By Najam Sethi
01 June, 2012
Intense media scrutiny and concern over the fate of "missing persons" in Balochistan at the hands of the Frontier Corps in an environment of fear and loathing amidst a separatist insurgency that is taking a toll of civilians and soldiers has finally pressurized the government and military to take a fresh look at the "problem of Balochistan" and think of ways to "solve" it. The PM has set up a six-pronged framework - administrative, operational, developmental, administrative, legal and political -- for finding the right solution via a six member steering committee comprising three members each from the federal and provincial governments. General Ashfaq Kayani has chipped in by saying that there can be no military solutions to political problems. Is this a genuinely new initiative capable of delivering solutions?
We are not sanguine. Four years ago, President Asif Zardari pledged to solve the problem "inherited from the Musharraf regime". There was some to-ing and fro-ing. Later, a constitutional package of devolution and additional funds to go with it was unveiled for Balochistan. Rehman Malik tried to pacify the leaders of the nationalist movement in exile. But then the government lost sight of the ball in Balochistan as it became increasingly embroiled in bitter battles with the judges, generals, oppositionists, criminals, sectarianists and terrorists. Today, in the run-up to the elections, when the PPP government is besieged on all fronts more than ever before, it is unrealistic to expect any concrete or positive initiatives from them.
There are other reasons for disquiet. The meeting chaired by the PM was attended by the Army Chief, DG-ISI, CM and Governor of Balochistan. But the DG-Military Intelligence and Inspector General-Frontier Corps were conspicuous by their absence, despite the fact that the FC and MI are veritably in the eye of the storm. They are charged with developing and operating an anti-insurgent policy in Balochistan that has become part of the problem rather than the solution. FC Balochistan is 40,000 strong; it is an amalgam of Border Scouts and Militias along the Durand Line with Afghanistan and is led by a serving major general of the Pakistan army who is answerable to GHQ rather than the Interior Ministry; it has been a front line recipient of billions of dollars in training and equipment from the Americans for counter-insurgency operations in FATA since 2007 where it remains a core military strike force. Indeed, the Supreme Court has seen evidence that shows the FC is targeting and arresting suspected Baloch troublemakers and making them "disappear". Qamar Zaman Kaira, the Information Minister, has said that the FC would henceforth report to the CM of Balochistan and confine itself to maintaining law and order only. This is an admission that the FC was until now not reporting to the provincial government and was in fact conducting anti-insurgent operations.
Another dimension of the military solution has not even been mentioned. This is the role of military agencies in creating and propping up several armed non-state actors or Tribal Lashkars of "patriotic" Pakistanis to combat the "treasonable" separatists in Balochistan. These groups are used to identify, target and carry out reprisals against nationalist elements in the remote areas of the southern and coastal parts of the province.
The military has a simplistic view of the problem: the Baloch separatists are misguided, aided and abetted by enemies Afghanistan and India, even America, to attack Pakistan's security agencies, fuel chaos and fear, and create the pre-conditions for dismembering Pakistan; the solution is to crush the insurgents without regard for niceties like due process of law and human rights.
But this strategy isn't working for precisely the same reasons that the American strategy to fight the Taliban isn't working in Afghanistan: the Pakistanis are abetting the Afghan Taliban and thwarting NATO efforts to degrade them for a political compromise; the Afghans and Indians are abetting the Baloch insurgents and encouraging them to reject politically inclusive solutions within Pakistan. They are doing this because Pakistan's secret agencies have fomented jihad in Indian administered Kashmir for two decades and Talibanism in Afghanistan since 1996. It's payback time.
Pakistan's civil-military establishment needs a three-pronged strategy to solve Balochistan. First, it must stop provoking and alienating Afghanistan and India by state-sponsored cross-border terrorism as an element of Pakistan's national security doctrine. This will help negate any "pull" factor provided to the Baloch insurgents by them. Second, it must create a political environment to negate the "push" factor in Balochistan that led to the exile of the leaders of the insurgency in the first place in 2002 following the installation of Military-Mullah regimes in KPK and Balochistan. Third, it must reach out quickly on both fronts so that the opportunity for truth and reconciliation provided by the forthcoming elections later this year is not missed. It's a tall order.