Minister for Information and Broadcasting Fawad Chaudhry has asserted that the federal government had started working on a plan to initiate negotiations with the aggrieved people in Balochistan, who are not “linked with India” or “involved in terrorism”.
“Of course the method to approach them would be different [to those involved in terrorism], but soon you will see that Balocshina would become the hub of peace,” the Information minister announced.
Similarly, Prime Minister Imran Khan shared that he is considering talking to insurgents in Balochistan, saying that the government would never have had to worry about insurgency in the province if attention had been paid to its development.
Balochistan is a strategically important province to Pakistan because of the high concentration of natural resources – including oil, coal, gold, copper and gas reserves, which generates substantial revenue for the federal government – and the only deep-sea port at Gwadar.
Balochistan has been the theatre of some horrific acts of terrorism, often resulting in large-scale casualties. The last few months have seen a flurry of IED explosions of low and medium intensity for which no militant outfit has claimed responsibility.
The unhappy reality of Balochistan is that a long-running low-level Baloch insurgency has been treated by the security establishment as merely a byproduct of other regional security challenges.
However, after the advent of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the strategic importance of Balochistan to the state has been further elevated. CPEC projects in Balochistan have drawn persistent criticism from Baloch leaders and activists for not doing enough for the Baloch people directly.
While it is possible that some Baloch separatists have sought the assistance of outside powers, a proxy war between rival states is not the primary reason that swathes of Baloch areas remain in turmoil.
However, one thing is clear. Peace in Balochistan means peace in Pakistan. The government should take steps to negotiate with the disgruntled Baloch leaders and try to provide facilities to poor people of the province. Certainly, the Baloch separatists and leaders in exile must also reconsider their own strategies, and those leaders who are willing to talk must be urgently engaged in dialogue.