Peter Mansfield, in his famous book “Arabs,” states that only logic could convince the Arabs to convert to Islam. Force would have failed. It is ironic that it is a non Muslim Eurasian telling us this. Of course, popular belief even amongst Muslims remains that Islam spread by the sword; this is why we have a hard time explaining that Islam is a religion of peace. Logic is usually not the basic premise of our argument. Burn, ban and destroy is standard response. Therefore, it is no wonder that we lose the match much before it begins. This aversion to logic leads to another, equally serious problem. Because we do not think, we tend to go along with popularly held views or rhetoric. When it is repeated more often, sometimes by sensible looking people, it becomes our truth. Balochistan is a case in point.

While in conversation with an authentic Baloch nationalist, as we discussed separatist tendencies in the province, he said to me, “We have it good here, why would we want to separate? And where would we go? Just look at the map and you will get my point. We have very little to sustain us in the long run.” Makes sense but does not serve the purpose of analysts. Even if we don’t, the Balochis understand very clearly that once outside the ambit of Pakistan, their fate won’t be any different to some of the mineral rich African countries. Deliberately orchestrated tribal feuds will pave the way for outside intervention. The rest is not very difficult to imagine. Then why have there been so many insurgencies? Why is the army and FC involved in fighting the separatists for the better part of the last decade? These are good, logical questions. Of the 126 or so Baloch tribes, only three are problematic: Murris, a small part of Mengals and some Bugtis. They are land locked, have no way out and are not very friendly with each other. The rest of the province is usually peaceful. Of course, problems are massive. In addition, we have to deal with the fallout of our own lopsided approach. So far, we have been dealing with Sardars who keep getting all the goodies and keep coming back for more. Some would label it outright blackmail. Instead of addressing core issues, the approach emboldens this lot to up the ante next time round. Refusal or reluctance to meet these ever increasing demands gives them the excuse they need. Outside powers, following their own agendas, are glad to help and we suddenly find ourselves in the middle of a fight. An ordinary Baloch has very little say and even lesser to gain. He is a captive and has to follow the whims of his lord and master.

Only one person had the courage and vision to see through these Sardars: Lieutenant General FSK Lodhi, a person of Kashmiri origin. As governor in the early 80s, he devised and implemented a very simple strategy. Without changing anything about the Sardars, he started reaching out to the poor with very basic necessities. In 1982, an American, who had met most of these Sardars, revealed that they were running scared for the very first time. Unfortunately, the General’s aircraft crashed and he was seriously injured. This news came as a shock to the Balochis who came out crying and praying for his recovery. Luckily, he survived but could not go back as governor. The Sardars breathed a sigh of relief and reverted back to their old practices. And we are back to the same old rhetoric. The last government did make an effort by way of highly publicized, “Aghaz-e-Haqooqe Balochistan.” Being more of the same, this effort too, could not take off. It lacked that vital element: a link with the ordinary Baloch.

It suited the colonial powers to rule by proxy. Sardars or feudal lords were tailor made for this purpose. The arrangement worked very well then. Now some of these Sardars are the main problem. By supporting them or working through them, our governments become their accomplices. In any case, how do you expect the feudals to abolish or diminish the role of the Sardars? Our governments over the years have been guilty of quick fixes and were satisfied if there was no noise from that direction. Keeping a lid over the issues appeared to be the main strategy, if you can call it that. At this point in time, the problem appears to have been exacerbated further by an ill thought out 18th Amendment. The federal government has lost its clout to deal with provinces unless they are governed by the same party. Coalition governments create their own speed breakers. The Sardars in Balochistan are far too wise not to grasp the opportunities offered by both.

It is tough but doable even under these circumstances. There are enough good people in the province who can be inducted for this purpose. If political considerations are put on hold for the next five years or so, the army which is already doing a lot in different sectors, particularly in education and infrastructure development, can be given the lead role. We need tons of money and a herculean effort but a start has to be made to implement a two pronged strategy to bring Balochistan at par with the rest of the country. Keep Sardars “gainfully” engaged. Plan and implement a well thought out, long term development plan aimed at bringing common people into the mainstream. Education, health and communication infrastructure should be top priority. Meanwhile, the security and intelligence network will have to be at the top of its game. Resource rich Balochistan will pay off everything in the next ten years.

The writer has served on the faculty of Command Staff College and National Defense University.