Wednesday, May 30, 2012
Daily Times Editorial May 31, 2012
Political solution to Balochistan conundrum The high level meeting chaired by Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani on Tuesday saw COAS General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani holding out a solemn assurance that the personnel of the armed forces and Frontier Corps (FC) would carry out their tasks within the ambit of the law. The COAS asserted that not a single soldier of the army is involved in any military operation in the province. Perhaps the COAS needs reminding that the FC, universally accused of responsibility for the missing persons, is commanded by military officers. The FC, the meeting decided, would be placed under the control of the chief minister (provided, of course, he can tear himself away from Islamabad and attend to his duties in his home province). In an exact reversal of the FC’s role, it has been relieved of anti-smuggling duties (its real mandate) and ‘confined’ to law and order management, including the safety of travellers on the highways of the province. The meeting failed to take into account the demand across the board in Balochistan that the hated FC be withdrawn to the borders to concentrate on its real task, and law and order be dealt with in more ‘normal’ fashion. The FC also stands accused of abducting people on the highways of the province. How will it now provide ‘safe’ travel on those very highways? A six-member committee (another!) has been formed comprising three members each from the federal and provincial governments to monitor the missing persons issue and report to the prime minister every week. The question is, if the civilian authorities are helpless before the military, its intelligence agencies and the FC, not to mention the frustration of even the Supreme Court in bringing the missing persons home and the perpetrators of the abductions, torture and killings to justice, how will this ‘toothless’ committee make any difference? The meeting announced the approach of Dialogue, Rule of Law and Autonomy (DRA) to guide its efforts to resolve the problems of the province. The Dialogue will be conducted in three phases, first with the political forces in Balochistan that boycotted the 2008 elections; second, nationalist forces that still subscribe to the federation, and third, the ‘others’ (implying the estranged forces involved in the insurgency). The writ of the government, according to Federal Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira, would be re-established, starting with the urban areas, of which Quetta would be turned into a ‘model city’. Foolproof security would be provided to local and foreign companies prospecting for minerals in the province. The province’s jobs quota in the federal services would be filled, its quota in the military would be fulfilled, and 300 youth inducted into the Levies. General Kayani asked for scholarships for the students studying in the cadet colleges set up by the army in Kohlu and Sui. The federal government would pick up the tab for five years salaries instead of three of the 5,000 jobs for youth of the province under the Aaghaaz-e-Haqooq-e-Balochistan package. While the military seems to have expressed its willingness to allow the provincial government to take charge of security in the province, an ominous note was struck by some military sources that some separatist elements would still be held accountable. In that case, how would the ‘dialogue’ with the estranged leaders proceed? Revolutionary or merely symbolic, too little too late or better late than never, take your pick of the considerable scepticism that still lingers despite the soothing noises emanating from the meeting. The real test of course in the days ahead will be to see if the military and the FC abandon their ‘kill and dump’ policy, a campaign to decapitate the dissident intelligentsia of the province. A significant omission from the final conclusions of the meeting was the issue of bringing Nawab Akbar Bugti’s killers to justice, a question Kaira avoided in his press conference. While it would be churlish not to recognise the good intentions and even positives of the meeting’s decisions, healthy scepticism is justified by the trajectory of the approach over long years to the Balochistan problem. General Kayani may have expressed the belated wisdom that seems to be sinking in that the Balochistan problem is a political one that does not lend itself to the use of military force for any lasting solution, but the proof of the pudding will be in the eating, i.e. on the ground in Balochistan over the coming days.