New CoAS General Qamar Javed Bajwa’s third visit to Balochistan since taking over command last month has yielded little that is new.
His busy day attending various events in Quetta gave him the opportunity to address the issues that have plagued the province for long years. However, his touching on them left many questions unanswered. Stressing as he did the undoubted importance of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), General Bajwa repeated the arguments about the project’s importance. However, his stress on the benefits CPEC will bring to the province are likely not to convince those in Balochistan with long memories of past experience.
The natural resources of Balochistan, whose abundance the CoAS stressed, have not benefited wholly or sometimes even in part the people of the province themselves. Balochistan’s inherited underdevelopment remains unaddressed almost 70 years since independence. That and the denial of the rights of the Baloch people over their resources have fed into historically received grievances. Every generation in Balochistan has rebelled against these anomalies, the current nationalist insurgency being the fifth during the last almost 70 years.
If today some or all the nationalist insurgents have veered towards separatism, this should be viewed as a cry from the heart born of frustration. The CPEC is certainly important, but its results cannot be hoped for complacently while its major route through Balochistan and the critical port of Gwadar are located in a troubled province. The special security force being raised to guard the CPEC will be stretched to secure the entire length and multiple routes of the corridor. While the induction of Baloch youth into the military, paramilitary and law enforcement agencies may be appropriate, one should not be lulled thereby into thinking that this will deter the appeal to youth of the nationalist insurgency.
The CoAS pins the blame for all the troubles in the province and hurdles to its development on ‘enemies’. For the sake of argument if this logic is accepted, what is the way out of this long running quagmire? Is the present (and repeated) sole reliance on military force to quell the rebellion a sufficient condition for the desired outcome of peace and development? With respect, the history of this nationalist insurgency of some 70 years standing (punctuated by brief periods of seeming peace) as well as similar insurgencies elsewhere suggests that military solutions to such conundrums are the exception. The rule is that they are usually resolved politically.
Former chief minister Balochistan Dr Abdul Malik’s efforts to talk to the insurgents made shipwreck on his lack of power to implement any commitments. His successor Nawab Sanaullah Zehri seems to have abandoned the talks option altogether. Since it is obvious that the military calls the shots in Balochistan, only it can with authority and credibility engage the rebels. At present, if we read between the lines of the CoAS’s remarks, only the option of unconditional surrender is on offer.
That is unlikely to persuade the core of the insurgency to lay down arms without their grievances being heard and addressed (albeit within the four corners of the constitution and law). The CoAS has correctly pointed to the global geopolitical and geo-economic environment evolving in a manner that has brought our region into focus. This is precisely why a dynamic, forward-looking policy is needed to prevent the exploitation of local grievances by any inimical regional or global power, salivating at the prospect of Balochistan’s strategic location.
A politically negotiated solution to the Balochistan insurgency would help cut the ground from under any such power’s ability to fish in troubled waters.