No one can take issue with the findings and recommendations of the latest report of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) on the situation in Balochistan. The HRCP has indicted federal and provincial authorities no less than the insurgents and security agencies for the deteriorating situation in the province. It has called for talks between the administration and the separatists enabling an end to the insurgency that has raged in the province since the killing of Nawab Abkar Bugti by security forces during the Musharraf regime, and supports a process for re-absorption of all disgruntled elements into mainstream provincial politics.
Several new factors have emerged to encourage all stakeholders to pitch anew for truth and reconciliation in Balochistan. First, a fair election has been held for provincial and federal representation. Second, and against all odds, a respected nationalist leader, Dr Abdul Maalik, has been accommodated as chief minister. Third, the federal government of Nawaz Sharif is fully backing the new CM, indeed he could not have become chief minister or formed a cabinet without Islamabad’s unequivocal support. Fourth, a change of army high command is due next month, which means that the new army chief can start on a clean slate in the province with a new team on the ground without being burdened by his predecessor’s passions and prejudices. Fifth, a recent earthquake in the province has stamped a sense of urgency on a bid for peace because relief efforts by civil-military authorities are being hampered by insurgent attacks that are hurting the cause of the poor and stiffening the back of the security agencies to pay back in the same coin. Sixth, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has held out an olive branch to both the Afghan and Indian governments (which are alleged to be hosting and fuelling the Baloch insurgency as tit-for-tat for Pakistan’s support to Kashmiri and Taliban militants hosted on Pakistani territory) and pledged his regime’s commitment to stop interfering in their internal affairs as a quid pro quo for similar policies towards Pakistan.
The HRCP’s proposals in this regard are realistic and fair. On the one hand, it has urged Baloch insurgents to cease war and denounce violence so that “undemocratic forces” are not strengthened and the new well-meaning provincial and federal governments are given an opportunity to confront “the actors within the state who are violating human rights on the pretext of furthering national security”. On the other hand, it has demanded an effective mechanism to investigate the excesses of the security agencies, especially “disappearances and dumps”, and punish the perpetrators. A string of other sensible suggestions are worthy of consideration too. These include transparent and effective SOPs for security agencies in the province; powers for the CM to input into the ACR’s of security personnel; reforming the police and enabling it to effectively “go after criminals and militants”; and a blueprint for a phased withdrawal of the FC from the province because it has become part of the problem rather than the solution.
Some people will criticise the HRCP for advocating “peace talks” with the Baloch insurgents “who are killing security personnel and Punjabi settlers” while scoffing at advocates of negotiating with the Pakistani Taliban. But a comparison between the two movements/militancies/insurgencies/terrorism should account for significant differences in origin, outlook and policy.
First, there have been five big or small insurgencies in Balochistan since 1947 and each has been a consequence of denial of provincial rights enshrined in the constitution. Since the last four insurgencies were brought to an end by negotiated settlement of grievances within the ambit of the constitution, there is reason to believe that this fifth one too can be amenable to a similar approach. This is in sharp contrast to the TTP that has not arisen out of any sense of provincial or regional grievances that can be redressed by peace talks but out of a global jihadist strategy by Al-Qaeda to carve out a base area in Afghanistan and Waziristan much like its strategy in Yemen and the Middle-East. That is why all previous 14 peace deals with the TTP and its franchises have foundered on the rock of Al-Qaeda intransigence and that is why the TTP seeks a complete overthrow of the constitutional democratic order in Pakistan and the seizure of state power to create an Emirate of global Jihad.
Second, the Baloch insurgency is predicated on mundane “push” (denial of provincial rights) and “pull” (backing by India and Afghanistan) factors, which can be reversed by changing national security policy and mending fences with them and their backers. But the TTP-AlQaeda movement is immune from mundane exchange state-policy considerations since it is an ideology-driven movement.
Despite sincere commitment, President Asif Zardari’s government failed to make headway on the Balochistan and Taliban issue because the PPP could not wrest national security and strategic policy from the military. Prime Minister Sharif would do well to heed the lessons of his predecessor’s failure.