Winning back the Baloch
Farooq Hameed Khan
After the stern warning by the Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry that Balochistan’s worsening security situation warranted imposition of a state of emergency, Prime Minister Gilani embarked on long-awaited visit to Quetta, his first as the country’s convicted and sentenced chief executive. Mr Gilani’s arrival coincided with another of series of targeted killings of Quetta’s besieged Hazara community.
At recent high-level meetings chaired by Gilani and attended by the governor and chief minister of Balochistan, COAS and the director general of the ISI, it was decided to form a six-member cabinet committee to engage Baloch nationalists and disgruntled politicians to bring peace to the province. The initiation of the long due dialogue process was at the insistence of the security establishment that has persistently asked for a political solution to the insurgency. The national conference sponsored by the Supreme Court Bar Association on Balochistan held recently in Islamabad called for an end to military and paramilitary operations in the province. It was addressed by leading politicians.
The inspector general of the Frontier Corps remarked in a recent interview that militant camps had been almost eliminated in the 2007 army operation. However, after the present government assumed power in 2008, the army was withdrawn and plans for new cantonments were abandoned. These steps emboldened the militants to set up almost one hundred camps with foreign support. With the army confined to the barracks, any withdrawal of the Frontier Corps would be tantamount to handing over the province to Baloch militant groups. Should the security of the vital Sui gas installations be entrusted to the ragtag, ill-trained Levies forces that were sympathetic to and infiltrated by militants? How will the infiltration of trained miscreants and supply of weapons from across Afghanistan’s three dozen training camps be stopped if the FC is not allowed freedom of operation?
The continued killings of the Hazaras and attacks on the Frontier Corps in and around Quetta reflect a paralysis of the provincial government and ineffectiveness of the security and intelligence agencies. Gilani’s assertion that foreign powers were eyeing the province’s rich natural resources is neither new nor surprising. But the province’s trillion-dollars mineral wealth may not be their only attraction.
The loss of the vital Shamsie airbase was a critical blow to US presence in the strategic energy and trade corridor linking the Balochistan coast to Afghanistan and Central Asia. It helped the US to monitor Iran’s western borders and could be used to launch air strikes in a US/Israeli conflict with Iran. Shamsie provided the launching base for US drones’ killings in Waziristan. Alarmed over the United States’ expansionist activities in the form of newly constructed fortress-type Karachi consulate and the upcoming 1.7 million sq ft massive new US embassy complex in Islamabad, the Pakistani government obstructed US plans for a permanent Balochistan foothold by denying the superpower its long-desired Quetta consulate. Amid the growing Chinese involvement in Gwadar, Saidnak, Reqo Diq and other mineral development projects in Balochistan was unacceptable to the US and India, their strategic partnership with theKarzai government provided a perfect setting for the use of Afghan soil to destabilise Balochistan.
Despite resolution of issues related to provincial and financial autonomy and employment incentives in the 18th Amendment, the 7th NFC Award and the Aghaz-e-Haqooq-e-Balochistan package, why has peace not returned to the province? Has Balochistan’s peace been held hostage by an inefficient and corrupt provincial government? Having made no worthwhile contribution to the reconciliation process with dissident Baloch leaders, the current provincial leadership cannot be relied upon to deliver peace to their restive province. During Musharraf’s era, 95 percent of the province was declared an “A Area” under police jurisdiction with the remaining 5 percent being “B Area” under the Levies’ control. Why did thepresent Balochistan government revert to the 95 percent “B Area” after it assumed power in 2008?
Despite enjoying lavish perks and privileges and getting over Rs100 billion worth of development funds, Balochistan’s MPAs may have enriched their bank accounts but have not contributed towards the socio-economic betterment of the province. The Baloch must not elect such corrupt leadership in the coming elections and should demand empowerment at grassroots level to be part of development and decision making. Efforts of the federal government and armed forces to kick-start Balochistan’s economic development or integrate baloch youth in main stream through 10,000 federal jobs, 5,000 scholarships abroad and a 20,000 military recruitment quota will remain fruitless unless a peace agreement is concluded with Baloch nationalists and exiled leaders before the next elections. This will pave the way for their honourable return and participation in the democratic process at the national and provincial levels.
Confidence-building steps by both sides will create a favourable environment for dialogue and agreement. These should include a ceasefire, general amnesty for insurgents, dismantling of militant camps, release of missing persons by the security agencies and guaranteeing the safety and security of sensitive installations. Balochistan should be declared an “A Area” under police control and the Levies system should be abolished. A Truth and Reconciliation Commission should be set up which should investigate human-rights violations and the problem of missing persons, and arrange compensation and rehabilitation for victims of insurgency. If the due process of law is expedited in the Nawab Akbar Bugti murder case, winning back the angry Baloch could perhaps become easier and also speed up the reconciliation process.