February Issue 2005

By | Editorial | Opinion | Published 16 years ago

“Don’t push it… it is not the ’70s and this time you will not even know what has hit you.”

Spoken like a true general. Unfortunately for General Musharraf, it was his security apparatus in Balochistan that didn’t seem to know what had hit them when the locals took the law into their own hands following the rape of a PPL doctor in Sui.

The Bugti tribesman and the shadowy Balochistan Liberation Army chose their targets carefully: gas distribution networks, railway tracks, water pipelines and power stations — all vital installations. The estimated loss to the country’s economy runs into billions.

And all this unfolded around the time that the Export Promotion Bureau was hosting delegates from 77 foreign countries in Karachi at Expo 2005 – an event showcasing Pakistan as the ideal investment destination.

Definitely not a positive indicator for a country that is desperately trying to break away from its unsavoury image of exporter of nuclear technology and terrorism.

A certain measure of blame is being laid at the doorstep of ‘foreign’ elements. But foreign elements can only fish in troubled waters, where the atmosphere is conducive to net disgruntled elements to carry out acts of sabotage. And Balochistan has been a troubled spot for three decades now.

Mired in tribal traditions, it is perhaps the most backward region of the country, marked by grinding poverty, massive unemployment and little by way of infrastructure, health and education facilities. The sardars, with their luxurious lifestyles and private armies and jails to boot, have contributed little towards the progress of the people. Similarly, successive governments have failed to improve the abysmal conditions prevailing in the province. And the disillusionment with the centre, seen as a usurper of the province’s resources, has developed into a seething rage among frustrated young Baloch youth. A rage that threatens to tear apart the fabric of the nation. Some of that anger is directed at the government’s dream project – the Gwadar deep-water port project – which, Baloch nationalists allege, will render the locals a minority in their own region. But the greatest opposition is directed at the three cantonments that the army proposes to set up in Kohlu, Gwadar and Sui — a move seen as being aimed at consolidating the centre’s hold on the province’s resources.

Balochistan has seen four insurgencies in the past and the country can ill-afford to have a state of unrest in an area that is vital to the growth of the country’s economy.

Impatience of the General Musharraf variety will only stoke the fires raging in Balochistan. The government has to realise the fact that the present discontent in Balochistan is not the handiwork of a few anti-state elements but the outcome of genuine grievances with the centre. Sorting out a few “miscreants” will not solve this problem. A political strategy that takes everyone on board and addresses the problems of the Baloch will go a long way towards building an atmosphere of mutual trust and confidence that is sorely lacking in the centre’s present relationship with the province.

Rehana Hakim is one of the core team of journalists that helped start Newsline. She has been the editor-in-chief since 1996.