Balochistan breaking point?

After national elections in February 2008, optimism in Pakistan was brimming over. Perhaps nowhere did the elections have a more immediate impact than in Balochistan, the province that has been attempting to break away from Islamabad's control for decades. The first positive signs from the national capital came after Pakistan People's Party (PPP) Chairman (and now President) Asif Ali Zardari formally apologised to the people of Balochistan for the excesses committed against them in the past. He also announced that the new PPP-led government would call an all-parties conference to address the province's long-entrenched problems, while also promising to form a truth commission to investigate the abuses. Such pledges, rarely if ever heard before, created a sudden blossoming of hope in the province. The three leading armed militant groups – the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA), the Baloch Republican Army (BRA) and the Baloch Liberation Front (BLF) – even announced a joint unilateral ceasefire.

In the face of such optimism, the democratic government could have done much to capitalise on the hope and goodwill of the Baloch people. Unfortunately, more than a year after these promises were made, President Zardari has convened neither of the promised bodies. Why, exactly, is a matter of speculation. According to many observers, the inaction on Balochistan is due to the ongoing struggle for power within the government itself. Meanwhile, a lobby within the PPP is rumoured to be working to maintain Balochistan policies passed during Pervez Musharraf's administration. Many point to the fact that Musharraf himself is still living in Army House, in Rawalpindi, where only the family of the serving chief of the army staff is supposed to be accommodated (and rumoured to be the safest place in Pakistan). Many feel that it is due specifically to the machinations of this lobby that, despite the government announcement, neither body has yet been convened.

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Himal Southasian