COAS General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani has taken to making regular visits to Balochistan of late. On his latest tour, he addressed ceremonies marking the launching of a newly established military college in Sui and the Gwadar Institute of Technology, also an army project. Previously, the army has set up a cadet college in the province, some of the graduates of which (about 5,000) are about to be inducted into the Pakistani military. At Sui the COAS was at pains to assert that no ‘military’ operation was being conducted in Balochistan and that the two battalions of the army deployed on security duties at Sui would be withdrawn, to be replaced by the Frontier Corps (FC). He also stated that no military operation would be conducted without the permission of the provincial government (which would certainly be a first). Also, that the four cantonments to be built in Balochistan that were announced by General Pervez Musharraf at the height of the troubles following the killing of Nawab Akbar Bugti, are not now going to be built and no new cantonment will be built unless the people agree to it. General Kayani also underlined the importance of the civilian law enforcement agencies’ need to get their act together, since the army could not handle internal security entirely on its own. He also voiced his apprehensions regarding the economy of the country, warning of the consequences of an economic meltdown, a la the Soviet Union.
Now all these are sweet words and quite unlike what the Baloch are used to hearing from official quarters. However, if they are meant to placate the anger seething amongst the people of the province and to convince the Baloch that the Pakistan army is a national institution, their institution, far more than sweet words may be required. While ostensibly the COAS’ statement that no ‘military’ operation is being conducted appears technically accurate since it is not the regular army but the FC that is carrying out ‘operations’ in Balochistan such as disappearances of nationalist cadres and the dumping of their tortured and bullet-riddled bodies all over the province, the fact that regular army formations such as the one at Sui will be sent back to their barracks in Quetta does not provide the salve to the wounds of the angry Baloch that it may be intended to since the FC is arguably hated the most in the province, being considered the main culprit in the miseries visited upon the province’s people. The replacement of the regular army by the FC at Sui may be likened by the Baloch to jumping from the frying pan into the fire.
The setting up of cadet and technical institutions to provide education and training to Baloch youth with a view to the possible induction of more and more of them into the ranks of the armed forces is unexceptionable as a concept and in itself. At Gwadar, General Kayani announced that the army would set up an Army Medical College, an Institute of Mineralogy, and a Cardiac Treatment Centre in Quetta. But all this too may not suffice to ease the hurt and anger of the people of Balochistan.
Chief Minister Aslam Raisani too pitched in with his wisdom while talking to journalists after returning to Quetta from the ceremony at Gwadar. He asserted that the people of Balochistan do not want separation. This is the propaganda of a few and the (ubiquitous) foreign hand too cannot be ruled out. If the separatist sentiment is the work of only a few, it must be said that they are proving increasingly effective in stoking the fires of nationalism, helped and abetted by the actions of the authorities, especially the FC. Could it be that it is the repressive policies of the FC that are persuading more and more youth to take up arms in the mountains? As to the always present ‘foreign hand’, this is an old and tired record in which the needle has been stuck in the same groove as long as can be remembered. Nevertheless, logically no conditions should be created in any part of the country that may open the doors to the ‘foreign hand’ fishing in troubled waters.
To avoid the catastrophe that is looming in Balochistan and therefore for the country, sops such as army-organised education, training and induction into the armed forces of Baloch youth and all other welfare measures may not prove efficacious so long as the repression continues. What is missing in this scenario is a dialogue with the guerrillas in the mountains, the nationalist leadership at home and in exile, and with the people of Balochistan as a whole to address their grievances and bring them into the fold through a process of genuine reconciliation. Do we have the vision and will for that?