The arrogant and ominous utterance of General Musharraf that “he [Nawab Bugti] would never know what hit him”, is the sentence the actualisation of which has ravaged military-civilian relations in Balochistan
The ongoing unrest (or insurgency) in Balochistan is not the first one. Nevertheless, after 1999, the military regime of General Pervaiz Musharraf resorted to actions that proved counter-productive in Balochistan in three main ways. First, settlers were assailed by the locals. Second, the Sui plant was showered with rockets. Third, check posts (of both the military and FC) were attacked. All three features of the crisis are unprecedented in the trouble-ridden history of Balochistan. Unfortunately though, these three features have now become the hallmark of the Balochistan crisis.
Zeroing in on the ethnic tension, one can find five main reasons for escalating ethnic disharmony in Balochistan. First, the Baloch have observed that the settlers (including the Punjabis and Urdu-speaking migrants) have never opposed any military operation in Balochistan. The settlers just watch atrocities inflicted on the Baloch but choose to be silent spectators. Their silence is considered tantamount to approval of the military operations and hence of the atrocities. Second, the Baloch have perceived, or perhaps uncovered, that, to their chagrin, the settlers extend covert support to the military, adding to the feeling of resentment by the locals, who already feel overwhelmed by the non-Baloch ethnic mix. Third, the Baloch have experienced that the non-Baloch businessmen established as settlers are opportunists who are there to earn money only but not loyal to the land. They are there as just outsiders who owe allegiance to their parent provinces and are inclined to act against the Baloch interests — social, political and economic. Fourth, the Baloch have witnessed that the settlers have never stood up for their rights. They have their own axe to grind besides extending support to the Centre in its policy formulation and implementation. Fifth, the Baloch apprehend that the steady inflow of the non-Baloch to become new settlers will not only shift the demographic balance against the ethnic Baloch by making them a minority in their own province but will also water down their say in the province’s affairs.
An interesting question is whether the military deployed in Balochistan is to protect the settlers. Second, why does the military bank on the settlers to seek information to use against the Baloch? By so doing, the military and its intelligence agencies have done a great injustice to the settlers and have severed the people-to-people contact in Balochistan.
It is also apparent that the military and intelligence agencies are facing the curse of alienation in Balochistan. They must be relying on the settlers for the success of their operations. The local Pushtuns may be their next choice to extend a helping hand. No surprise if the civil-military non-Baloch ethnic nexus incites the ethnic Baloch into turning against the settlers. Further, a confrontation can also appear between the ethnic Baloch and the ethnic Pashtun owing to the same reason. The military is playing with fire.
The protection of the settlers is the job of the provincial government through having a well-equipped and trained police force. The more the military (even through its face called the FC) resorts to helping the settlers, the more it proves the apprehension of the Baloch true (that there exists a nexus between the military and the settlers), and the more the settlers are becoming vulnerable to retributive attacks. They must understand that the nature of the settler-local relationship is vital. It should be reviewed and its direction changed in favour of the Baloch.
If the Baloch voice for their rights is unjustified, what is the meaning of the word ‘aghaaz’ (beginning) in the package called Aghaaz-i-Haqooq-i-Balochistan? It tried to address not only the politico-economic grievances of the province but also the injustices meted out to the ethnic Baloch. Understandably, the new proposed curbs on the media are meant to muffle the voice of the Baloch.
To be investigated is why a politician such as late Nawab Akbar Bugti, who always took pride in welcoming and shaking hands with Mohammad Ali Jinnah, and who held key political and administrative positions in the province and at the Centre, became disillusioned with Pakistan. The arrogant and ominous utterance of General Musharraf that “he [Nawab Bugti] would never know what hit him”, is the sentence the actualisation of which has ravaged the military-civilian relations in Balochistan.
There are three questions that need answers. Should the military not be accused of the eruption of ethnic discontent in Balochistan? Should the military not be charged with sabotaging the Balochistan package? Should the military not be held accountable for the rampant disgruntlement amongst the Baloch with Pakistan?
Is foreign military aid a curse or blessing? Whether the military weapons and ammunition so obtained should be tested on Pakistanis is a question that begs attention. That is, if the military is buying its weapons and ammunition with the help of the foreign direct military aid, does that allow it to use them against Pakistanis?
Seemingly, the foreign direct military aid has made the military independent of any civil oversight. The same factor has also made it unaccountable to civilians. Second, the same factor has encouraged the aid donors to speak to and deal directly with the military high command instead of adopting a proper channel that comes under the civil purview. Third, the foreign direct military aid has weakened the say of parliament and undermined civilian supremacy. The trend is actually a conspiracy against the parliament of Pakistan. Parliament is the powerhouse of civilians while the military is one of the executive arms of parliament. Parliament needs to strengthen and assert itself. Parliament should make sure that all foreign military aid is channelised through the ministry of defence.
Neither the Constitution of 1973 nor any amendment to it has given any special status to the military and its intelligence agencies. The military and intelligence agencies, therefore, should now retune themselves to working under civil oversight.
The writer is a freelance columnist. He can be reached at email@example.com