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Seeking atonement in Balochistan

In defining the political cartography subsequent to the tumultuous partition from British India the province of Balochistan has for varied reasons emerged as a recurring challenge to the State, albeit with successively deeper resonance and ramifications than acknowledged; notwithstanding the most illiberal deontological amendments enforced or adjudicated by those at the helm of affairs without giving much credence to the people, their sociopolitical landscape or lore.

At Partition Balochistan was a time-trapped society; the rest of the areas that constituted Pakistan were far ahead in political, social and economic evolution. In essence a visible and tangible chasm has been there since Pakistan’s inception, which for inexcusable reasons was never attended to and thus the disparity and disconnect with the rest of the country. Balochistan was pulled out by those at the helm of affairs from the slumber of its anthropological milieu without much care or concern for the sensitivities and sensibilities of Baloch – their distinct nature, culture or views. Where social anthropology should have been used most tactfully, we callously used martial strategy emanating from national narratives as defined by the state – unsurprisingly the twains were created.

In all fairness, Balochistan was wronged by successive administrations, not to underestimate the dicey role played by its feudal ruling clans. The overconfident state, instead of reaching out to the people in Balochistan, preferred to deal with the sardars as was the political and administrative practice from British times without realising that post-independence this equation only added to the complexity of a difficult situation imbibed with distrust and apprehensions on both sides.

The realpolitik message, had it been applied all along as part of security policy on Balochistan, would certainly have made the province a more contented place for those who feel disenfranchised, and perhaps even would have yielded dividends of peace and more.

Years of inequity and inequality created opportunities for violence which mostly were disappointed and dissenting voices that if attended to by the state with an open mind and accommodating heart would possibly have acquiesced to a productive dialogue. Of course, one can’t discount the all too damaging role of non-state actors, insurgents and external forces in compounding the situation and keeping the cauldron aboil. But in all fairness, it was ineffective management on the part of the state that dangerously laid open the doors for external interventions.

Even though there still is palpable dissatisfaction amongst the educated youth in Balochistan, equally obvious is the positive development in their increasing engagement through avenues available in both public and private sectors. The engagement, emancipation and mainstreaming of youth is having desirable effects and measurable gains in reducing the dangerous gaps which resulted over decades of bad policies, poor governance, rampant corruption, and alienation and isolation of the youth which had been greatly marginalized from any decision-making roles.

Outreach to the Baloch youth is improving as part of a policy, as are the results – reflected in attitudes, cross-engagements and establishment of dialogue at various levels. The bitterness is giving way to mature boldness with a proud sense of ownership and the desire to bring order. The younger lot is bright and knowledgeable, but that lingering sense of deprivation must be understood most sincerely and addressed through an open and sustained dialogue focused on alleviating grievances and removing the irritants that have sent thousands into the dangerous world of violence.

It is pertinent not to forget that the uplift of the rural youth and welfare of the poor of Balochistan would play a pivotal role in the success of this grand initiative of bringing peace and prosperity to the suffering province. This deserves the sincere and focused attention of all stakeholders in Balochistan.

With all the negative ramblings, CPEC has impressively come a long way and though many years from its maturity as a powerhouse, the fact remains that the gigantic all-encompassing project moved at an admirable pace. We have to understand that CPEC is a huge multi-phase project with many parts to it.

Phase 1 with its vast array of developmental projects is complete and the second phase is in progress with primary focus on industrial and agricultural cooperation with the SEZs as the harbinger of industrialisation, modernisation and a more balanced development of Pakistan. The social sector with education and health must be accommodated in all three phases – to not only create confidence but to preferentially engage local people, uplift them and meaningfully prepare a healthy and intelligent human resource for both local and regional needs. With time, more and more projects will be based in the western part of the country to benefit those living there.

Let us not forget that the implementation of the revised China-Pakistan Free Trade Agreement will open close to 90 percent of the Chinese market for Pakistani products. Pakistan currently has around 28,000 students studying in China and 20,000 more scholarships will be offered by China over the next three years. What our government and the Baloch political leadership need to emphasize is that the majority of these scholarships must go to Balochistan. This opportunity should not be missed.

CPEC spells economic autonomy in more ways than imaginable and that doesn’t bode well with our mercantile friends and moneylenders in the occident, or for that matter with the insecure neighborhood either. The change on the ground is profound and validated by the increasing numbers of Baloch youth who have traded guns for peace and who want to be masters of Balochistan and their destiny by way of participating in its development, rather than becoming pawns or statistics in the ongoing conflict in the province. CPEC, if allowed to proceed uninterrupted, gives us every reason to believe that it will be the Marshall plan for Balochistan to catapult economically and make up for the time lost due to the various acts of omission and commission by the state. It will also politically empower the people of the province.

For the state outreach to be truly effective it will have to go beyond the truth and reconciliation and look at the future and how to make it a viable, thriving and inclusive environment for the people of Balochistan as principal partners.

Today we are in process of redefining the national narrative, escaping from the fires of extremism and seriously working on engaging the international community and making the economy the pivotal keystone of our foreign policy. Atonement in Balochistan and emancipation of its people is a must for the neglected province to emerge from the economic morass and claim its rightful place in the federation, region and world.

This most unusual glasnost is an opening that must not be missed by the disgruntled and other stakeholders. The state must make sure to handle it with kid gloves and meaningful munificence. Also, Pakistan will need a helping hand and support from countries who care for its security and economic prosperity and for them to effectively use influence towards bridging this gulf.

Syed Khawar Mehdi, "Seeking atonement in Balochistan," The News. 2020-06-20.
Keywords: Economics , Political cartography , Decision making , Developmental projects , Economic prosperity , International community , Social sector , National narrative , Political leadership , Trade agreement , Human resources , CPEC