Prime Minister Imran Khan has taken a welcome and long awaited initiative to tackle the Balochistan issue comprehensively. During his recent one-day visit to Gwadar, while addressing a gathering of local elders, students and business leaders, he said that he had decided that when the PTI came to power, the government would pay special attention to Balochistan, because when the province progressed and there was peace, Baloch people would automatically feel at one with Pakistan.
He rightly added that if development work had been carried out in the province, “We would never have had to worry about insurgents. It may be that they had grievances in the old times and may have been used by other countries, including India.”
Needless to say, the Prime Minister has made the correct diagnosis about the problem of Balochistan. Successive governments at the Centre showed gross neglect towards the socio-economic needs of Balochistan. As we all know, Balochistan is the most backward province of the country with meagre education and health facilities and employment opportunities for its poor millions.
Previous governments made tall promises but did little practical to redress the grievances of Baloch people. The PPP introduced the Aghaz-i-Huqooq-i-Balochistan package and formed a committee for exploring reconciliation prospects. The PML-N also took some half-hearted steps and included reconciliation with Baloch insurgent leaders as part of the National Action Plan announced in January 2015. Chief Minister Dr Abdul Malik Baloch was given the task of pursuing political reconciliation with all stakeholders but the exercise came to naught. With time, the sense of deprivation among the people of Balochistan has deepened as they saw that the money allocated for the development of Balochistan was not spent in the right way.
Imran Khan has announced a Rs600 billion development package for Balochistan, which is a huge amount as compared with the provincial budget. According to him, the PTI government has given the biggest ever package to Balochistan because, “We believe that justice has indeed not been done with the people of Balochistan; they have been left behind.” He added that efforts were being made to set up a desalination plant in Gwadar as soon as possible. In addition, a 300-bed teaching hospital would also be built. At the same time, he announced that the government had imposed a complete ban on the entry of foreign fishing trawlers in Pakistan’s waters in order to protect the interests of local fishermen. Also, out of the total allocation of Rs10 billion for the Kamyab Jawan programme in the province, Rs5b have been spent on upgrading fishing boats and other equipment.
But the economic development of Balochistan cannot be seen in isolation from the need for political reconciliation without which the province cannot find durable peace and prosperity. Prime Minister Imran Khan said during his Gwadar visit that he was considering holding talks with Baloch nationalists. As a step towards that, the Prime Minister has now appointed Jamhoori Watan Party chief Shahzain Bugti as his special assistant on reconciliation and harmony in the province.
It is no secret that India has long been stoking trouble in Balochistan with the help of its paid agents, the so-styled champions of Baloch rights, who have done nothing but to lined their own pockets in the name of the common Baloch people. India is no friend of Baloch people. Its only interest is in causing bloodshed and mayhem in Balochistan as part of its strategic game against Pakistan. It is a tragedy that so-called nationalist leaders, like Brahamdagh Bugti, are playing to the tune of New Delhi and living a life of luxury on foreign funding.
Now is the right time for the government to start a new process of reconciliation in Balochistan as the security situation in the province is under control and insurgents don’t pose a serious threat. Another favourable factor is the changing situation in Afghanistan where the Afghan Taliban upsurge will shrink the space for the Baloch insurgent leadership living there.
To this end, organised efforts are needed to engage militants and other Baloch groups, duped and misguided by self-serving leaders of the Baloch rights movement, to convince them to lay down arms, join the mainstream and take part in building a new peaceful and progressive Balochistan with the CPEC in the lead.
Prime Minister Imran Khan has rightly stated that India was using Baloch insurgents because of their old grievances, but serious, purposeful negotiations will eliminate the Indian leverage. In the ensuing talks all Baloch nationalist parties, which are already in the political mainstream, should also be involved. The grievances of Baloch citizens are economic, social and political, and they are as old as Pakistan itself. Shortsighted policies of the past, including an emphasis on military solutions, exacerbated the feeling of alienation among the Baloch.
Balochistan’s issue can be resolved by employing better political strategies, including the grooming of a new Baloch leadership who can inspire confidence among Baloch people and command their trust. The new leadership, free from the burden of any past baggage, can also undertake the long overdue task of revamping the political and governance structure of the province which is riddled with corruption and mismanagement.