Bringing back Balochistan

Status quo forces have taken on the fragile new government in Quetta

Bringing back Balochistan
Balochistan appears to be caught up in a perennial state of crisis. The lingering Baloch separatist insurgency, organized crime patronized by powerful political elites, the pre-dominance of the security establishment astronomical levels of corruption and endless predatory political blackmail by coalition partners of chief minister Dr Malik Baloch; following months of an uneasy cohabitation, a lethal tug of war between the National Party of Dr Malik Baloch and the PML-N-led opposition represents the latest in a series of crisis that the CM has been facing since assuming the office in summer last year.

During a parliamentary debate on December 8, opposition MPs Mir Hammal Kalmati, Maulvi Gulab Khan and Samina Khan of PML-N, for instance, faulted the chief minister for the fast deteriorating law and order. In the year 2013-14, Mr Kalmati said, 153 mutilated bodies were found in various parts of Balochistan, 216 targeted killings were reported, and 2,985 Baloch people went missing.
Islamabad needs to put its foot down against the threat to Dr Malik Baloch's government

The government responded by claiming significant improvement in law and order in the Kech and Panjgur districts. It said the available data supported its claims of significant decline in target-killings as well as a crackdown on a chain of some 70 gangs of organized crime, including a number of groups patronized by extremely influential politicians and tribal chiefs. Incidents of mutilated bodies have also gone down, officials claimed, adding that this became possible because of a much closer coordination among the civilian and the military security apparatus.

But this doesn’t appear to be enough for the opposition hawks; they want a much bigger share of the pie and hence their new offensive.

According to officials, the mighty lobby of tribal Sardars, most of whom are unhappy over the strict financial discipline and governance guidelines that Dr Baloch has tried to impose, once again seems intent on forcing out what they deride as the “minority government.”

Policemen walk near the wreckage of a bicycle used in a bomb blast in Quetta
Policemen walk near the wreckage of a bicycle used in a bomb blast in Quetta

That is why a PML-N delegation headed by Khawaja Saad Rafique also failed in massaging the inflated egos of its provincial legislators, who presented a long list of reservations to the Railways minister, demanding the removal of Dr Malik Baloch because they believed they were being ignored in such matters as earmarking of development funds.

This obviously represents the ugly side of Balochistan’s murky politics that remain hostage to corrupt and ruthless tribal lords, many of whom oversee syndicates of organized crime.

As unhappy tribal lords attempt to tighten the noose around the nationalist chief minister, the latter’s Policy Reform Unit has proved extremely valuable on the economic way forward for the province. The documents lay out guidelines for the government and were lauded by all and sundry. Spearheaded by Dr Kaisar Bengali, Dr Ishaq Baloch and a team of young professionals, these documents have been painstakingly put together to reflect an ambitious, though not unrealistic, vision for Balochistan’s economic development.
Military and civilian leaders have to think of ways to bring back, rehabilitate and mainstream the radicalized youth

Kaisar Bengali, who is also the advisor to Chief Minister of Balochistan, offers a simple recipe to break the cycle of backwardness and unemployment – the province needs 1.5 million jobs for an equal number of households.

The answer to this simple arithmetical equation, nevertheless, is complicated. The province remains primarily tribal, extremely polarized on ethnic and political lines – shared by dozens of Nawabs, Mirs, and Sardars – most of whom hardly radiate any people-focused vision at large.

The strategy Dr Bengali and his team have come up with is a fascinating document stitched together through hard work and meticulous research, but the vision, as it seems, may directly conflict with the ground realities in the violence-marred province because of the reasons stated above.

Concerned civilian and military officials say disarming the latest onslaught against the provincial government – which indeed is a rare glimmer of hope for the province to the context of the long-drawn and simmering insurgency – is the duty of all those concerned about Balochistan.

Balochistan Chief Minister Dr Abdul Malik Baloch
Balochistan Chief Minister Dr Abdul Malik Baloch

The ouster of the present government is no option at all, said a high-placed security official. His civilian counterparts also concurred, and said the civil-military leadership in Islamabad needs to put its foot down to fend off the threat to Dr Malik Baloch.

They also voiced concern over Islamabad’s indifference to Balochistan. National media often blacks out most events from Balochistan, local leaders and officials complain. Central leaders hardly visit Quetta. And the fact that the BLA have recently forced a cable TV shutdown in many areas of Balochistan is a grim reminder of the fear that separatist-nationalist groups sow in minds of people at large.

The current situation certainly demands strong continued support for Balochistan from Islamabad to spare the fragile province the kind of power politics that have kept it on tenterhooks for too long. The forces of status quo must not be allowed to hijack whatever little the provincial government has done and is trying to achieve through transparent governance, is the message that resonates in Quetta.

Civilian and military officials insist that the so called counter-insurgents such as Sahfiq Mengal, Zehris and many others have been meanwhile disowned and are being hunted for wrong-doings, resulting in visible reduction in crime and target-killings or abductions. Nobody is being spared in order to eradicate the perception that the security establishment has been using notorious tribal chiefs as counter-insurgents, who then abused the state’s institutional patronage for their criminal activities. They are involved in abductions for ransom, car-jackings as well as smuggling.

The security establishment also emphasizes that it has systematically reduced the paramilitary FC’s contact with common people by removing most of the checkpoints which had become a huge inconvenience for the public.

We realized that most of these checkposts failed in preventing the so many suicide and terrorist attacks, and thus decided to remove them, said a senior security official.

Children play in front of a large-scale replica of the Chaghi Mountain at the Askari Amusement Park in Quetta
Children play in front of a large-scale replica of the Chaghi Mountain at the Askari Amusement Park in Quetta

The anti-Punjabi and anti-settler sentiment that peaked between 2008-2013 – when the maverick Nawab Raeesani ruled the Balochistan with impunity – seems to have meanwhile given way to a more rational narrative under Dr Malik Baloch’s subdued but pragmatic approach. He faces countless counter-currents, topped by the endless greed of cabinet members and those sitting in the parliament.

Lots of properties earlier owned by Punjabi and other settlers who were hounded out by nationalists and organized criminals until the general elections last year, have meanwhile been appropriated by local mighty Pashtun and Baloch businessmen and politicians.

The current challenge, officials explain, is to how to fuse security with development for sustainable peace and to blunt the Baloch insurgent’s narrative.

The public perception of the financial governance is also contrary to what the government believes; people at large are not only disillusioned but also extremely critical of what they consider as the loot and plunder of national resources.

The issue of the missing persons still seems to haunt the civilian and military security establishments. It remains part of the public discourse despite significant reduction in forced disappearances and target-killings of Baloch nationalists.

Another big challenge is how to neutralize the all-pervasive clout of the proponents of the status-quo – which sits at the heart of Balochistan’s grievances ie the reluctance of the ruling elites to embrace people-friendly policies. They have done so by continuously exploiting their pro-establishment and pro-federation stance.

One way for the provincial government would possibly be to replicate the army and the FC examples, which have launched about 35 schools and colleges where about 15,000 Balochistan youth are studying – ie employment generation schemes, coupled with rehabilitation plans for the radicalized youth. Both the military and civilian leadership have to think of ways as to how to bring back this youth, rehabilitate and mainstream them.

Dr Baloch is determined to fight all the odds yet he hopes that for all his strategies to succeed, the federal government and the security establishment shall have to work in tandem to neutralize blackmailing threats to his government.