August 08, 2015
Presiding over an apex committee meeting in Quetta, Prime Minister (PM) Nawaz Sharif approved the plan presented to him for a Pur Aman (Peaceful) Balochistan. Although not much detail of the plan has been revealed, the generalised comments made by the PM regarding the situation in the province indicate the thrust. Basically, there is little new in what has been stated. The PM instructed the authorities in the province to reach out to the angry Baloch, make the people partners in the province’s development and provide full security to the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). The PM went on to underline that Balochistan was the cornerstone of Pakistan’s future development and would be the principal beneficiary of the CPEC. Nawaz Sharif directed the planning and execution of infrastructure and communication networks for utilisation of the potential of the resources of Balochistan.
Gwadar Port, one of the key elements of the CPEC and the end point of the Corridor in its southern reaches, would be connected by rail and road with the Central Asian Republics, the PM stated. Given its location and importance, the PM asked the authorities to prepare a strategy for building Gwadar Port City and the port itself as an economic hub that could attract foreign investment. The briefing the PM received in the meeting pointed to a decline in incidents of terrorism and heinous crimes. The security plan for the CPEC and lasting peace was also presented. While expressing his satisfaction with all this, PM Nawaz Sharif promised incentives for those who laid down their arms and surrendered. Echoing the PM’s sentiments, Chief Minister (CM) Dr Abdul Malik Baloch told newsmen after the meeting that the Pur Aman Balochistan package would persuade the angry Baloch to return to the mainstream as it was an unusual measure.
With due respect to the worthy participants of the apex committee’s meeting, what was new about what was said or planned? We have been hearing similar remarks and claims since the federal and provincial government came to power after the 2013 elections. If the formulations sound like they are stuck in the same groove, it bears thinking about. Admittedly, at least as far as reported incidents are concerned, the nationalist insurgency does not seem as active as it once was. This may be ascribed to successful military operations against the insurgents as well as arguably reports of their internal disunity and lack of mutual cooperation.
A divided insurgency obviously helps the paramilitary and other law enforcement agencies. However, as far as the outreach to angry Baloch leaders, whether in the mountains or in exile abroad is concerned, it can only be termed a resounding failure so far. Of late, there were reports of wooing the Khan of Kalat to return and play his role in finding solutions to the province’s troubles, but that too seems stillborn. The insurgents and exiled leadership do not take the government of CM Dr Abdul Malik Baloch seriously since they are persuaded that it has no power to take decisions as far as the province’s political issues are concerned. That privilege seems to lie almost exclusively with the military-backed Frontier Corps, leading the fight against the insurgents. On the issue of terrorism, the province, and especially the capital Quetta suffered horrible bombings and attacks on the Shia Hazaras at the hands of the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) until recently. The death of Malik Ishaq, their leader, in a suspicious shootout while in police custody may have rocked the LeJ back on its heels. It remains to be seen whether it will be able to operate again with the virtual impunity it seemed to have acquired over the years. These may be good developments from the law enforcement agencies’ perspective, but the elephant in the room remains the issue of reconciliation with the insurgents and exiled leadership, which can only be brought about if a serious dialogue on their grievances is conducted. Since there is no sign of any such development in the foreseeable future, the seeming ‘peace’ in Balochistan may only be a lull between storms.
The CPEC is no doubt a potentially game changing project, but despite the security plans being devised for it during construction, it remains a moot point whether such an economic initiative can fulfil its objectives in the midst of a restive local populace. A salutary lesson can be learnt from the fate of the previous PPP government’s Aghaaz-e-Haqooq-e-Balochistan (beginning of giving Balochistan its rights) package that was touted at the time as the answer to the province’s problems. It does not need much effort to recall that it sank without a trace. The apprehension is that in the absence of a political solution to the province’s grievances of long standing, the Pur Aman Balochistan package too may suffer a similar fate. *