite having several students in his audience in Gwadar, few of them will ever be allowed to rise to political prominence if the present power structure of the region remains. Unfortunately, apart from a passing comment on the existence of these structures, Imran chose to criticise the “parliamentary democracy system in Pakistan”. We are still awaiting clarification on that remark, because the context really didn’t help. Even if the comment was targeted at the corruption of the province’s ruling elite, it would be better for him, as PM, to assure that those politicians will face justice, something that has been curiously rare.
Meanwhile, his claim that development in the province is the key to peace and progress is, at best, an exaggeration. Development is not a total solution. Changes are also needed in the political and governance structure. That said, we welcome attempts to talk to insurgent elements and peacefully convince them that laying down arms is in the best interests of the people they claim to fight for. It may not work, but it is an option that should always be exercised if it becomes available.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 7th, 2021.