Thursday, April 16, 2015

Daily Times Editorial April 17, 2015

COAS on Balochistan In the wake of the tragic incident in Turbat in which 20 labourers from Punjab and Sindh were killed by the Balochistan Liberation Army, COAS General Raheel Sharif paid Quetta a visit to assess the security situation. After interactions with the top civil and military officials of the province, he delivered a strong message about wiping out all insurgents in Balochistan. He also warned foreign powers and their intelligence agencies to refrain from supporting the insurgency in the province (an accusation being repeated more and more of late but for which not a shred of evidence is available to date). Further, he underlined that the Frontier Works Organisation and other military-affiliated outfits would continue their development projects to bring prosperity and peace to Balochistan. On his return to Islamabad, General Raheel Sharif met Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to brief him about the security situation in Pakistan’s largest in area but poorest province. According to reports, the two top officials took a decision in principle to extend Operation Zarb-e-Azb against terrorists in FATA and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) to Balochistan. While General Raheel Sharif deserves praise for taking on the terrorists in FATA and KP by launching Operation Zarb-e-Azb last year, a task long delayed by his predecessor and now accelerated by the massacre of school children in Peshawar this year, it must be asked whether the situation in Balochistan resembles what the government and military face in FATA and KP. In the latter, long years of mollycoddling religious extremist militias in the mistaken belief that they could be indefinitely deployed in the Afghanistan context without suffering any domestic fallout, has now finally culminated in the wisdom that these Pakistani Taliban groups affiliated ideologically if not organisationally with the Afghan Taliban pose a serious challenge to Pakistan and must be eliminated. In the case of Balochistan however, the current troubles are the fifth insurgency in the province since independence. Each time nationalist dissidence and armed resistance has reared its head through this long period, the approach has been to rely on military force to crush the nationalist insurgents without addressing the underlying grievances that give rise to these repeated insurgencies. Every insurgency before the current one has ended inconclusively, the blood shed on either side notwithstanding, in relative quiet, compromise, and expedient forgetting about the causes of the trouble in the first place. The risk is that what appears to be a ‘one size fits all’ approach to Balochistan’s complexities may not end very differently, even if the present insurgents are rendered incapacitated by concentrated military means. That implies that even of this insurgency is quelled, there is no guarantee a new insurgency does not lie in wait for us down the road. One of the problems bedevilling the issue of Balochistan is the state of blissful ignorance by and large throughout the country regarding the issue. The security establishment is nervous about allowing any free debate on the issue. Hence the stoppage of an academic discussion on Balochistan and human rights in the context of forced disappearances that have afflicted the province for years in LUMS, Lahore the other day. The consistent failure to address Balochistan’s grievances over the years has led to such alienation amongst its people that separatist sentiment has gripped large sections of youth. The security establishment hopes to win hearts and minds by offering military-led development that can offer economic opportunities to the youth. However, such top-down, externally driven development has failed in the past and is likely to fail again to convince a critical mass of Baloch youth to abandon passive if not active sympathy and support for the nationalist insurgents. The silence imposed on events regarding Balochistan (a policy harking back to the very beginning of Balochistan’s dissonance in 1948) implies the inability of the media to report honestly on what is taking place in the province, particularly from the interior where most of the action takes place. Reliance therefore has perforce to be placed on handouts by the security forces. The credibility of this officially certified truth has often been questioned, the latest being the post-labourers’ killings operation that claimed to have killed 13 of the perpetrators. Nationalist sources contest this version by pointing out that the brother of the alleged commander of the group held responsible was a wheelchair-bound person for many years and the others were persons already in the custody of the security agencies. We are in no position to verify either version. And that goes to the heart of the conundrum: can the state succeed by suppressing information about one of Pakistan’s most troubled provinces? At the very least, the intent avowed by General Raheel Sharif should extend to the religious sectarian groups that have been wreaking havoc in the province for years. While there is little progress seen against such groups, the approach to the political conundrum of Balochistan remains mired in strategies tried in the past without the end results promised every time.

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