Army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa recently held an interactive meeting in Quetta with a group of 173 students and faculty members of educational institutions from all across Balochistan, assuring them of his strong commitment to peace and development of the province and frustrating the designs of inimical forces. He also mentioned various development initiatives undertaken by the Army with government help, such as the establishment of a campus of the National University of Sciences and Technology (NUST) in Quetta, communication infrastructure projects, schools and cadet colleges in different areas. The Baloch youth, he said, should not be misled by anti-state propaganda being spread by certain elements from abroad with the support of hostile foreign agencies.
As important as these development initiatives are, it needs to be recognised that Baloch anger and alienation are rooted in long-standing political and economic grievances, periodically erupting into armed rebellions. Although at present things have calmed down to a significant extent, a low-level insurgency still simmers. Thus far, the powers-that-be have remained intransigent on maintaining a harsh attitude, prompting moderate Bloch politicians to repeatedly complain of not being listened to by the establishment or the government. It should not be surprising if certain hostile foreign elements exploit the prevailing sentiment. In fact, distrust of the federation runs so deep that even the CPEC project is disparaged as yet another plan by the federal authorities to use the province’s strategic location for their own purposes. The issues agitating the Baloch mind are political, and need be resolved through dialogue with all estranged elements. Voices of mainstream politicians like the National Party’s Mir Hasil Bizenjo and Dr Abdul Malik Baloch ought to be heeded who have been calling for reconciliation talks with leaders of “angry Baloch youth” living abroad. Dealing with the situation as a mere security challenge is unwise as it further fuels disaffection.
There should be no hesitation in talking with the insurgency leaders. Doing so would not be something extraordinary. There are numerous instances in other countries where far bloodier and protracted armed rebellions have been ended through dialogue. The latest example is that of Columbia where after 52 years of war, the government has made a peace agreement with Farc rebels. The sensible way forward therefore is to open a serious conversation with rebel leaders. Optimism suggests the recent return of Ghazain Marri – whose brother, Hyrbyair Marri, heads the so-called Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) – after 18 years of self-imposed exile, is a step in that direction. Although he was taken into custody upon arrival in a murder case, despite having obtained bail before arrest, he is likely to be released and face court proceedings. Hopefully, more are being encouraged to follow suit.