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Least of Our Worries

For those who believed that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's statement in which he asked Pakistan to “answer to the world for the atrocities committed by it against people in Balochistan” was a mere slip of tongue, the time to make assumptions ended soon after he mentioned Balochistan again during his Independence Day speech.

This surely was not an accident. He probably just introduced a new Indian policy that is likely to create further Pakistan-India tensions and regional instability.

Predictably, Islamabad has reiterated that Modi’s statement confirms RAW’s involvement in Balochistan, while most Baloch leaders havewelcomed the Indian premier's announcement. Modi is right: The Baloch leaders did thank him for his comments.

How did we get here

All Pakistanis who insist that Balochistan is our “internal matter” must reflect on how we got here. Balochistan shares borders with Iran and Afghanistan. The Taliban, IS and several sectarian groups are assembling in that region, and preparing attacks on Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan. Baloch armed groups do not share the same religious ideology with these extremist groups but they, too, list attacks on government personnel and installations as their top priority.

The centre has not sincerely pursued a policy of dialogue with the exiled Baloch leadership, except for former Balochistan Chief Minister Dr Abdul Malik Baloch who made some efforts to reach out to Europe-based exiled Baloch leaders such as Khan of Kalat and Brahamdagh Bugti.

Bugti surprisingly demonstrated willingness to negotiate with the government. Islamabad did not trust his commitment because the Baloch leader simultaneously kept on seeking international support for the Baloch independence movement in his interviews, which meant that he had not fully withdrawn from his demand for a free Balochistan.

One understands the military's disillusionment with the slipping state of affairs in Balochistan where insurgents keep frequently attacking official installations and killing security forces. The Frontier Corps once again forced students and teachers to celebrate this year’s Independence Day.

Instead of healing the Baloch people's wounds, the establishment has promoted a dangerous wave of hyper Pakistani nationalism. Hence, people like Home Minister Sarfaraz Bugti spend most of their time questioning other people’s patriotism and resort to bizarre ways to prove themselves as better Pakistanis than the rest.

Basically, this is a flawed strategy to produce patriotic citizens.

After all, this was not how we grew up in Balochistan in 1990s. Life was different then and patriotism was not imposed on students from the Home Department. We all happily participated in Independence Day celebrations without being forced to do so.

Hyper nationalism and jingoism is the worst enemy of rational thinking. It must be discouraged and disbanded in order to allow sane minds and voices to come forward and embark upon a process of political dialogue.

Let’s be realistic: Islamabad and disgruntled Baloch leaders will not be able to solve all their problems in just one meeting. They will have to keep talking to each other until they reach a win-win solution. This might take months or years. Meanwhile, the way some Baloch leaders have hurriedly thanked Modi is astonishing. This confuses me as to what they actually stand for and how they envision their movement. True that Baloch people have genuine grievances toward Islamabad but how is it acceptable to admire a human rights abuser like Modi, who himself is responsible for the Gujarat massacre and is currently being criticised for using violence against protesters in Kashmir?

As victims of oppression, shouldn’t the Baloch condemn oppressors? The Baloch also proudly talk about their secular culture, whereas Modi threatens secular values and free speech. He represents a right-wing Hindu extremist party that promotes bigotry and intolerance in India. In a desperate search for international support, the Baloch have been finding temporary allies in individuals, who are infamous for their deeply conservative views.

Besides their praise for Modi, they have generously applauded a bunch of far-right American lawmakers, including Representative Louie Gohmert, who now supports Donald Trump. This is not good for the Baloch claiming to be secular and democratic.

A lack of responsible and transparent leadership has derailed and disfigured the Baloch nationalist movement. What started as a movement of the oppressed people to fight injustice has increasingly turned brutal and unaccountable.

While Baloch armed groups received tremendous criticism in the Pakistani media for their attacks on non-Baloch settlers, they have managed to get away with killing hundreds of fellow Baloch citizens whom they often label as government spies, collaborators and traitors.

This has plunged the Baloch society in a civil war where people are killing each other to prove who is an actual, loyal son of the land. The government does not intervene in this infighting between the hardliner and moderate Baloch because a weak and divided Baloch movement somehow makes the government’s job easier.

The absence of dialogue has persistently pushed Balochistan and Islamabad towards totally different and dangerous directions. Both sides should remember that their wrong decisions and actions would have catastrophic consequences for the common people of Balochistan.

Forget about the violence that we have seen in the province during the past decade and imagine the chaos that will erupt in the whole region if India officially supports Baloch insurgents. The Baloch have seen too much violence and we wish an end to it.

Islamabad, in the first place, shouldn’t have required Modi to prompt it to fix Balochistan. If he has, the government must not waste more time.

Military solutions have been tested for more than a decade. It is time political methods, despite being slower and more frustrating, were applied to reevaluate Balochistan.

The capital must not waste time convincing us that RAW is fomenting trouble in Balochistan. It should instead focus on a strategy that will deescalate tensions and bring Baloch leaders on the negotiating table. (Courtesy; Dawn, Pakistan)

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