Prime Minister Imran Khan visited Gwadar earlier this month. During the visit, he inaugurated various CPEC-related projects. At the same time he announced that he is contemplating starting negotiations with Baloch separatists. After a couple of days the federal cabinet officially approved this policy, paving the way for talks to end the 16-year insurgency in Balochistan. At the same time, the prime minister appointed Shahzain Bugti as his Special Assistant on Reconciliation and Harmony in Balochistan. Apparently, Shahzain Bugti will lead the talks on behalf of Prime Minister Imran Khan.
The background of this decision has two aspects. First, the rare but persistent attacks by Baloch separatists on state installations has prevented a mass inflow of foreign direct investment in Balochistan and slowed down the CPEC enterprise. Foreigners think hard about investing in Balochistan due to these attacks. That is why there needs to be a political solution to this problem so that foreign direct investment can be brought in Balochistan.
Second, the Afghan endgame is near. The fall of Kabul and Taliban takeover is imminent. This means that Baloch insurgents will no longer have the support of Afghan government to allegedly carry out their insurgent attacks within Pakistan. That is why this can be an opportune time to negotiate with them so that they can concede on a lot of their demands for the sake of survival. At the same time, the government can cash in on the situation to not only end the insurgency by political means but also getting political mileage out of this issue.
The resolution of this conflict will provide a conducive environment for economic development
While the prime minister made the announcement of dialogue only this week, reportedly the talks have been underway for the last few months. According to senior analyst Shahzada Zulfiqar, the government has started a channel of negotiations with Khan of Kalat, the scion of erstwhile rulers of princely state of Kalat, who now lives in the UK in exile. This hints that the government is serious in this matter and that it is not a rhetorical statement for the sake of public consumption.
If this process starts and gets on smoothly then it could have huge benefits for the province. This will end the 16 year conflict in Balochistan which has only added to the miseries of the local populace. This conflict has prevented the trickle down effect of development initiatives taken by successive governments. This conflict has claimed many lives and has also made life difficult for the population. Therefore, the resolution of this conflict will provide a conducive environment for economic development in the province and using resources for social welfare as opposed to counter insurgency. This will ultimately help in raising the quality of life for millions in the impoverished province of Balochistan.
Moreover, this effort of negotiations does not come without problems. There are three apparent problems that can prevent the pace of negotiations or can stop them indefinitely. First is the condition set by the federal government that they will negotiate with insurgents who have taken help from Pakistan’s archrival India. What this will do is to narrow down the scope of negotiations. Those who fall out of the scope will make every possible effort to sabotage this negotiation process.
Secondly, there are people whose vested interests are linked with the continuation of the insurgency. They will lose out on their benefits if this conflict is resolved. Therefore they will also make all possible efforts to prevent the success of the talks. Thirdly, there are foreign elements who want Pakistan to remain engulfed in this insurgency. That’s why they will also put all their force to sabotage these talks to keep Pakistan down the pit of insurgency and counter-insurgency.
In this context, the need of the hour is that the government handles this issue with delicacy and care. The government needs to empower Special Assistant to PM Shahzain Bugti to successfully take up this gigantic task. He must be aided in all possible ways for this daunting task. Secondly, the government should not limit the scope of negotiations or let internal or external forces to sabotage this effort. Once the process gets started in good faith then the further modalities can be dealt with in later stages.
The writer is a journalist and researcher based in Quetta. He can be reached on Twitter @iAdnanAamir