The new wave of violence exposes the inadequate response and capacity of the government, both federal and provincial
The gravity of the situation in Balochistan was generally known in the rest of Pakistan even if it didn’t attract the kind of attention that was required in view of the seriousness of the crisis. However, some of the information and figures provided by the provincial Inspector General of Frontier Corps (IGFC), Maj Gen Obaidullah Khan Khattak, at a recent press conference highlighted the severity of the Baloch issue and served as an eye-opener.
The IGFC alleged that over 30 militants’ training camps had been set up across the border in Afghanistan to launch terrorist attacks and undertake anti-state activities in Balochistan. Besides, he alleged that around 121 insurgent training camps were operating in different parts of Balochistan. He pointed out that about 550 incidents of terrorism had taken place in the province thus far this year and different militant groups had claimed responsibility for 258 of these attacks.
According to Maj Gen Khattak, teachers, doctors and civilians had become victim of targeted killings in Balochistan and over 100,000 people had migrated from the province due to security concerns. He also explained how the Frontier Corps (FC), being in the frontline, was the target of most attacks and also the subject of a propaganda campaign along with the intelligence agencies under a conspiracy linked with foreign powers.
It is another matter that the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, took exception to the press conference as he felt the IGFC was overtaking the court. He even wondered loudly at a hearing on the petition regarding the breakdown of the law and order in Balochistan whether the court should summon Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani after issuing a coercive order against the IGFC and sending it to Kayani to look into the conduct of Maj Gen Khattak.
Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, who has domicile of Balochistan where his family settled after migrating from Punjab, has continued to take special interest in the worrying situation prevailing in the province despite his recent family troubles due to allegations that his son, Dr Arsalan Iftikhar, took money for unclear motives from the real estate tycoon Malik Riaz Hussain. He has been summoning military, intelligence and police officers to his court to and demanding answers about forced disappearances, particularly of the Baloch nationalists, and emphasizing that the judiciary as the guardian of the Constitution felt aggrieved when the bodies of missing persons were recovered.
This is something unheard of in Pakistan as military and intelligence officers have seldom been held accountable. In fact, this has had a positive effect in Balochistan where families of missing persons until now felt they had nowhere to go to seek justice.
It has also been suggested that the Chief Justice has earned the displeasure of the military due to his intrusive hearings into the cases of forced disappearances and his fellow judges’ occasional assertions regarding the role of the FC and the intelligence agencies in these incidents. In particular, the FC’s controversial role and activities in Balochistan have been assailed by the judges. In one recent incident, a Supreme Court bench headed by the Chief Justice pointed out how three persons whose whereabouts were being sought by it were found dead.
IGFC Maj Gen Khattak’s allegations about existence of 30 Baloch militants’ training camps in Afghanistan and another 121 in Balochistan would certainly be challenged. The Afghan government has acknowledged the presence of refugee camps for a few hundred displaced Baloch from Pakistan and denied the existence of any military training camp on its soil.
Courtesy the WikiLeaks, President Hamid Karzai had admitted to US diplomats some years ago that some leading Baloch separatists, including Brahumdagh Bugti, had been given refuge in Afghanistan. Also, the existence of as many as 121 training camps for Baloch guerilla fighters in Balochistan should be a cause for alarm as it shows the inability of the government and the security forces to extend the writ of the state to the whole province and also proves the strength of the Baloch separatists and the disaffection among the Baloch people. It also explains the ineffectiveness of both the military and political means being used to quell the low-level insurgency and find a negotiated solution of the Balochistan issue.
As the FC has been strengthened and deployed all over Balochistan to contain the insurgency, it is exposed to criticism as it has been manning roadside checkpoints where the people complain of delays and rude behaviour of the paramilitary soldiers. The FC frequently comes under attack by the Baloch separatists and retaliatory measures and search operations by the soldiers lead to complaints of excesses on its part.
Government and military officials have on occasions conceded that the loss of fellow soldiers in attacks by the Baloch militants incite the FC men to take their revenge. There is no doubt that human rights violations have taken place in Balochistan and suspected members and supporters of the armed separatist groups and even the unarmed nationalist parties have been abducted and killed.
However, the losses suffered by the FC soldiers and the targetted killings of settlers, particularly the Punjabis, don’t get the kind of attention that is their due. The Baloch separatists sometimes justify the attacks on settlers by arguing that emotions run high when the Baloch people come under attack or the bodies of their loved ones turn up with marks of torture after being kidnapped.
There has been a new wave of violence in Balochistan in recent weeks with all sides sharing responsibility for the attacks, bombings and abductions. As most FC soldiers are Pashtuns, many Baloch consider them responsible for their plight. It seems to have given rise to a simmering ethnic strife as a number of Pashtuns, mostly from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Fata, working and doing business in Balochistan, have come under attack in a few of the Baloch-populated districts.
The response and capacity of the government, both federal and provincial, is inadequate keeping in view the challenge of stabilising Balochistan and removing the grievances of the angry Baloch people. Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani visited Balochistan after nine months recently and repeated his offer of talks with the mostly overseas-based Baloch separatist leaders. The offer has no takers as the separatists now talk in terms of an independent Balochistan state and refuse to trust the government and the military.
Some progress has been made on the Aghaz-i-Haqooq Balochistan development and reforms package, but the Baloch hardliners have rejected it outright and consider it too late, too little. As for the provincial government led by Chief Minister Nawab Aslam Raisani, the less said the better as it has yet to take any meaningful step to provide good governance and stem corruption what to speak of reconciling with the disgruntled sections of the Baloch population.
There seems to be no shortage of money for Balochistan and its lawmakers as its recent budget showed when every provincial assembly member was allocated Rs250 million for large projects and Rs50 million for small projects specified by them. This is the highest amount given to lawmakers annually in the country and yet its impact seems to be the least visible.
In absence of any real effort to improve the standard of life of the people of Balochistan, particularly the unhappy Baloch, and more importantly provide them justice and a share in the rich natural resources of the province, it won’t be possible to stabilise the situation.