The key to peace and prosperity in Balochistan

I could tell straight away that he, an officer, wanted to talk. He came in to see me as part of a four-member scholars syndicate working on their thesis, which is a part of their M. Phil in media studies. As a Major in the Pakistani Army, he belongs to the Marri tribe of Balochistan. Before he joined the Pakistan army, his father took up arms against the state. By the time he was commissioned, his father had been arrested and put in jail.

As our young Major, in his late twenties now, kept diligently serving in the Army, his father was released by the State. This gesture impacted his father and the entire tribe in such a way that their whole attitude towards the State took an absolute turnaround. Now, they all proudly identify themselves as Pakistani first and then Baloch.

What I learnt through this heart-to-heart conversation with the officer is that all it took for this change of heart were a few rounds of sincere negotiations, brokered by his well-wishers in his unit, to get his father released from the prison. This gesture had a positive ripple effect. Upon his release, his father talked to fellow tribesmen, enabling them to think and reason.

As the Major was opening up to me, he wanted to underscore the message that negotiations must be a viable option under all circumstances. As the former US President, John F. Kennedy, famously said, “Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.”

Poverty, development and education are the key concerns of Balochistan, where people are being exploited by our enemies which are desperate to block the China-Pakistan-Economic-Corridor (CPEC). Unlike a regular job, it doesn’t require any education or physical standards to work for an Indian sponsored insurgency in Balochistan that pays well enough to provide bread and butter to the families. Working for the Pakistani state, or CPEC related projects, is the first choice of Baloch people. However, due to a lack of educational facilities in the vast and erstwhile province engulfed with poverty, it is practically impossible for the Balochi population to get mainstream jobs in Pakistan. The sole exception are the youths who are getting education in institutions run by the Pakistan Army. The Army also educates the locals on the opposition and disinformation campaign so that development in areas otherwise considered as inaccessible or unfriendly to business projects happens.

Pakistani military has given the world a textbook on counterinsurgency, but the nature of operations, vis-a-vis Balochistan, is different from that in the North-West frontiers. Vast terrain, sparse population and an inaccessible geography makes it a different ball game altogether. Negotiations before operations was the technique adopted in the North-West Pakistan’s exemplary counterinsurgency operations by the Pakistani State. However, negotiations alongside operations should go on for the counter-insurgency protocols in South-West Pakistan as well.

Peace in Afghanistan is also an important aspect to control insurgency. It is a known fact that Indian intelligence agencies based in Afghanistan are training, arming and funding Balochi youth that are tasked to carry out terrorism inside Balochistan and also in different cities and suburbs of Pakistan. The exposed Indian network in Iran, headed by Indian Navy’s officer, Commander Kulbhushan Jadhav—deputed in RAW—was an eye opener for the world. Jadhav’s arrest and the subsequent interrogation by the Pakistani authorities revealed how vast and sinister India’s terror network is in the region and why peace is so elusive.

Alongside counterinsurgency and counter-intel operations, Chinese investment should help to neutralise the Indian network in Iran. India’s frustration after Sino-Iran Chabahar deal amply indicates how much of a setback India saw it to its regional foreign policy in which terrorism is being employed as an integral tool by itself.

Another integral element to bringing the indoctrinated Baloch elements on the table is to bring about an understanding between the warring Baloch tribes. Vested interest and power games inside Balochistan—tribes baying for each other’s blood and constantly fuelling the centuries old feuds—need to be addressed by the State. Negotiations, as our young serving Major exhorts, are the key to opening this door. This ultimately leads to the path of a prosperous Balochistan, the largest and the most resourceful land mass in Pakistan.

An institutional process for talks based on the above mentioned points should be evolved at district levels, comprising all stakeholders. The agenda of the dialogue should be initiated and formed at tehsil levels by incorporating all stakeholders through negotiations. Recommended solutions decided by the District Negotiations Body (DNB) must be adopted at provincial and national levels as well. Feedback of the dialogue and subsequent issues or actions must be discussed regularly in the DNB as well as communicated down to the tehsil levels through media outlets.

Our holy prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) believed in negotiations as the means to end any conflict. His whole life teaches us the importance of negotiations to settle conflicts which were won not only by sword, but through wisdom and peaceful negotiations as well. The victory of Mecca was the sum total of all the efforts, in the end achieved through negotiations in which our holy Prophet pardoned even his personal enemies, for the sake of peace and stability, which became the basis of a global Islamic.

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