If like-minded groups in Balochistan, of which there is no dearth, join hands, the issue of the uplift of Balochistan can be resolved.

The Baloch Council of North America (BCNA), headed by Dr Wahid Baloch, has decided to write a new chapter in the history of Balochistan by dissolving the pro-independence Baloch Society of North America (BSO-NA) and denouncing separatism. The formation of the BCNA is a welcome development since it has declared its dissociation from the purported ‘war of independence’. Balochistan has been mired in conflict where a number of militant organisations are are active. Miscreants like al Qaeda and its affiliates have also been fishing in troubled waters, pursuing their murderous agenda of targeting Hazaras and other ethnic minorities.

The BCNA’s pledge to unite the Baloch to secure their right of self-determination within the Pakistani federation and to work with other Baloch nationalist forces like the National Party to defuse the situation in Balochistan and help the elected provincial government bring peace and normalcy to the strife-torn province is promising. Its endeavour to pursue its aims exclusively through nonviolent means must be welcomed since it comes from a former hardcore dissident, Dr Wahid Baloch, the founder and president of the now defunct BSO-NA.

After graduating from Bolan Medical College in 1990, he sought self-exile in the US in 1992. Over the past two decades he has been lobbying for Balochistan’s secession, pleading with US Congressmen, the US military, intelligence officials and diplomats for help. Dr Wahid has said that the province’s accession to Pakistan by the Khan of Kalat, Mir Ahmed Yar Khan, then the ruler of Balochistan, was executed in his personal capacity while ignoring the opinion of the bicameral Balochistan parliament, which had voted unanimously to remain independent. Dr Wahid had long blamed the Pakistani state for engaging in the ‘genocide’ of the Baloch people, while plundering the vast mineral and other resources of the province. As recently as January 2014, Dr Wahid Baloch released an appeal to the US, India and Israel, seeking their direct assistance in preventing an alleged killing spree of Baloch people at the hands of the “Pakistani terrorist army”.

The rationale behind the u-turn of a hardcore secessionist like Dr Wahid is not clear but, apparently, a pang of conscience caused his good sense to prevail. He is now calling for the promotion and preservation of a Baloch secular identity, language, culture and traditions, asking for the endorsement of friendship, tolerance, mutual respect, understanding and cooperation among the various ethnic groups within Pakistan and with other nations around the world through organised events, dialogue, meetings and conferences. This is a far cry from the separatist activities of Dr Baloch who is currently denouncing the insurgency which he now says is furthering personal interests rather than pursuing the collective benefit of the masses.

The BCNA is emerging as a pragmatic body striving for peace in Balochistan, asking Baloch militants and non-Baloch extremist militant groups to shun militancy and violence and lay down their arms to help Balochistan’s government bring peace and stability to Balochistan. It has begun expressing its belief that diversity is power and not a cause of disunity or fragmentation and thus Pakistan’s rich cultural and ethnic diversity must be honoured and strengthened as it will help promote harmony among different religious and ethnic groups.

If like-minded groups in Balochistan, of which there is no dearth, join hands, the issue of the uplift of Balochistan can be resolved. Balochistan is in dire need of development. The positives that work in its favour are the June 2013 installation of a provincial government representative of Baloch aspirations. It is the only province that has held local body elections peacefully and is endeavouring to take democracy to the grassroots. The need of the hour is for the federal government as well as the provincial bodies in Balochistan to work against the policies of hate, marginalisation and discrimination in all forms and shapes.

The downtrodden and oft-neglected people of Balochistan have suffered at the hands of successive federal governments that remained oblivious to the genuine needs of the Baloch. It is time to write a new chapter in Balochistan’s history, treating it judiciously in accordance with the aspirations of its people. If the BCNA is lending a helping hand, it is a welcome sign.