Well done, Zardari. You need to do more to address genuine concerns of our Baloch brothers and sisters

More for the Baloch

WHILE the debate over which should come first in Balochistan, development or peace, is a never-ending one, no progress can be made on either unless a well-thought-out strategy is put into action. Considering that this has not happened over several decades of simmering Baloch discontent, President Zardari’s pledge to restore peace in the troubled province and make it secure for exploring energy resources seems too good to be true. Similar promises have been made time and again but military action, human rights abuses and the utter failure to improve socio-economic conditions have rendered them worthless.

Today Baloch militants may have decided to suspend anti-state activities (although the Dera Bugti bomb blast last Sunday gives a different impression), but it will be difficult to sustain the peace unless sweeping measures are taken to deliver on promises made to the Baloch by different governments. Balochistan is a mineral-rich province and its gas fields are crucial to sustaining Pakistan’s energy requirements. Conversely, it is the poorest in terms of human development; no surprise here as the province has a small share even in its own earnings with the centre delaying the payment of billions of rupees in gas royalties.

President Zardari’s words must be matched with actions if it is really the intent of this government to transform the province, and the first goal in this regard must be to win over the people’s trust. At present, the government’s policies and the military’s excesses that have caused so many to ‘disappear’, to be killed, to be rendered homeless, have alienated thousands of Baloch civilians. Moreover, a large number of them believe that development projects such as the Gwadar Port aim to bring in outside labour that would not only deprive the local people of employment opportunities but also change the demographic composition of the area. In these circumstances it is all too natural for separatist emotions to arise from the ashes of slain leaders and broken promises. To nip these in the bud — although in numerous cases such feelings have already assumed full-blown proportions — a greater measure of provincial autonomy and equitable resource-sharing must be given top priority. The marginalised Baloch must be brought into the national mainstream and made to feel their worth in society and given their rightful due in monetary and political terms. The government has enough on its hands with the Taliban menace. It cannot afford further violence that threatens the state’s integrity.