A new dispute in Balochistan

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Some of the recent statements by the Chief Minister Balochistan implying that the center was unresponsive and was acting arbitrarily had created doubts about the way the recently expanded provincial autonomy was being implemented in the province. The charge by Balochistan Assembly Speaker Aslam Bhootani that the federal government intends to sell 70 thousand hectares of land in Lasbela to some gulf princes for hunting despite opposition by the provincial government would further strengthen the doubts. One can only hope that there is some misunderstanding between the center and the province and if so, it needs to be removed.

Balochistan has vast mineral resources and a strategic location. The importance of the province should have made the government concentrate on a development model that benefited the local population directly, providing them with assurance that their well-being was properly ensured as a part of the federation. Balochistans economic and political development was however neglected grossly. While it was condemned to remain the most backward province it was also denied a provincial status till 1970 and its first elected government was removed within months of assuming office. Social unrest arising out of popular dissatisfaction has, over the years, been dealt with force leading to several military operations. That sense of alienation is now reportedly being utilised by India who is allegedly helping some of the more extremist elements within the Baloch nationalists.

What needs to be done is to give priority to political means of dispute resolution rather than handing over the province to law enforcement agencies. A dialogue with all political forces belonging to the province with an aim to establish peace should be initiated at the earliest. Meanwhile, provincial autonomy should be implemented in letter and spirit. The elected government should be taken on board on all issues related to the province, including mega projects and business deals involving local mineral reserves.