Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) has emerged as the single largest party in the National Assembly (NA) amid allegations of massive pre-poll political engineering and post-poll rigging. While the controversy around elections is likely to drag on for a while, Imran Khan is all set to become the next Prime Minister (PM) of Pakistan. As PTI prepares to assume power for the first time at the federal level, it will have to cope with a number of critical issues and challenges confronting Pakistan today, including the conflict in Balochistan. Balochistan is in the grip of the fifth and longest running insurgency since 1947. The current insurgency began after the veteran Baloch leader Nawab Akbar Bugti was killed by General Musharraf in a military operation in August 2006. Bugti had reservations about royalty payments on Sui gas, construction of additional military cantonments in Balochistan and the development of the Gwadar port. While Bugti was open to dialogue and existence within a restructured federal framework, his successors — who are predominantly educated young people from middle class backgrounds — spurn dialogue and coexistence within the federation of Pakistan. Over the past decade, the conflict landscape in Balochistan has become very complex with the rise of sectarian and religious militancy. Sunni militant groups and the Islamic State have established footprints in the province and are responsible for most of the deadly attacks carried out in the last few years. Police, journalists, lawyers and the Hazara community have borne the brunt of their growing influence. One of the key reasons why previous efforts to reconcile the Baloch separatists failed because repression went hand in hand with reconciliation efforts and those leading the process had little leeway and freedom to negotiate to make meaningful offers Restoring peace in Balochistan should, therefore, be the foremost priority of the new government. This requires a holistic but differentiated strategy. To begin with, tackling the Sunni and sectarian militancy requires a fundamental shift in our national security and Afghan policy. There is a widely held perception in the province that the policy of “good” and “bad” Taliban persists. Durable peace in Balochistan and FATA can only be established when there is peace in Afghanistan. Only a policy of zero tolerance and indiscriminate action against terrorism can help us eradicate this menace. The Baloch ethnic conflict is different in nature and requires a political solution. Neither cosmetic development packages nor military operations are going to resolve the issue. Here is what the government needs to do to find a sustainable solution to the conflict: The government must prepare a comprehensive strategy for reaching out to the Baloch insurgents. This strategy should entail credible guarantees, substantial concessions and confidence building measures (CBMs) such as ceasing of all military operations, withdrawal of FC from certain areas, release of Baloch missing persons and compensation for families of those killed in extrajudicial manner. In absence of CBMs and substantial concessions, negotiations are unlikely to succeed. Mere offers of amnesty won’t convince insurgent leaders to abandon violence and return home. One of the key reasons why previous efforts to reconcile the Baloch separatists failed because repression went hand in hand with reconciliation efforts and those leading the process had little leeway and freedom to negotiate to make meaningful offers. The military’s over-bearing presence in Balochistan, however, is the biggest obstacle in the way of a political solution. The military calls the shots in the province. It has used a range of tactics from repression and use of force to political exclusion and engineering to deal with the Baloch ethnic issue. The military’s hard approach has impeded the growth of political parties, weakened legitimacy of civilian governments and eroded public faith and confidence in parliamentary politics. Therefore, reigning in the military establishment is a prerequisite for the restoration of durable peace. In addition to the military, a class of Baloch political leaders can also sabotage this process. These are people who have made political fortunes out of this conflict and enhanced their power by hanging on to the military’s coat-tail. Unfortunately, most of them are part of the Balochistan Awami Party, which is likely to rule the province for the next five years. So the negotiation process would be better off without the heavy involvement of this group of politicians. Baloch concerns regarding control over their natural and coastal resources must be addressed. For example: control of the multi-billion Saindak copper-gold project was supposed to be transferred to the Government of Balochistan in 2012 under the Aghaz-e-Haqooq-e-Balochistan package. The federal government refused to transfer the ownership of the project to Balochistan, claiming outstanding dues of Rs 27 billion that it had invested in the project. The lease agreement of the project has since been extended twice by the federal government, without the genuine consent of the Balochistan government. Similarly, Baloch people have serious grievances regarding the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). They have concerns about the influx of human labour and threats to their demographic balance, displacement, share of local people in jobs and financial and administrative control over Gwadar port. Moreover, they fear that CPEC will increase oppression and intensify isolation of the Baloch people rather than bringing socio-economic development and integration. The new government shall introduce a constitutional amendment to enhance the powers of Senate and replace the current method of indirect election with direct elections. Pakistan’s current majoritarian federal design makes Balochistan the least rewarding political constituency for political parties seeking to come to power at the federal level. It offers little or no incentive to these parties to care about Balochistan. This primarily explains why successive governments in Islamabad have tended to remain indifferent about Balochistan. Moreover, the Senate has been ineffective in enabling smaller provinces like Balochistan to block policies or legislations that may impinge upon their rights. A directly-elected and powerful Senate is likely to incentivise state-wide parties to take serious interest in Balochistan. This will in turn induce more political competition and bring technical expertise and experience to the province. Besides, enhanced powers will give smaller provinces like Balochistan more say in decision-making at the federal level. The writer is a public policy graduate from University of Oxford Published in Daily Times, August 18th 2018.