Friday, January 28, 2005

The Balochistan Cantts

Balochistan projects to continue

From Afzal Bajwa
ISLAMABAD - President General Pervez Musharraf Thursday directed the Balochistan Governor Awais Ghani to immediately work on identification and launching of development projects in northern parts of the province in order to ensure socio-economic improvement in the province.
According to officials, the governor called on the president here and briefed him on the law and order situation in the province with special reference to the latest security threats to the Sui and other oil and gas installations.
The governor also briefed the president about the progress on mega projects namely Gwadar Port, Mirani Dam under progress in the southern parts of the province, the officials informed The Nation.
According to them, both president and governor were of the view that infrastructure including roads, water and social sector like education and health projects would be launched in the first place will directly impact the life of people of northern Balochistan. Therefore, the president has desired the governor to put the development in northern Balochistan on top priority of the provincial government.
“During the meeting, they reviewed the law and order situation as well as the political measures being undertaken for the maintenance of peace and tranquillity in the province,” the officials stated referring to the PML President Ch. Shujat Hussain’s drive of talks with ‘unhappy’ tribal leaders of the province.
President Musharraf Wednesday gave his nod to Ch. Shujat to meet Nawab Akbar Bugti as the latter had briefed the former on his earlier meetings with Mengal and other tribal leaders of the province.
“They were of the view that there is a need for identification of new infrastructure and other projects in northern Balochistan as well,” the officials added.
They quoted the president as saying that projects in the province are generating economic activities and their timely completion would result in socio-economic welfare of the populace of the province.
On the security issue the president, they said, reiterated that no one would be allowed to disrupt the ongoing process of development in the province and deprive the people of their right to progress.
ARD not to attend MQM moot: Assuring full support to JWP President Nawab Akbar Bugti, ARD has refused to attend an all parties round-table conference hosted by MQM.
“The MQM has invited us to a round-table conference on Balochistan but we have declined the invitation as MQM is part of the government and whatever is happening in Balochistan is due to wrong policies of the government,” said ARD secretary general Zafar Iqbal Jhagra.
Bugti for arrest of rapists: Chief of Jamhoori Watan Party and Baloch leader Nawab Akbar Bugti has said that negotiations with the government were out of the question until rapists of Lady Dr. Shazia were brought to book.
Talking to a private TV channel on Thursday, he said that the evidence from the lady doctor’s room suggest that she was raped therefore those who committed this heinous act should be brought before justice.
He termed condemnation of military operation on Balochistan by Punjab as good oemn. He dispelled the impression of involvement of foreign hand in Balochistan mayhem.
Zobaida: Defending the presence of military troops in Balochistan, Federal Minister for Special Education Zobaida Jalal has said that no military operation is going on in Sui and the government is trying to resolve the issue through dialogue.
Zobaida said this while addressing a Press conference here at her office on Thursday.
She made it clear that the government would take stern action against the culprit if found involved in the rape incident of lady doctor Shazia. She said DNA test was also being conducted besides investigation so as to find the reality.
Shujaat, Bugti meet: The Central President of Pakistan Muslim League Chaudhry Shujat Hussain has said that he will meet Nawab Akbar Bugti on February 1 in a bid to resolve the Sui issue through peaceful means.
He was talking to Federal Minister of Social Welfare and Women Development Zubaida Jalal here Thursday.
Shujat said the government wants to resolve the issue through political dialogue. He also briefed the minister about his meetings with Atta Ullah Mengal and Sardar Sher Baz Khan Mazari.
“We will take all the Baluch leaders into confidence on Baluchistan’s situation,” he added.
A key railway track was ripped apart by a blast for the third time in a week Thursday in Balochistan.
The attack came a day after the military announced plans to set up a new garrison to protect Sui gasfield.
Tribesmen believed to have links with nationalist groups have waged a long battle to get more jobs and royalties from the province’s natural resources, with their attacks intensifying in recent weeks.
President Pervez Musharraf repeated an earlier warning to the tribesmen not to push the government too far after meeting the Balochistan Governor to discuss the law and order situation.
“No one would be allowed to disrupt the on-going process of development in the province and deprive the people of Balochistan of their right to progress,” Musharraf said.
In Thursday’s attack, a blast ripped apart the main line near Mushkaf, about 85 kilometres west of Quetta, senior railway official Ghulam Rasool said.
“The track was damaged by explosives planted by saboteurs,” Rasool said.
Two trains to Quetta were delayed for a few hours before engineers could repair the track, which links Balochistan with Karachi, he said.
Railway authorities had already banned all trains from running at night in Balochistan after a blast hit the line late Monday. The same line was hit by another explosion on Saturday.
Meanwhile a rocket landed near an electrical grid station in Sibi late Wednesday, but there was no damage. Local residents said they heard three blasts, but it could not be confirmed.
A bomb also exploded in a public park in Quetta late Wednesday, but caused no casualties or damage.
No one has claimed responsibility for the latest blasts but the Balochistan Liberation Army, said it carried out Tuesday’s rail attack and the bombing of a government office in Quetta the same day.
The organisation is believed to have links to the tribesmen, who have recently stepped up attacks on key installations and security forces in the impoverished province to press their demands.
A paramilitary commander told visiting journalists in Sui on Thursday that the government would remove all housing around the gas plant and relocate it some 15 kilometres away.
“The terrorists armed with heavy weapons used these houses and their inhabitants as shield for attacking the installations and security forces two weeks ago,” Colonel Mohammad Mujeeb said.

A policing cantonment

GENERAL Musharraf’s endorsement of Ch Shujaat’s recommendation for a political solution of the Balochistan crisis is a positive development, especially his emphasis that the government should stay in touch with the Baloch. After an exhaustive briefing by Ch Shujaat on his recent meetings with Baloch leaders, the President reiterated the government’s commitment to the resolution of all problems through consultation and reconciliation, but pointed out it would not be done at the cost of the national interest. However, he must also be aware of the difficulties the Parliamentary Committee has been facing in dealing with opposition Baloch leaders. The reason why Nawab Akbar Bugti refused to meet Ch Shujaat and Senator Mushahid Hussain is that he believed they had no mandate to make any commitment for resolving the crisis.
Former CM Taj Muhammad Jamali even claimed there was a conspiracy against General Musharraf who was being misinformed about the causes of unrest. According to him, General Musharraf and Ch Shujaat should both move to Quetta to closely watch the situation and take immediate measures, rather than relying on a distant view from Islamabad, which was throwing up a confusing picture. He said only then they could understand that there was no separatist movement, and the Baloch only wanted their genuine concerns addressed. But the government dealt a severe blow to its so-called initiative of resolving the Balochistan crisis through political means, by formally announcing the setting up of a new garrison in Sui for which the army has taken over 400 acres of land in this area. Amidst fears that they are being coerced rather than engaged in a political dialogue, the decision is bound to further accentuate local alienation. As the concerned commanding officer told journalists that the cantonment was meant to protect gas and oil installation as well as the life and property of citizens, it appears that it would be more of a policing cantonment: a throwback to the Raj. No doubt, frequent attacks on key installations require their constant monitoring, but then this task could be assigned to a police force especially raised for this purpose, as has been done in other countries with similar problems.
The Balochistan Government cannot escape its primary responsibility of maintaining law and order by endorsing every decision by the Centre. The federal government too cannot justify projecting one specific area as a trouble spot when almost the entire province is in the grip of lawlessness. The Balochistan situation is serious enough to be dealt with a serious mind: lack of political will by the quasi-military dispensation has already complicated it. However, all the blame cannot rest on the government. The Baloch leaders need to move back from maximalist positions if there is to be any resolution.

PMA demands

THE government must heed statements made by the Pakistan Medical Association on the issue of the notorious Sui gang rape. The PMA has asked for the culprits to be arrested, tried and if found guilty, sentenced immediately. It has also warned against moves to convert the rape case into one of assault and battery; and pointed out another murky development where a jirga in the victim lady doctor’s village in Sindh, has qualified her for honour killing by declaring her a kari. It seems the delay in the government response has allowed the rape to snowball into a problem that feeds many latent issues. It has revitalised the Balochistan unrest and propped up the sardari system. Leaders from both sectors have made this a cause célèbre, incorporating it into their grudges against the army since the alleged perpetrator is reportedly an officer. Nawab Akbar Bugti has bracketed this issue with the government decision to open cantonments in Balochistan. Unfortunately, the government’s slow response has allowed this case to be dragged into a much larger pond. It must immediately attend to the PMA demands regarding accountability for the culprits and to its warning on moves to protect one’s own. Also, the jirga members involved in the criminal act must also be brought to justice to prove it is committed to protecting women’s rights and upholding the law of the land.

The Balochistan Cantts

The die is cast, it seems. The Pakistan Army has started implementing its decision to build three new cantonments in Balochistan, in Sui, Kohlu and Gwadar. Apart from the effects this will have on the current crisis in Balochistan, two of the cantonments mark a new departure for the Pakistan Army, or rather a reversion to an old stereotype, which was last seen during the British era, that of using the Army to police the populace.
The cantonments have caused great irritation to the Baloch Sardars, particularly the heads of the Bugti, Marri and the Mengal tribes. Some would describe them as the last true Sardars of Balochistan, the others having seen their authority dissipated and challenged with the emergence of Balochistan, or at least their areas, into the 20th century (the 21st is lagging a little). For the last holdouts against the modern era, the cantonments represent an unwarranted intrusion into their jurisdictions.
However, the Army has different motives. One of them was stated by the head of the Army, President Pervez Musharraf, as being that of bringing ‘development’ to the area. The lieutenant-colonel who made the announcement in Sui, that construction has begun, explained that the purpose of the cantonment was ‘to protect key gas installations, life, honour and property of its citizens from miscreants and to provide reinforcement to paramilitary forces in maintaining law and order in the area.’
At one level, this is an admission of failure. Pakistan inherited a number of ‘law and order’ cantonments, whose basic purpose was to provide a base from which the British forces, whether British or Indian, but universally officered by Britons, would control the native populace. For several decades after 1857 (Mutiny for the British, War of Independence for the natives), the Raj was extremely worried about a recurrence, and depended on the Army-in-India to act as the final bulwark. (One factor in the decision to grant India independence in 1947 rather than 1948 was the increasing ‘unreliability’ of the Indian troops, now increasingly officered by Indians, and the consequent uncertainty about the Raj’s ability to maintain its rule.) Therefore, its placing of most cantonments was linked to its internal security needs.
Pakistan inherited these cantonments, as did India, such as Lahore and Multan. However, one of the first steps after Partition was to withdraw from one of the key policing cantonments, that at Razmak. This was a personal decision of the Quaid-e-Azam, which took after overriding the advice of the entire bureaucratic machinery, civilian and military.
After that, all cantonments set up have served one of three purposes. First, beefing up the border defences. Second (like Gujranwala and Kharian), to serve as bases for strikeforce/reserve formations. Third, to fulfil logistics requirements. Even the 1970s Balochistan insurgency did not provoke Bhutto to set up cantonments there, even though the situation was much graver than today. The most controversial cantonment after Partition, that at Panno Aqil, was primarily set up to control the border defence in the Sindh-Rajasthan border, though it did have a secondary purpose of providing a strong point in interior Sindh, which was definitely a disturbed area in the 1980s.
However, Panno Aqil also provided an opportunity to increase recruitment of Sindhis into the Army, and in that regard was a successful experiment. Recruits had initially been promised that they would not be transferred when their units rotated out to other parts of the country, but would be transferred to their replacements. It was a pleasant surprise when, from the very first rotation, regimental spirit convinced the new soldiers to volunteer to rotate out along with their units, rather than be transferred to new (and therefore by definition lesser) units.
The Army is often criticised as being heavily tilted towards Punjabis and Pushtuns, and is not given enough credit for its efforts to broaden its base of recruitment, and its readiness to go out of its way to accommodate citizens of poorly represented provinces. The first attempt, which ultimately did not succeed, was to increase the strength of East Pakistanis. The formation of the East Bengal Rifles and then the East Pakistan Regiment were efforts in this respect, as well as relaxation of physical dimensions for East Pakistani candidates for commission. Post-Bangladesh, one example should suffice: in the 1980s, at PMA, a cadet was allowed one relegation in his four terms, which meant that if he failed to pass a particular term, he could repeat it, but if he failed a second time in any other term, he would be dropped. One cadet from Balochistan, the only one from that province in PMA at that time, was allowed three relegations, passing out finally after seven terms. It was accepted by his instructors that he was intrinsically good officer material, but lacked the academic advantages of his colleagues from other provinces. The then COAS reportedly took a personal interest in his case (for he was the competent authority to make the necessary relaxation.)
However, while there is no change in this orientation in principle, the Army has now ended up taking a couple of steps backward. It has moved back into the Tribal Areas, and now it is setting up policing cantonments in Sui and Kohlu. Gwadar would make sense, because it is also scheduled to be a Navy port, and if nothing else, Army Air Defence units will have to be deployed here. But the other two new cantonments have only a policing function.
There is a major disconnect here. The ‘miscreants’ Lt Col Mazhar Masood referred to are not foreigners. They are Pakistani citizens. They may well be highly unpatriotic, even treasonous. But they are still to be accorded the rights due to any Pakistani citizen, including the right to be treated in a certain way. The ‘American Taliban,’ John ‘Abdul Hameed’ Walker waged war against his own country, but he was given different treatment than other so-called ‘illegal combatants.’ He was not thrown into Camp Xray, but was given a proper trial, being allowed access to legal representation that the Guantanamo Bay prisoners can only dream of. There has to be a difference between setting up cantonments against an enemy invader, and dealing with your own citizens, no matter how recalcitrant or reluctant. This was the mistake that was made in East Pakistan, and it is being repeated today, though hopefully without equally disastrous consequences.
There is the Iranian bogey which is being raised, first by the US press, and now even by Balochistan Chief Minister Jam Yusuf. Though the Jam has withdrawn his statement, it is very suspicious that the Army has decided to go through with a cantonment building programme extending its reach closer to the Iranian border than ever before, at a time when the USA is planning some form of military action, probably but not certainly short of ground invasion, against Iran. Pakistan’s participation in this unholy enterprise would be horrendous, almost as big a U-turn as its abandonment of the Taliban and its choking off the Kashmir freedom struggle. Is Pakistani public opinion being somehow prepared for Pakistani assistance to the US in its Iranian misadventure? Are the cantonments being prepared post-haste so as to provide US forces the kind of facilities they enjoyed against the Taliban on Pakistani bases?
One thing is certain. Musharraf acts boldly only when there is US pressure. Domestically, he has always adopted a low-risk strategy where only national interests or issues are involved. He has even backtracked on bold domestic steps like amending the blasphemy law or building the Kalabagh Dam, whenever faced with opposition. However, wherever his perception of the national interest has coincided with American interests, he has acted firmly: U-turn on Afghanistan, winding down support for the Kashmir cause, going further in placating India than Nawaz or Benazir ever did, floating ideas like abandoning Pakistan’s stance on Kashmir and recognising Israel, carrying out the Waziristan operation, allowing the CIA and FBI to run loose in Pakistan, humiliating Dr A.Q. Khan. Indeed, there are only three issues on which he took a stand against the Americans: the UNSC vote on Iraq, sending troops to Iraq and handing over Dr A.Q. Khan to the USA.
Taking on the Baloch in their homes can qualify as a bold step. The nation should be assured that this is a decision taken only in its interest, and not because it also coincides with some US interest.
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