Quake aid for Pakistan's neglected
The government's disaster relief in Balochistan comes amid ongoing efforts to reach out to the troubled province.
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Rescue teams were still attempting to reach the more remote areas in the province, often in freezing temperatures.Skip to next paragraph
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The Pakistani government's quake relief comes amid an ongoing effort to improve relations with its largest but often neglected province. One day before the quake President Asif Ali Zardari, himself of Balochi tribal descent, cleared a detailed road map to find a "resolution to all their [Balochi] issues" for which the government is "ready to go any extent," according to his party officials.
The proposal outlined a strategy of three "R"s: reconciliation with political forces, rebuilding institutions, and reallocating natural resources.
His words contrasted sharply with those of previous governments. Balochistan, the last state to formally join the Pakistani union in 1948, has had a simmering nationalist and separatist militancy since 1971, when it was first crushed in a military operation.
Under President Pervez Musharraf, who ruled from 1999 until this August, the federal government's relationship with the province hit bottom. The Pakistani military was deployed across the province starting in 2004. Hundreds of Balochis disappeared and were killed as the government cracked down on suspected dissenters and separatists. The province nearly broke into war two years ago after the Army killed prominent Balochi leader Akbar Khan Bugti.
One of the first points of business for the new government, which took office in March, was to issue an official state apology to the Balochi people earlier this year. Since then, the government has made additional goodwill gestures, such as freeing prominent Balochi prisoners en masse. Last month the president's top security adviser said all Balochi political prisoners' cases would be reviewed and some people released.
An editorial in the English-language Daily Times said Tuesday, the day before the earthquake, that the government "is in a good position to address the Balochistan problem." It "has been able to tone down the insurgency that showed no signs of abating during the tenure of the previous government."
But it might take more than goodwill gestures and a impressive disaster relief effort to win Balochi hearts and minds. "There are still issues like the military's presence in Balochistan and the fate of the people who are still in jails – these are also immediate concerns for a lot of families," says Alia Amirali, a doctoral candidate at Quaid-e-Azam University in Islamabad who studies Balochi nationalism.
After the 2005 earthquake in northern Pakistan, which killed 75,000 people and displaced millions, the government compensated every family who had lost a family member with about $1,250. This time, victims' families will receive twice that amount, the government announced Wednesday.