AFTER exhaustive discussions and interaction, which has been termed by some circles as unnecessary delay, the Government appears to be on the right track on the issue of Balochistan. Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani personally prioritised the issue and the pragmatic approach evolved by him is reflective of the seriousness of the Government to address the issue squarely. All this was amply proved when the Prime Minister added some new dimensions to the package called “Aghaz-e-Haqooq-e-Balochistan” while winding up two-day debate in the joint session of Parliament on Wednesday on the set of constitutional, political, administrative and economic proposals aimed at resolving the long-standing problem.
The speech of the Prime Minister was a bold deviation from the past when attempts were made by the successive Governments to address a sensitive and critical issue in a cosmetic manner. During debate in Parliament, it was rightly pointed out by some saner voices that the issue of Balochistan is political and it should be handled as such. In this backdrop, it is heartening that the chief executive included in the package the vital political points that have the potential to pay back if they were pursued with the same spirit and priority. The most important aspect of the new approach was to invite estranged Baloch leadership for talks and the PM made it clear that he would feel no hesitation in visiting veteran Baloch leaders for interaction on the issues involved. Leader of the Opposition in the Senate Wasim Sajjad has made a very pertinent suggestion that the good offices of three non-controversial personalities having necessary clout with Baloch leadership should be utilized to make the dialogue process meaningful and result-oriented. We hope that the Government would assign this responsibility of opening up channels with both local and exiled leadership to Ilahi Bakhsh Soomro, Balakh Sher Mazari and Sardar Attaullah Mengal without wastage of further time. Though a significant number of cases have already been dropped, more are in the offing and there are bright prospects of progress on the issue of missing persons but it would be more appropriate if a general amnesty is announced, which would have a soothing effect on the overall bitter environment. The Prime Minister has also done well in announcing withdrawal of Army from Kohlu and Sui and its replacement with FC and transferring control of the FC to the provincial Chief Minister. This, coupled with abolition of seven check posts, would go a long way in addressing concerns and demands of the people of Balochistan. Not only this, but a sizeable grant of one billion rupees has also been released for the internally displaced persons of Dera Bugti. The package also contains a number of good initiatives to address issues of poverty, backwardness and unemployment. The announcement with regard to provision of jobs to all graduates from Balochistan, beginning of the process to create and fill five thousand vacancies in the province, lowering of qualification for recruitment in the FC to afford more employment opportunities to Baloch youth, commitment to hire locals in the Coast Guard and launching of technical and vocational training programme for Baloch boys and girls to enable them to avail employment opportunities at home and abroad, would mean economic empowerment of the masses and removal of sense of frustration of the youth. It is also good that an equitable formula for Gas Development Surcharge has been evolved and the Province would get dues worth 120 billion rupees on this account. But as pointed out by S M Zafar during his speech in Parliament, one of the major causes of frustration and sense of deprivation in Balochistan is that the benefits announced by the Federal Government in the past were digested by influential local mafia. It is time to ensure that the benefits trickle down to the common man as this is the surest way to resolve the Balochistan problem on a durable basis. It is also a fact that foreigners especially Indians are grossly interfering in the Province and only on Wednesday the Interior Minister informed media persons that four trucks loaded with Indian-made arms were seized. And Chairman US Joints Chief of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen has said that he has raised the issue of interference in Balochistan with the Indian leadership. The very fact that Mullen took up the case with India means that the United States too was convinced about Indian interference in the Province. Though the Prime Minister has declared that it was for Pakistan to decide as to when and where to present proof in this regard yet we believe that the country can’t further delay in view of the urgency and magnitude of the problem.