Bull in a china shop

Federal Interior Minister Rehman Malik has banned five Baloch militant groups – the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA), the Baloch Republican Army (BRA), the Baloch Liberation United Front (BLUF), the Baloch Liberation Front (BLF) and the Baloch Mussalah Diffah Tanzim (BMDT). This is highly illogical since none of these groups were legal entities to begin with. Mr Malik’s remarks that these groups “will not be allowed to undertake any activity, their offices will be closed, bank accounts frozen and action will be taken against their office bearers” is ludicrous. Which offices, bank accounts or office bearers? The insurgent groups in Balochistan do not function from any formal offices or through any official channels for funding. Mr Malik is acting like a bull in a china shop. His announcement of transferring police powers to the Frontier Corps (FC) is another example of complete high-handedness and utter disregard for the law of the land. FC is a federal paramilitary force to begin with and under its original mandate, it should be confined to duties 10 miles from the country’s borders. General Musharraf deployed the FC in the interior of Balochistan under a special dispensation. Since then the situation in Balochistan has worsened, especially after Nawab Akbar Bugti was killed by the Musharraf regime in 2006.

It is highly irresponsible of the interior minister to first talk of using force to restore ‘peace’ in the province and later backtracking somewhat when confronted by the Balochistan government on the content and tone of his pronouncements. Balochistan is poised in a very delicate situation, the political culture is wary of such threatening postures, and the provincial leadership is better informed of the nuances and shades that inform the politics of the province. In any case, law and order is a provincial subject and the federal government has to provide help rather than occasional bluster. Thus, the statement from the Balochistan government that “the views expressed in the news conference were Rehman Malik’s personal views and the Balochistan government has nothing to do with those decisions/views” comes across as a rap on the knuckles for Mr Malik. When he does not have the agreement of the provincial government, announcing such moves leads to the impression, rightly or wrongly, that there is a divide between the federal and the provincial government. The political parties in Balochistan have also shown their utter dismay at Mr Malik’s statements. By describing the operation as an intelligence-guided operation rather than a full-fledged military operation similar to the one in Swat, Mr Malik is exposing his lack of knowledge of military operations. What was done in Swat is not the only form of a military operation. The FC has already been carrying out surreptitious and illegal operations inside Balochistan for years. Countless people have been arrested, never to be found again, or turning up as bullet-riddled bodies. There have been reported cases of torture and murder by the intelligence agencies. In a situation such as this, the federal interior minister’s latest misadventure is nothing but a recipe for disaster. After Nawab Bugti’s assassination in 2006, the separatist sentiment in Balochistan gained strength. Instead of giving relief to the Baloch and giving in to their just demands, the Musharraf government launched a massive crackdown in the province. The PPP-led government was expected to reverse the dictator’s egoistic and draconian measures, but it seems that history has not taught our leaders any lessons.

If the federal government wants more trouble on its hands, Mr Malik’s recipe is the surest way to get there. The end result will not be to its liking. But if the government is really interested in solving this crisis, it should replace the FC with the levies and police as was the case in the past. The FC already stands accused by all and sundry in the province of running a parallel government. This leaves little recourse for the Baloch except to take up arms in the face of extreme repression. The government should resolve this issue by taking the Baloch leadership into confidence and discussing their just demands. Without talking to the available and underground or in exile leadership, continuing the military operation in the guise of restoring peace is unlikely to reap any positive dividends.

(my editorial in Daily Times)


Anonymous said…
Mehmal I really enjoyed reading this piece. It is so sad to see the immense alienation and injustice carried out by the Pakistan government and army twds Balochistan

You always back up wht u say with historical context.. Good job

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