A parallel policy
A CONFERENCE on Balochistan organised by the Supreme Court Bar Association in Islamabad on Saturday honed in on the key problem in the province: the army-led security establishment’s policy of targeting and eliminating Baloch insurgents and those perceived to be aiding or abetting the insurgency in any way. This is hardly a surprise. However, what is important is who is saying it, more openly and forcefully than ever: the mainstream politicians. From PML-N to the PPP and from JUI-F to the PTI, the plight of missing persons and the dangers of ‘kill and dump’ are being openly discussed and denounced. The Supreme Court too, through its increasingly sharp focus on the province, has helped remove the veil of secrecy that has shrouded Balochistan since the Musharraf era. Identifying the problem and being able to speak of it publicly are the essential first steps towards wresting control of Balochistan back from a security establishment whose policy in Balochistan has clearly failed. While violence may be down from the highs of the late 2000s, there is still enough of it to keep swathes of Balochistan virtually cut off from the rest of Pakistan. Direct battles with troops and major operations may be a thing of the past, but there are enough stealth attacks to make it clear that the security forces have far from normalised Balochistan.
The truth of the matter is, Balochistan continues to be wracked by violence because the security establishment believes its security-first approach will eventually quell the violence and the civilian political leadership is too weak and divided to impose its own, political, approach to addressing Balochistan’s problems. Blaming the civilians for their passivity is correct — up to a point. The civil-military imbalance will never be righted unless the civilians learn how to wrest back space from the army. The spinelessness of the Balochistan government and the hands-off approach of the federal government have certainly compounded the problems. However, there is a history and underlying reality that cannot be ignored: whenever the civilians have tried and exerted influence, they have been slapped down unless their vision is in line with that of the security establishment. Compounding the problem is that there was a boycott of elections in Balochistan by the moderate federalist parties in 2008, allowing certain elements to come to power provincially that are neither equipped nor willing to take on the powerful establishment.
If Balochistan is to be rescued — and it must — the politicians will have to find their voice and begin to exert their influence. The former is beginning to occur; the country should hope the latter will follow soon.