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Restoring writ of state in Balochistan



General Raheel Sharif last week warned the foreign forces involved in supporting insurgency in Balochistan to keep their hands off Pakistan and also sounded a stern warning to the anti-state elements. During a visit to Balochistan in the wake of killing of 20 labourers belonging to Punjab and Sindh by the insurgents, he warned the anti-state elements to get prepared for facing dire consequences and said that those found involved in any sort of activity against national interests would not be spared. He said the armed forces responsible for security would go to any length to establish the writ of the state, saying that the army would unearth terrorists, abettors, sympathisers and financiers and none of them would find place to hide in the country. Nobody in his right mind would disagree with what the COAS said. The insurgency in Balochistan as and when it raised its ugly head has invariably been supported by foreign powers to advance their nefarious interests.

Insurgency in Balochistan is the most debated subject in the media, in the political circles and among the intelligentsia. The perturbing aspect of the debate is that it focuses more on grilling the government for its inability to restore normalcy in the province as if the situation obtaining in the province was a sequel to the wrong policies of the successive federal governments only. Hardly any attempt is made to unravel the nature and context of the insurgency, acknowledging the harsh ground realities, confronting the villains and utilising collective wisdom to find a way to winch the province out of this quagmire.

Any attempt to resolve the Balochistan tangle would require understanding the problem in its proper context and then trying to find plausible solutions with honesty of purpose. It is a recorded history that when Khan Kalat decided to join Pakistan, his brother Abdul Karim Khan who was governor of Mekran, revolted on the night of 16 May, 1948, and launched a separatist movement. He based himself in Afghanistan and conducted guerilla war against Pakistan Army with support from the Afghan government but could not succeed in his designs. The second wave of insurgency surfaced during 1958-59 when Nawab Nowroz Khan led an armed rebellion against the government decision to form One Unit.

The province witnessed another militant campaign between 1963-69 led by Sher Muhammad Bijrani Marri in the tribal areas of Marri and Bugti in the North and Mengal tribal belt in the South. They bombed railway tracks and ambushed convoys. The Army finally succeeded in subduing the separatists who agreed on a ceasefire in 1969. Yahya Khan abolished One Unit in 1970 and Balochistan became the fourth province of West Pakistan. Although the separatists had agreed to ceasefire and the province apparently returned to normalcy, the leaders of the separatist movement remained active behind the scenes to prepare for a bigger conflict with help from Iraq and former Soviet Union who were trying to destabilise both Iran and Pakistan. The plan came to the surface on February 9, 1973, when Nawab Akbar Bugti tipped the Pakistani authorities about a shipment of arms from Soviet Union that had arrived in the Iraqi Embassy in Islamabad for the insurgents in Balochistan. On February 10, a raid was conducted on the Iraqi Embassy by the Special Services Groups personnel supported by FC and seized the smuggled arms. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto dismissed government of Attaullah Mengal in Balochistan after this discovery and the separatists led by Nawab Khair Bux Marri relaunched an armed insurgency which continued between1973-77 with active support of Iraq backed by the Soviet Union. General Zia ended military action against the insurgents and paid financial compensation to the families affected by the armed conflict.

The insurgency remained dormant between 1977 and 2000. This lull was actually utilised by the separatists to regroup and re-arm themselves for a bigger conflict in the future. The surfacing of Balochistan Liberation Army in the summer of 2000 when it carried out a number of attacks on government installations and claimed responsibility for them, signaled the re-emergence of the revolt. The acts of sabotage however gained intensity after the killing of Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti in August 2006. The conflict with Bugti started in the wake of missile attack on a helicopter in the Kohlu area, in which IGFC Balochistan and his Deputy were traveling and an alleged rocket attack on President Pervez Musharraf. The kidnapping of Baloch National Movement President Ghulam Muhammad Baloch and two other nationalist leaders in April 2009, allegedly by the intelligence agencies and the discovery of their bullet-ridden bodies five days later, further fuelled the insurgency.

On August 12, 2009, Khan of Kalat Mir Sulaiman Dawood (in exile) declared himself ruler of Balochistan and formally made announcement of a Council for Independent Balochistan which also includes Brahmdagh Bugti. The Council’s declared objective is to liberate Bloch areas both in Pakistan and Iran. Since then the BLA has stepped up sabotage activities in the province by repeatedly attacking gas lines and other government installations. A spate of target killings of Punjabi and other settlers in the province by the insurgents, the mystery shrouding the missing persons and killing of Baloch youth in inexplicable circumstances, allegedly by agencies, has really complicated the already volatile situation in the province.

As is evident, the separatist movement in Balochistan has persistently been supported by foreign powers. Initially Afghanistan, Iraq and former Soviet Union took advantage of the situation and wooed the dissenting elements to achieve their objectives in the region and now it is India which is providing support to the insurgents to destabilise Pakistan. The unimaginative political moves and self-serving policies adopted by successive regimes and groveling posture towards Nawabs and Sardars who discouraged any development activity in their respective areas, have also contributed to strengthening the cause of the insurgents and provided a tailor made situation to the foreign powers to implement their agendas.

The present government has taken very positive initiatives in the form of installation of a government headed by a Baloch nationalist and initiating process of reconciliation in the province. The Army has put in place commendable initiatives in the education sector and recruiting more than five thousand Baloch youth in the Army. These efforts surely need to be strengthened and supplemented through other steps devoid of political expediencies and firmly rooted in the recognition of ground realities. As a first step the government should expose the foreign powers involved in destabilising the province and lobby with the international community to dissuade them from their acts of interference in the internal affairs of Pakistan. Secondly the government must take all possible steps to establish writ of the state as emphasised by the COAS.

Nevertheless, it is a matter of satisfaction that in the wake of the implementation of National Action Plan, the overall law and order situation in the country as well as in Balochistan has manifestly improved. That must continue with unruffled commitment. Simultaneously, efforts to persuade the estranged Baloch leaders to abandon insurgency and return to the political mainstream must continue. To achieve these objectives, a serious, honest and collective effort is essentially needed by the security establishment, government, political parties and all the stakeholders in Balochistan without any further loss of time.

An ambience of peace and security in Balochistan is imperatively needed to implement the projects under China-Pak Economic Corridor and changing the economic situation of the people of Balochistan. That proposition needs to be impressed upon the people of the province and those who are up in arms against the state. I am convinced that the silent majority of the people in Balochistan believes in securing their rights within the federation of Pakistan and do not support the antics of the insurgents.