When in a hole, the Pakistani government must stop digging
A former chief minister of Balochistan has been taken into custody in relation to the attack on Pakistani soldiers earlier this week. That is the clearest sign that the ferment in Balochistan has not so much to do with al Qaeda than with a tribal-nationalist combine that is rising up due to longstanding grievances. With the Pakistani government suggesting that it is considering a hamfisted military approach (yet again), commentators in Pakistan’s English-language press are advising the government to tread with caution.
There are aspects of the problem which Islamabad must keep in mind as it moves to stop the growing trend towards violence and terrorism. Balochistan has been neglected over the decades even though not much financial outlay was necessary to uplift its minuscule population. The province is nearly half the country’s territory but is mostly under a drought-stricken pastoral economy. The people of Balochistan have suffered without adequate response from the federal government for fifty seven years. Its provincial politics is ethnically divided between Baloch and Pashtuns and politicians concentrate more on Islamabad for support against their local rivals than on the development of their constituencies. Past neglect has now strengthened the ranks of the nationalists and increased their clout despite the fact that they still don’t get the people’s vote in the province.
The danger in Balochistan is two-dimensional. The nascent but alienated middle class in the few towns of Balochistan is now squarely behind the nationalists and tends to accept the ‘sardars’ spearheading PONM as ‘nationalists’. There is enough visible developmental lag in the province to convince the educated citizen to take up the anti-Centre stance of PONM. That is why if there is any credible military action in the province it will completely lack local support. The other dimension of the problem is the ongoing battle against the Taliban-Al Qaeda combine [Daily Times]
Indeed what the government must not do is go on the military and political offensive to neutralise the brewing crisis. Threats, warnings, ultimatums and maximalist positions will only worsen the situation. It could push either side ‘against the wall’ decreasing possibility of an amicable settlement of genuine grievances. We could then be headed towards greater difficulties, dovetailing into other unresolved challenges of politics, security and democracy. The centre and the Muslim League must start a genuine dialogue with the political leaders of Balochistan, replacing its dominantly force-induced response to the deteriorating politico-security situation in Balochistan.[Nasim Zehra/The News]