The well-known expression “fiddle while Rome burns” may be the best way to describe the law and order situation in Balochistan province. Cassius Dio, author of Roman History, wrote that Emperor Nero sang in stage costume as a great fire consumed 11 districts of Rome in six days. The current insurgency in Balochistan, the largest province by area, has never been worse in the past six decades of the history of Pakistan. Both nationalists as well as religious minorities accuse the present regime of leaving the burning province on its own. At least 400 youths and students from Balochistan have been killed in the past few years under the coalition government, with no trace of any suspects to be found. The infrastructure of the tribal region, home to the country’s largest natural gas field, is among the worst in Pakistan. Provincial governor Nawab Zulfiqar Ali Magsi has said he fears that a civil war could erupt, as the government has completely failed. Nawabzada Lashkari Raisani, former head of the Pakistan People’s Party who resigned earlier this week, has condemned the provincial government for its silence following the discovery of the mutilated bodies of previously missing persons. “I felt there is no policy for the province,” he told local media, adding that the situation in the province was deteriorating more and more each day. I was surprised to hear a local priest say that control of the region should be given over to first-world country. “It looks like something out of the 14th century. There has been absolutely no development since [Pakistan] came into being. If things go on like this, there will be nothing but ruins.” Catholics in the province are still grieving after the death of a young parishioner during a scuffle that broke out at a religious festival. Many now say there is no room for religious festivals amid ongoing strikes and targeted killings. The unprecedented levels of violence may explain why the apostolic vicariate of Quetta, a friendly and talkative man in person, has remained silent on social issues. The Church has to co-exist with major stakeholders in the province, including the army and intelligence agencies. The culture of killing in Balochistan affects everyone, particularly ethnic and religious minorities. According to the local chapter of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, 34 Hindus – most of them traders – have been kidnapped from different parts of the province since last year. Some provincial ministers have even been suspected of involvement in the abductions. Meanwhile despite promises of economic and infrastructure improvements in the province, President Asif Zardari apologized last month for administrative and political mistakes during an address to parliament. He has generated further animosity with his proposal of a new province of Seraiki, which has again pitted nationalists against the central government at a time when such tensions already run high. The government needs to think outside the box. The time for apologies and promises has passed. Keeping old provinces intact is more important than creating new ones. The situation in Balochistan may not be exactly like that of Bangladesh (formerly East Pakistan), but country leaders need to learn the painful lessons of the past. Economic disparity needs to be balanced and the army needs to withdraw from Balochistan – two factors that led to the break-up of the country in the past. Silent Thinker is a pseudonym used by a Catholic commentator in Lahore
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