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EDITORIAL: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s recent trip to the port city of Gwadar in the restive Balochistan province galvanised different political parties, civil society members and rights groups, as well as relatives of the forcibly disappeared persons into action. Hundreds of people staged protest demonstrations to press their respective demands.

Speaking at the Gwadar Business Centre, he assured the fishermen that steps were being taken to address the issues affecting them as well as those raised by the ‘Gwadar ko haq do’ (give rights to Gwadar) movement led by provincial general secretary of the Jamaat-i-Islami about water and power shortages. He also announced establishment of a university and oversaw the signing of an MoU for setting up a 100-bed Indus Hospital in the city.

The PM went on to say that China, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE have been extending financial help and cooperation without putting any conditions for investment in various sectors, but realism appeared to be in short supply when he added: “if we do not fulfil our responsibility for ensuring security of their investors, engineers and workers, they will go back.” That, in fact, is the stated aim of those targeting Chinese interests in Gwadar and elsewhere, helped by forces hostile to this country.

At the root of trouble are the Baloch people’s long-standing grievances caused by political and economic deprivation, further aggravated by excessive use of force. Some mainstream Baloch nationalist parties have been expressing apprehensions that the fruits of development in Gwadar and other projects under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor will be hijacked by people from the other provinces.

Reinforcing the mistrust is non-inclusion in important decisions related to the province’s resources, while other units of the federation have a greater say in such matters. Leaders of mainstream Baloch political parties have constantly been complaining of being powerless to address the issues creating trouble. The powers that be ought to realise that the carrot and stick (more of the latter than the former) policy is not only unfair but also counter-productive.

The way forward is to let the Baloch people take control of their affairs and exercise their constitutional political and economic rights without any let or hindrance. As long as the present situation persists interested outsiders will exploit it for the furtherance of their nefarious purposes.

First and foremost is the need to resolve the problem of ‘missing’ persons. After ten long years of existence, the Commission on Enforced Disappearances has nothing to show for its efforts. Islamabad High Court Chief Justice Athar Minallah has now been hearing a petition about the ‘missing’ persons. During last Thursday’s proceeding, he lashed out at the commission for failure to do its duty.

Voicing a common concern, he averred: “We have repeatedly said the enforced disappearances are a heinous crime and a sheer violation of the fundamental rights laid down in the Constitution.” The commission has been directed to submit a report on the issue. A way must be found for compliance with the court orders.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

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