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Resolving the Balochistan conflict

Pakistan Day was observed in Balochistan amid a complete shutdown of cellular phone services at the request of the provincial home department. Apparently, the government feared the insurgents would use the occasion to spread anti-Pakistan messages and embarrass it. Already, in some parts of the province people cannot fly the national flag or sing the national anthem.

Things are not getting any better although in his address, earlier this month, to a joint session of Parliament President Zardari had apologised to the Baloch people - for the second time since his party came to power - for the past wrongs, and Interior Minister Rehman Malik recently announced the withdrawal of cases against key insurgency figures.

In fact, despondency is growing in the province. Even the ruling People's Party provincial leadership is losing patience. Laskhari Raisani, younger brother of Chief Minister Aslam Raisani, quit as provincial president of the party two years ago to register his protest against the government's policy vis-a-vis Balochistan. Last Tuesday, he announced his resignation from the Senate as well. He is said to blame the party's central leadership, in particular Interior Minister Rehman Malik, for the worsening of the situation. He is not alone in feeling the way he does. The general sense in the province is that the political leadership in Islamabad has left it to the Army to deal with Balochistan in whichever manner it deems fit! Informing the Interior Minister Lashkari Raisani had claimed at a recent TV discussion programme that some of the dissidents were willing to talk, to which he was told that was something for the Army to handle. There is a substantial body of evidence that substantiates the minister's purported position. The policy, to say the least, is unhelpful.

The main issues of contention at this point do not pertain to the old Baloch complaints about denial of rights but FC checkposts and enforced disappearances. The Army says it is not carrying out any operations in the province. Yet independent observers and rights groups, both national and international, support the Baloch claims about rights abuses. This cannot be allowed to go on unaddressed. Balochistan Governor Zulfiqar Magsi, while speaking at a Pakistan Day event at the governor's mansion, suggested a sensible proposal. He said that the situation cannot be resolved without involving all stakeholders - that he named as the government, the Army and the intelligence agencies - in dialogue with estranged Baloch nationalist leaders. Earlier, Balochistan Assembly speaker Mohammad Aslam Bhootani had also called for the inclusion of the Army in talks with the nationalists. Equally important, those representing the insurgents must include genuine Baloch nationalists like Khair Bakhsh Marri, Ataullah Mengal, and any others the provincial government thinks can help settle the conflict to the satisfaction of all involved. The Gilani government must take charge and hold an all-inclusive dialogue to bring peace to that restive part of the federation.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2012