Political and economic stability, besides the provision of social justice, are the basic ingredients for peace, progress and national unity; more so, for a multicultural entity like Pakistan. But unfortunately, successive regimes in Pakistan have remained oblivious to this reality; they believed that a strong centre, i.e. federal government, can help achieve the national goals of prosperity, stability and unity in a nation. This fallacious notion, however, was more vehemently rubbed in by dictatorial regimes, and regrettably civilian governments, which interspersed military governments, too displayed a mind-boggling indifference to the fissiparous or centrifugal tendencies generated by this ill-conceived approach. The provinces were never treated as equal partners in the federation; they were not given their rights and the provincial autonomy guaranteed in the Constitution. As a result, regional disparities became more pronounced with the passage of time. For example, Balochistan, which is the biggest territorial unit and strategically the most important region of the country, suffered the most. The trail of broken promises and injustices aggravated the sense of deprivation among the people of the province. On the political front, the marginalisation of the nationalist parties during dictatorial regimes was instrumental to the rise of a separatist movement, which has now gained intensity after the assassination of Nawab Akbar Bugti. The spate of target killing of settlers, blowing of gas pipelines and other acts of violence in the province are a cause of concern for the people of Pakistan, who want to see an early solution to the Balochistan conundrum. But the question is: What is the solution? Surely, there is no problem in the world that does not have a solution, and the Balochistan tangle also has a solution provided there is political will and sincerity of purpose to do so. Nevertheless, it is encouraging to note that the present government has resolved the issue of provincial autonomy through the 18th Amendment, and boosted its financial resources through the 7th NFC Award realising the fact that it is strong provinces that make the federation impregnable. More so, the launching of Balochistan Package, in December 2009, comprising political, economic and administrative policy initiatives was a step in the right direction. Further, the decision to halt the building of military cantonments; withdrawal of the army and deployment of FC; freeing detained activists and probes into political murders; more control of Balochistan over its resources; creation of 5,000 jobs for the youth; increased share in the Saindak Project and the transfer of its ownership to the province; initiation of mega projects in consultation with the provincial government; allowing ownership in oil and gas companies; and, above all, the decision to pay all the arrears of gas development surcharge from 1954 to 1991 amounting to Rs120 billion over a period of 12 years, are in consonance with the demands that the leaders of Balochistan have been making. Reportedly, most of the proposals and steps envisaged in the package have been implemented, while work on the rest is advancing. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilanis directive to fill the 6,700 posts of the federal government from the quota fixed for Balochistan, during the recent Cabinet meeting held in Quetta to review progress on the package, will also help in dissipating the sense of deprivation to some extent. In addition, Islamabads decision to constitute a judicial commission to probe Nawab Bugtis assassination is a thoughtful initiative to reduce the prevailing tensions in the province. However, these measures alone are not enough to resolve the Balochistan issue. The involvement of a foreign power in fomenting insurgency in the province has made matters worse, which would require concrete and out-of-the-box solutions. First of all, the government should make sure that target killings of Baloch leaders and activists are stopped immediately and those responsible must be punished severely. Also, sincere efforts must be made to locate the missing persons. Another important step that needs to be taken is to devise a mechanism to bring all the Baloch nationalist parties into mainstream politics and ensure their participation in the provincial affairs. Perhaps, the installation of a provincial government spearheaded by nationalist elements might help achieve the desired objectives: Peace, prosperity and unity. At the same time, the government should announce general amnesty to allow the Baloch leaders in exile to come back, and participate in the process of reconciliation. If that comes about, it will automatically eliminate foreign interference in the province. n The writer is a political and economic analyst.