Balochistan; our largest province, has almost 45% of our land mass and hosts less than 10% of our population. It is a vast, unfriendly and inhospitable desert; even most of its mountainous terrain is scarce of water. Life and communication is governed by the location of water. I know of at least two places where humans and animals drink from the same slime covered pond.
Harsh land breeds harsh people; and the people of this region are hardy, harsh, and cruel. What is more, the population is widely diverse. There are the Baloch, the Pashtun, the Brahvi, Makranis, Sindhis, and a very small percentage of Punjabis. Other then the Punjabis, all other ethnicities have tribes and sub-tribes; most of them don’t get along with others. Internecine warfare has been the way of life from time immemorial. The peoples of this land have always been exceedingly difficult to govern but the geo-strategic location of this land made it so attractive that, whoever could, did annex it, and struggled to govern. It was always the overland link to the Middle East and, through Afghanistan, to Central Asia. Despite the harsh land, therefore, it was always a commercial route. And a smuggler’s haven, which it still is.
In recent times, not only the strategically important ports, Gwadar being most noteworthy, but others as well, have increased its importance. This is with special reference to the Strategic Commercial Corridor that China and Pakistan seem to be working on these days. But that is not all. Geological surveys have disclosed that the region has enormous resources of minerals, oil and gas – the last we have been using for the past decades. There are more and richer Though very reluctantly, many of these youth admitted that the majority of such deaths, laid at the door of “Agencies”, were committed by locals: many smugglers, some politicians, tribal leaders, even many of the Baloch rebels. It was the best way to get rid of somebody they did not wish to be suspected of killing. resources as well; Reiko Dik being the best known, though not the only one. As Balochistan gains importance in our commercial future, it also becomes an increasingly lucrative location for nation states that do not wish us well, to destabilize by nefarious means. That is where we now stand.
Brief Recent History It will not be fair if I fail to point out that we are responsible for having created a situation which our ill-wisher countries, India being foremost of all, to exploit.
Perhaps the best example I can think of is Nawab Akbar Bugti. Among Baloch tribes, no tribal leader – how insignificant his tribe is – will accept the supremacy of another tribal leader. But if there was a leader among them whom they could and did defer to, it was Nawab Bugti. His tribe was neither the largest, nor did it hold sway over the largest territory. And yet, he stood tall among tall men.
After partition this highly educated, sharply intelligent, patriot, and loyal Pakistani 20 year old Nawab Bugti, who had recently assumed leadership of his tribe, was appointed as Adviser to the Governor General on Balochistan affairs. On August 26, 2006 he died a rebel. I have no intention of justifying his rebellion or his death. But there was a huge transition from what he was and what he was finally killed for. This was either caused by consistently bad policies of governance, change of ideology by Bugti, or, rebellion on foreign behest. The time would tell but if there was a disagreement, it should not have turned into anti-state rebellion.
Over the past five-plus decades, successive governments have created an impression among the peoples of Balochistan that they are ‘Children of a Lesser God’ in Pakistan. Our enemies reinforced it.
Admittedly, the vastness of the province and scarce, sparse, widely spread population makes governance a nightmare. Just ensuring the provision of basic necessities is so hugely expensive as to be prohibitive.
But if a land is important, so must its peoples be. And, if for no other reason, for pragmatic requirements to ensure that the peoples are happy alone, good governance must be ensured, so that no enemy can exploit their dissatisfaction. This we failed to do.
Over the past decade or so, a realization of this failing has grown and things have begun to change. To the credit of the army, it was the first to start rectifying matters. President Musharaf could be justifiably criticized for many of his decisions, but he initiated the beginning of Balochistan’s reconstruction, which has steadily increased in tempo.
From 2008 to 2010, I undertook numerous security related analytical studies of Balochistan. Most of them were for NGOs but I also undertook one for a government agency.
The basic sense I got was that the hard-core of Baloch rebel was small. But the tragedy was that it was the disillusioned youth. When I met some of them they exuded a sense of hopelessness, despite the fact that reconstruction of the province was not just well under way but was continuing to increase in tempo.
While much of their disillusionment came from the deplorably and unbelievable extent of corruption that was prevalent under the provincial government, it was multiplied manifold by the fact that the standard of education in the province was so poor that even students with MSc degrees could not compete for jobs with those of equal education from other provinces.
At one of my meetings with the Baloch youth, one of them cried out, “Why have you condemned us to this state of Jihalat.” After numerous meetings when we had a better rapport, I began to get more of the truth out of them; there is always a first, before others begin speaking out. According to them, the truth was that, some years earlier, intelligence agencies abducted some people who later turned up dead of torture. They However, what is most important here is to point out that, even when these rebellious youth accused the agencies and generally held the army responsible for their ills, they were unhesitant in acknowledging that, it was the army alone that gave them a glimpse of hope by providing affordable but quality education, health, food, water, and a communication infrastructure that linked the province. listened more and more on this foreign sponsored propaganda and finally it is taken as a reality. Yes, enemy is liable to use propaganda but where is own national healing process to replace the scars with twinkles. However, with the passage of time, the theme was picked up by other ‘bad’ people; particularly a politician who was a smuggler. Thereafter, he eliminated his competitors by brutal unclaimed killings; the trumpet of ‘missing persons’ grew stronger with each killing. His example was followed by many others.
Though very reluctantly, many of these youth admitted that the It is in this backdrop that the COAS visited Balochistan again on April 15th this year and issued a general warning to “foreign hands and intelligence agencies” trying to destabilize Balochistan to desist. They will not be allowed to succeed. Although numerous politicians have hinted at the presence of foreign hands, this is the first time that an Army Chief has issued such an unequivocal warning. Anyone who knows Gen Raheel will pay heed. He is not used to merely making loud sounds, without meaning them.majority of such deaths, laid at the door of “Agencies”, were committed by locals: many smugglers, some politicians, tribal leaders, even many of the Baloch rebels. It was the best way to get rid of somebody they did not wish to be suspected of killing. An added advantage was that the person behind the killing could warn other possible opponents off by telling them that, even the agencies were supporting him. That surely killed all opposition.
Now there is really no way of knowing today if any of the agencies are responsible for all the “Missing Persons”, but I am quite certain that if at all any individuals are guilty of such acts, it is because roles can be reversed. Now the employees can tell that the act was committed by X, Y, or Z, because these individuals are known to regularly resort to such tactics. But why should the state resort to such activities – to add fuel to the fire? – no sane policy can support it. That is how this blame-game and dark propaganda campaign be viewed.
However, what is most important here is to point out that, even when these rebellious youth accused the agencies and generally held the army responsible for their ills, they were unhesitant in acknowledging that, it was the army alone that gave them a glimpse of hope by providing affordable but quality education, health, food, water, and a communication infrastructure that linked the province. While no one said it in so many words, but the fact that the media focus on missing persons assisted those non-state actors who were, and probably still are, guilty of such murders, to get off scot free was tacitly acknowledged.
COAS’ Recent Visit to Balochistan It is in this backdrop that the COAS visited Balochistan again on April 15th this year and issued a general warning to “foreign hands and intelligence agencies” trying to destabilize Balochistan to desist. They will not be allowed to succeed. Although numerous politicians have hinted at the presence of foreign hands, this is the first time that an Army Chief has issued such an unequivocal warning. Anyone who knows Gen Raheel will pay heed. He is not used to merely making loud sounds, without meaning them.
Some things need to be pointed out here. While our present political incumbents are far from perfection, perhaps still closer to imperfection, things are far better than they were under the previous regimes. Malik, the Chief Minister is neither as corrupt nor indecisive as his predecessors. The central government and the military leadership seem more committed to improving conditions in Balochistan than any previous combination. And, most importantly, conditions in Balochistan have shown a marked improvement in the last two years. This fact is born out most of all by the aggressive efforts to induct Baloch in the army, and many thousands are being inducted every year.
Despite this, there are still some rebels and they have foreign support. That is certainly disturbing. After the foul carnage at the Army Public School (APS) in Peshawar last year, Gen Raheel visited Kabul and, since then Pak-Afghan relations on security related issues have shown a marked improvement. No official has shared all that was discussed by Gen Raheel with the Afghan politico-military leaders, but there is a strong rumour that Gen Raheel carried along evidence of Indian involvement in the Peshawar Carnage and the fact that the Indian involvement was based in Afghanistan. The assurance that Afghan soil would never again be allowed to be used to challenge Pakistan’s security, If anything more is required, it’s an interim step. The next generation has hope now. It might take time for all the ill-will, doubts and suspicions to be allayed but if the future politico-military leadership continues on this path, we will get there, sooner, rather than later.could merely be an acknowledgement of the succor provided to Fazlullah, the leader of Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). But it could equally have included the possibility of Indian presence and involvement in the dastardly attack.
While there is no way of verifying the truth of this rumour but while Indo-Afghan relations are cooling a little, Pak-Afghan relations broke fresh ground when the Afghan Army Chief, Gen Karimi, became the first foreign dignitary to be the chief guest on the passing out at Pakistan Military Academy (PMA). A singular honour that was bound to and succeeded in winning over a lot of the hardened Afghans in Kabul who had joined the anti-Pakistan campaign over some years past.
Just for the Record Army officers might be familiar with these figures but for those who are not, whether in uniform or out, the army’s contributions to development in Balochistan are remarkable. The first step was providing quality and affordable education in Quetta by the APS, this was followed by initiating another chapter of the amazingly successful Sabaoon in Swat to Quetta. Sabaoon is a Pushto word meaning the crack of dawn and also the ray of hope. It is run by a lady psychiatrist to reclaim and rehabilitate those children whose minds are corrupted by terrorists into becoming suicide bombers. Apart from the enormous communication infrastructure, health and education facilities at each one of its cantonments, it has undertaken the cleaning and repair of that labyrinthine marvel of underground flowing water known as the Karez.
Quality and affordable schools and health facilities have also been provided at numerous other population centres, funded by the government and most constructed by, or under supervision of, the army. Cadet colleges, universities, including technical universities have cropped up. If anything more is required, it’s an interim step. The next generation has hope now. It might take time for all the ill-will, doubts and suspicions to be allayed but if the future politico-military leadership continues on this path, we will get there, sooner, rather than later. What is missing is hope to the present generation; victims of a poor education system which awarded degrees without education. If respectable employment opportunities are provided to them, which enable them to support their families and provide hope to their children, it will throw water on the few remaining sores that still sizzle in Balochistan.
We have come far, but there is still some way to go.