COMMENT: Who can check them? — Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur - Sunday, March 06, 2011

Source :\03\06\story_6-3-2011_pg3_2

No one bothers to mention the fact that the higher the economic stakes of the armed forces in Balochistan, the more repressive is the treatment meted out to people, because eventually all politics is about economics and wealth

Recently General Ashfaq Kayani while inaugurating the Kassa Hills Marble Project said that there was “no military operation in Balochistan”. The fact is that such projects demand extensive and multi-tiered army involvement and if that is not “operation of the army in Balochistan” then what is? Does this involvement in typically civilian and business ventures not give rise to much more perturbing and deep-rooted involvement of the army in Balochistan and consequently exceedingly serious misgivings in the minds of the Baloch about the role and intentions of the army in Balochistan? It certainly does and has led to increased resentment and naturally more resistance, which has resulted in more repression and more abduction-cum-killings on which civil society and most of the media is culpably silent.

The ‘establishment’ with its ‘solution by force policy’ has created irresolvable resentment among a majority of Baloch. ‘Balochistan: Waiting for justice’ editorial in Daily Times on February 28 has put the matter in proper perspective, “Pakistan’s security establishment has dealt with Balochistan in a very heavy-handed manner. The largest province of Pakistan has seen little development over the last six decades. Lack of education, infrastructure and political power has alienated the Baloch from the rest of the country, particularly Punjab, which they see as their ‘enemy’. The recent policy of eliminating moderate nationalists, who are in open national politics, is a dangerous trend. Thousands of Baloch have disappeared under mysterious circumstances or have been picked up by unknown elements. They are not only tortured but many of them are killed brutally and their bodies are later found from different parts of Balochistan. This policy adopted by our security establishment is leading to an increase in separatist sentiment among the Baloch.

“It is no secret that neither the federal government nor the provincial government has any real say when it comes to Balochistan. The real power lies with our security establishment, which has a narrow and non-political repressive policy. It is time that they understand that force, repression and killing cannot resolve this issue. A political solution is needed and for that the democratic government needs to run the show. The Baloch have been waiting for justice for decades now. It is time to address their grievances.”

Significantly even Balochistan’s Advocate General (AG) Salahuddin Mengal stated in Supreme Court that, “We are recovering dead bodies day in and day out as the Frontier Corps (FC) and police are lifting people in broad daylight at will, but we are helpless. Who can check the FC?” Who would know better than him about perpetrators of brutal killings of which my old student Faiz Mohammad Marri is the latest victim. Only the iron-will and determination of the people can check the oppressors because history moves relentlessly however brutal the repression.

The much-resented FC is overseeing the project for exploitation of Musakhail coal reserves and expected to make it operational soon. That coal has been exploited since 1980; this involvement of FC in purely economic activity is aimed at further entrenching its role in Balochistan.

The Balochistan AG also told the Supreme Court that the Balochistan governor had requested chief of army staff to launch a military operation in the province. What is beyond comprehension is that why it has to be the army or the FC, which has to develop, oversee and manage purely commercial projects? The army settled the intra-tribal disputes in Chamalang and Kassa to expedite exploitation and this by itself speaks volumes of the absolute impotence and utter uselessness of the political and civilian authorities in Balochistan and the Centre and exposes pervasive and omnipresent army influence there. This idiosyncrasy and aberration is very Pakistan-specific.

The increase of violence in Balochistan has been noticed, but it has not been noticed or at least not mentioned in proportion to the increase in economic stakes of the army in Balochistan. This is no trivial matter as with it is eventually tied, if ever it comes about, the political solution to the problems of Balochistan. This very important aspect has been conveniently overlooked by the politicians as well as intellectuals. This deep-rooted army involvement in the economic life of Balochistan has to end forthwith if solution to the increasing Baloch resentment is genuinely sought.

Unfortunately, no one bothers to mention the fact that the higher the economic stakes of the armed forces in Balochistan, the more repressive is the treatment meted out to people, because eventually all politics is about economics and wealth. They probably believe that if a problem is ignored, it does not exist.

The direct economic activity is not the only problem; change of land use of acquired lands is an equally important problem, as a lot of land is being acquired in Balochistan. The problem of misuse of land acquired for specific defence purposes and then utilised for monetary benefits is endemic.

In January 2007, the Public Accounts Committee of the National Assembly revealed that the military estate office (MEO), Multan, had acquired 5,000 acres in Pirowal, Khanewal district, for a new cantonment, which a year later was brought under cultivation. In 2004, Farhatullah Babar wrote that 150 acres acquired for a firing range in Nowshera were arbitrarily turned into an orchard.

In March 2010, the Supreme Court decided that Makro-Habib mega-store built on Webb Ground, gifted to Army Welfare Trust by Musharraf, was to be wound up the same month. But according to Ardeshir Cowasjee sahib’s column, ‘A stitch in time’, it is still being utilised “by the Makro-Habib mega-store 12 months after the Supreme Court handed down a decision that the amenity plot was not the defence ministry’s to lease”. This happens in places, which are always under scrutiny while Balochistan is remote and not many bother about what happens there.

Unfortunately, a flawed remedial process of supposed economic prosperity, job creation, distribution, employment and army recruitment is being employed to appease the people but they fail to understand that the problem in Balochistan is not about jobs alone and, moreover, if this was the real intent the elimination of educated youth would not go hand in hand with it. All sorts of political, economic and physical injustices are committed with impunity there in the name of development and maintaining law and order.

This is how the situation stands and however hard the spin-doctors may try to present a benevolent public image of the army it fails to convince people who routinely undergo repression.

The writer has an association with the Baloch rights movement going back to the early 1970s. He can be contacted at

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