Just as the situation seemed to be getting better in the troubled Balochistan province, insurgents struck at the Jewani Airport on Sunday, killing two officials of the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and damaging radar and some other equipment. According to CAA officials, the airport was not operational for 20 years.
It was a small facility but performed an important function. The airport had directional radar system and navigation instruments to guide international flights passing through the country’s airspace. Still, it was unguarded at the time of the attack; no security personnel were present at or around the airport.
The intruders therefore had ample time and freedom to destroy equipment and also set the control room on fire before fleeing. Fortunately, the back-up system worked and kept the routine going.
The obvious question is that why the facility was not properly secured? In fact, until a few months ago Levies personnel used to protect it. They were withdrawn, say media reports quoting officials, because the security situation appeared to be normal.
True, the situation in Quetta and most other areas has improved significantly, but not in the southern districts of the province. That is where the so-called Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA), which has claimed responsibility for the Jewani Airport, is most active.
During the last couple of months there have been several militant attacks in different parts of Turbat and Gwadar. Those concerned should not have been so sanguine about Gwadar, especially at a time China-Pakistan Economic Corridor is causing much anxiety to some outsiders.
The optimism about return of normality is not misplaced, though. There is finally a realisation that the only way to resolve what essentially is a political problem is through the tried and tested method of negotiations.
A major rebel leader, Brahamdagh Bugti, has responded positively to the government reconciliation overtures, showing a willingness to negotiate, saying he could drop his independence demand if his people so desired. The self-exiled Khan of Kalat has also indicated he is ready to return home. The negotiations process is already on.
Chief Minister Dr Abdul Malik Baloch informed the Prime Minister during his recent visit to Quetta that almost all insurgent groups except for Harbyar Marri’s BLA have opened talks with the ‘stakeholders’ in Balochistan. A high-level government delegation is to soon visit Switzerland and London to hold talks with the Brahamdagh and the Khan of Kalat.
Talks are a slow process. As Blochistan’s senior minister Nawab Sanaullah Zehri has opined, it can take several months. Once it reaches fruition, those averse to making peace will gradually go into isolation and ultimately oblivion.
In the meantime, complacency on the part of security agencies can only result in incidents like at the Jewani airport unnecessary loss of life and damage to an important installation.