The kidnapping of a senior UN official in Balochistan points to a worsening situation in Pakistan's poorest and most neglected province, says guest columnist Ahmed Rashid.
Mr Solecki's driver was killed in the kidnapping in Quetta
Amid the unceasing political turmoil in Pakistan, the Baloch insurgency has been virtually forgotten.
It had been running for several years before President Asif Ali Zardari and Baloch groups declared a ceasefire last year. The insurgency resumed when the government failed to follow up the truce with meaningful talks.
The wide-ranging political and economic grievances of the alienated Baloch people remain forgotten and unaddressed.
On 2 February, John Solecki, head of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) in Balochistan province, was kidnapped in Quetta and his driver shot dead, allegedly by Baloch militants belonging to the hitherto unknown Balochistan Liberation United Front.
The kidnappers have demanded the release of 141 Baloch women and several thousand Baloch males, whom the kidnappers charge have been held in secret detention by Pakistani intelligence agencies for several years.
However Islamabad denies that it is holding any "disappeared" Baloch prisoners, while Pakistani human rights organisations also say they have tried but failed to trace such a large number of disappeared women or their families.
The UN and leading Western countries have mounted a large international effort to obtain the release of Mr Solecki, who suffers from several ailments.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and Mr Solecki's mother, Rose, have issued appeals for his release. However the kidnappers have refused to get in touch with the UN, while the US and Pakistan have said there will be no compromises with the kidnappers and he must be released unconditionally.
Prominent Baloch leaders who are sympathetic to the insurgents have strongly denied that any Baloch group was responsible for the kidnapping and have also issued appeals for Mr Solecki's release.
They include the chiefs and clan leaders of the powerful Marri, Bugti and Mengal tribes which have been in the forefront of the insurgency.
Baloch groups have denied their involvement in the kidnapping
The kidnappers unsubstantiated and opaque demands, the fact that their group has never been heard of until now, their refusal to get in touch with the UNHCR and the fact that Baloch insurgents have never targeted Western officials before this incident, has raised serious questions among the Baloch public about who exactly the kidnappers may be.
Many fear it could be the Taleban who are trying to dirty the name of the Baloch nationalists.
The government seems to have no such doubts.
On 26 February, the head of the Frontier Corps in Quetta, Maj Gen Saleem Nawaz, said that he knew roughly where Mr Solecki was being held, back door negotiations were underway with the kidnappers and that those involved were the same old Baloch insurgents using a new name.
The military has also long insisted that the US government place Baloch insurgent groups on their list of groups that sponsor terrorism - something neither the Bush nor Obama administrations have so far declined to do.
Moreover, Balochistan is also a hotbed of tensions between India and Pakistan, with Pakistan insisting that Indian intelligence agencies are arming and funding the Baloch insurgents in order to break up Pakistan. India has denied the charges, but for decades both countries have used covert agencies to undermine the other.
'Balochistan is Pakistan's poorest and most neglected province'
The kidnapping has highlighted the growing insecurity in Quetta and other Baloch towns where insurgents have resumed their bombing and assassination campaign against the army and politicians loyal to the government.
There is seething unrest in the province with the public angry with both the army and the federal government. The failure of President Zardari to extend the ceasefire by conducting meaningful talks with the insurgents has come in for particular criticism.
Balochistan is Pakistan's poorest and most neglected province and there have been several insurgencies by Baloch nationalist over six decades that have been brutally crushed by the military.
Whereas previously Baloch nationalists demanded greater autonomy within the federation of Pakistan, today the situation has worsened and many Baloch are demanding a separate country for themselves.
The danger is that amidst all of Pakistan's other problems - a crashing economy, political unrest and the Taleban insurgency in the north - the Baloch will come to feel more and more neglected and forgotten, thereby increasing the chances of more spectacular acts of terrorism.
Balochistan needs a political solution and quickly, but so far the government has failed to take remedial measures to improve the economic downturn and massive unemployment in the province or to talk to the dissidents.
In the meantime the fate of a UN official, who has spent several years helping poor Baloch people, hangs in the balance.
Here is a selection of your comments
Mr. Rashid's comments on the situation in Balochistan are accurate but there is still a hint of the same old excuse used previously by our nation. In my humble opinion the main blame for the current situation of the country lies squarely in the appeasement of the citizens of Pakistan of our so-called leadership. Our acquiescence in the repeated mutinies by the Pakistani Army (there is no other way to describe their repeated taking over the governance of the nation) and our setting aside of our principles in the face of accused crooks and criminals of all sorts running the country. Our exaltation of the material over all else has led to the slow killing off of any selfless spirit among our countrymen and that is the catalyst that fuels a nations spirit. We have become so inured to poverty and death and have lost all sense of empathy with the suffering of our fellow citizens.
Liaqat Ali, USA
As usual, Ahmed Rashid doesn't give up on his cynical and highly exaggerated accounts of the situation on the ground in Pakistan; whether it be in Balochistan or NWFP. It seems he thrives on controversy and provocative articles to say the least. He merits no credibility for continuously giving the same 'Armageddon' scenario as the end-game in Pakistan - something he's been doing for the past couple of years & yet his so-called analysis has failed to materialise.
Ahmed Rashid, you are such a wonderful writer. I try my level best to read every piece of yours. But sir your last paragraph is misleading. You are absolutely wrong when you say: "a UN official, who has spent several years helping poor Baloch people." The UNHCR has had no operations in any Baloch area. Those benefitting from the UNHCR operations are NOT the Baloch but the Afghan refugees. More than a 100,000 Baloch are internally displaced at the moment. They need the UN intervention. The UNHCR has not moved any inch to help them out. They languish in different parts of Balochistan. On the other hand, the Afghan refugees, who are a constant source of unrest and violence in Balochistan, are being encouraged by the UNHCR to continue their stay in Balochistan.
Malik Siraj Akbar, Pakistan
Having spent 20 years of my life in the province of Balochistan and having family and friends there, I can claim to a certain extent of understanding the problems scourging the region. Balochistan is the largest province of Pakistan in terms of area. It is rich in mineral resources and natural gas, and prospects of finding oil in some areas cannot be ruled out. It is pitiable to note that such a potentially rich area has been neglected by the country's ruling elite for more than 60 years. Economically, politically, educationally and socially, the people of Balochistan have been ignored by Pakistan's establishment which has resulted in large-scale resentment and disillusionment. Military operations and grave violations of human rights in the province have alienated the Baloch people to such an extent that they now demand a separate state. The province should be given its due share in terms of fiscal resources and massive opportunities for education and employment should be created. The elected representatives of the Baloch people should be given political empowerment to rule according to people's wishes. The 'disappeared' Baloch people who are in illegal detention should be immediately released and the government must undo the human rights violations committed in the past, creating an environment of trust between the province and the center. Are these steps too difficult to implement?
Its obvious that, Pakistan is busy with the NWFP and negligence towards the Baluchistan creates vacuum of attention, which gives opportunity to external players, Taliban, Al-Qaidea or possibly BLUF to be active and promote their ideology and interests. At the same time Indian secret agency has been blamed for fuelling the activities by supporting insurgent groups in order to destabilize the Pakistan.
Baluchistan needs much more attention in terms of security and stability, as more insurgent and sectarian violence towards foreigner and ethnic communities are increasing. The unchecked borders with Afghanistan gives an opportunity to Taleban and al-Qaeda to move in and out and create an unchecked operational base, in order to attack without any fear as federal government is engaged immensely with other issues.
As mentioned by one of the leading Baloch intellectual and politicians in his recent article that "the resource-rich province is today marked by a high rate of poverty, illiteracy, unemployment, and infant and maternal mortality. In addition the years of military operations, ill-conceived and discriminatory policies and poor governance has resulted in extreme underdevelopment of the region. Years of defective policies of Islamabad has further deteriorated the life of the helpless masses. The establishment's version of development with regard to Balochistan emphasizes troop deployments, military and paramilitary cantonments check posts and policing to suppress the politically sensitive Baloch people. The fallout from Islamabad's version of development is obvious. According to the Pakistan National Human Development Report 2003, conducted for the first time by the UN development agency, wide variations in HDI measures exist across the provinces and districts. According to the report, there is considerable variation across provinces with respect to literacy rates which vary from 51 per cent in Sindh to 36 per cent in Balochistan. Unsurprisingly Balochistan and its districts were assessed to be the worst off in Pakistan. Amongst the top 31 districts with the highest HDI, Punjab had by far the largest share at 59 per cent, while Balochistan lagged far behind at nine per cent. For comparison, Sindh had a 13 per cent share and NWFP 19 per cent. According to the Social Policy and Development Centre (SPDC) an overview of the development scene in Balochistan is appalling and the extent of relative deprivation in the province is unspeakable. Ninety two 92 per cent of Balochistan's districts are classified as high deprivation compared to 50 per cent in Sindh and 29 per cent in Punjab. The story at the population level is equally grim. The Pakistan Integrated Household Survey 2001-02 revealed that Balochistan had the most poor (48 per cent of the province population) and the worst level of rural poverty (51 per cent). According to a study conducted by Dr Talat Anwar, a senior development expert, rural poverty in Balochistan increased 15 per cent between 1999 and 2005. Contrast this with the experience of urban Punjab which saw a nearly four per cent drop in poverty between 1999 and 2005 to stand at 20.6 per cent. Sindh and NWFP also experienced growing poverty over the same period. The most devastating consequence of underdevelopment in any society is a high death rate. Balochistan has the highest infant and maternal mortality ratio in South Asia. According to a Ministry of Health policy paper, Gender awareness policy appraisal 2006, one of the major reasons for this high maternal mortality rate is hunger and malnutrition, which affects 34 per cent of pregnant women. The infant mortality statistics are equally grim. Successive findings indicate that infant mortality in Balochistan is 130 deaths per 1,000 live births. Compare this to Democratic Republic of Congo's average of 126 and Pakistan's national average of 70. No good news exists for Balochistan in any development statistic. 25 per cent of the population has access to electricity (national average, 75 per cent). The male literary rate is 18.3 per cent and the female literacy rate seven percent (Punjab, overall 63.6 per cent). The regional gender disparity in educational institutes is stark. Punjab has 111 vocational institutes for women; Balochistan has one. Only 23 per cent of girls in rural areas are fortunate to be enrolled in primary schools in Balochistan as compared to twice that ratio in rural Punjab. This discriminatory policy is not only resulting in a slowdown of gender empowerment but is affecting the overall development of the province. Even the educational institutions that do exist suffer from an acute lack of resources. 67 per cent of schools in the province have no proper building; while 60 per cent of primary schools have only one untrained and unqualified teacher. What has grown is the number of religious schools in the province during the tenure of the PML-Q and MMA coalition government. Deliberately the Baloch youth have been kept deprived of all forms of contemporary education. Compared to the 340 polytechnic, computer science, women vocational institutes and commercial and law colleges in Punjab, Balochistan has only nine such centres, all poorly developed and in urban areas. Hence, rural Baloch youth are completely deprived of practical education. The systematic denial of basic education and education-related facilities in Balochistan clearly indicates the disrespect and discriminatory policies of Islamabad. The only development Balochistan has witnessed during Musharraf regime is the 62 per cent increase of police stations in the province to suppress the Baloch people movement". I am not a Baloch, but i agree 100% with Baloch people demand for self-rule. They have the right to rule their region without Islamabad and military's interference, they have to utilize resources for their well being and educate their coming generation.
Rasool Bux, Belgium
Balochistan have been neglected from the beginning and time has come for the people of Pakistan to start a movement for payment and distribution of royalties to the people of Balochistan.
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