How to tackle the Balochistan problem

Faheem Amir

Last week, militants attacked a construction site in the Gogdan area of Turbat and gunned down 20 labourers while injuring three others. According to the reports, sixteen of those killed belonged to the Punjab and four to Tharparkar, Sindh. An official said, "All were sleeping in their camp when they were targeted."
One of the injured, identified as Mohammad Ashraf, told the media, "We were sleeping in the camp near an under-construction bridge when unknown gunmen entered the camp and opened fire on us."
Baloch Home Minister Sarfraz Bugti termed the attack as a security lapse. "Levies and police personnel were guarding the camp, but they didn't respond on time which resulted in the loss of 20 innocent lives," Bugti said.
"Eight Levies personnel have been arrested, who were deputed for the security of the killed labourers and we will take departmental action against them. There is no place for cowardly persons in the force," he added.
Talking to the media, Sarfaraz Bugti said that "groups supported by the Indian intelligence agency are involved in the ethnic massacre of the Baloch." His government condemned this "act of terrorism" and that the terrorist group which has killed the 20 innocent Pakistanis is not an ethnic group". Answering questions, Bugti said his government was treating ethnic terrorism the same way as sectarian terrorism.
"We want to resolve this conflict through dialogue, but if they become violent then we will react," the minister added.
A man claiming to be a spokesperson for the banned BLF (Baloch Liberation Front) called local reporters and asserted that his group had carried out the attack as a reprisal for army operations in Balochistan.
The Chief Minister Balochistan Abdul Malik Baloch also strongly condemned the Turbat incident. President Mamnoon Hussain said: "The nation and government are committed to eliminate militancy and terrorism and the whole nation is united and anti-state elements would not succeed in their hideous agendas". Expressing his grief, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has sought an immediate report on the tragic incident.
All the condemning statements, regarding the terror attacks, by the rulers have lost their importance in the eyes of the poor people of Pakistan. Because the people fully know that the rulers have completely failed to establish peace in the country.
This is not the first terror attack in Balochistan. So far, hundreds of people, including labourers, have been killed in different attacks across the province. Only during 2014 and 2015, around 500 people, including 235 security men, have been murdered in Balochistan.
On 19 October, 2014, eight labourers were kidnapped at a poultry farm near Hub and were found murdered soon after. On 7 July, seven miners were killed after being kidnapped. Six labourers were killed on November 2, 2013. 15 labourers were gunned down on 16 August, 2013, in the province. Various news reports say that these labourers were killed due to their ethnicity. Apart from these labourers, even doctors, teachers, government officers and security personnel, belonging to other parts of the country and ethnicity, have been murdered continuously. Turbat's atrocity falls in line with this evil trend.
The chief minister of Balochistan also belongs to Turbat and this attack clearly indicates that the hometown of the current chief minister is not insulated from the effects of ethnic hatred and the militant insurgency.
It is also a hard fact that nationalist, who claim to speak for the rights of Balochistan, have not condemned these attacks. They must condemn such horrendous killings just as strongly as they criticise the security forces' alleged excesses in the province.
All these facts and figures clearly show that the poor people, including labourers, miners, minorities like the Hazara people, the people belonging to different ethnicity, are living under perennial insecurity in Balochistan.
Balochistan is Pakistan's largest province, rich with precious tapped and untapped resources. The province accounts for 44% of Pakistan's landmass but it still remains the most underdeveloped one. Balochistan has the lowest literacy rate amongst all the provinces, at 39%.
Admittedly, there has been an insurgency in the province that needs to be tackled very prudently. The people of Balochistan are not satisfied with the federal government. They believe that their resources are being plundered by the federal government and other provinces like the Punjab and Sindh. They also have grievances against the army. Then there are also many external powers like India, America, Israel, Russia and the Middle East countries that are playing their games to protect their partisan interests.
Khalid Iqbal, a retired Air Commodore and former assistant chief of air staff of the Pakistan Air Force, writes: "Historically, Balochistan has been an area of interest for major world powers. For instance, the USSR aimed at reaching the warm waters through Balochistan and its invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, was the first step in this direction. The USA is also interested in it, but for different reasons. It wants to block China's access to the Arabian Sea and create unrest in Iran. After losing the Afghan war, America is keen to keep Pakistan's largest province in the boiling pot to prevent the use of the Central Asian states' resources by other Asian countries; a conglomerate of foreign intelligence agencies is cooperating to further the American interests. However, the task of carrying out physical disruptions is assigned to India, through its consulates in the Afghan territory adjacent to Balochistan, and it is faithfully recruiting, training, financing and equipping the resident dissident elements, besides inducting non-resident mercenaries. With this, the province has become an epicentre of foreign interference. Traditionally, the elements from within, who earlier danced to the Soviet tunes, have aligned themselves to their new financiers... Against this backdrop, the Pakistan Army took a prudent decision to revise the induction criteria".
Due to these external dark forces, the borders with Iran and Afghanistan are plagued by sectarian groups and major drug smugglers. There are also many separatists groups, whose activities have hindered industrial and infrastructural development, especially in Gawadar. The state should tackle all these groups strongly. It is also a fact that we should not blame separatist groups and foreign influence for all of Balochistan's problems. Yes, they are responsible for the violence, but they are exploiting existing problems, like bad governance, a sense of deprivation, ethnicity, ignorance, tribalism and an unfair share in the land's resources. It is the duty of the government and the state to tackle these issues with good policies, if it wants to maintain its writ and bring about peace in the province.