Sep 20, 2010

Balochistan: ‘Use of Force’ Will Not Help the Province

Pakistan’s Interior Minister, Rehman Malik, indicated that the “use of force” will be the only way to quell unrest and restore order in the country’s largest and poorest province. However more interference by Islamabad will only have the opposite effect and give rise to more protest and dissatisfaction.


Below is an article published by the Daily Times:


“Enough is enough. Now the government will use force...because (in Balochistan) they (terrorists) do not understand the language of love,” so says Mr Rehman Malik, Pakistan’s not-so-savvy interior minister. For him, “use of force (is) only option to restore order in Balochistan”. This was his opening salvo while talking to the media in Quetta on September 7, 2010.

Only a day before Mr Malik’s arrival in Quetta, the mutilated body of Zaman Khan Marri was found in Mastung. Zaman Marri was a lawyer allegedly kidnapped by some government agency in August 2010. Political kidnappings have become a norm in Balochistan that creates no ripple in the mainstream media.

According to the mission statement of Rehman Malik’s ministry, it aims “to make Pakistan a country where rule of law reigns supreme; where every Pakistani feels secure to lead a life in conformity with his religious beliefs, culture, heritage and customs; where a Pakistani from any group, sect or province respects the culture, tradition and faith of the other.”

His appraisal of the Baloch nationalist movement and the manner in which he proposes to tackle it are fraught with faulty assumptions and contravene the mission statement of the Interior Ministry. He claimed that Baloch nationalist leaders Hairbyiar Marri and Brahmdagh Bugti “had not responded positively to the government’s offer for talks”. Therefore, the government is planning a Swat- and Malakand-like crackdown in Balochistan to crush elements involved in target killings and bomb blasts.

Mr Malik needs to be reminded that use of coercive force to crush the Baloch nationalist movement is widespread and has a long history in the province. If he has come up with the idea of ‘use of force as the only option’ to restore order in the province, then he is woefully divorced from reality. That is if we choose to be charitable to Rehman Malik. What is more likely is that Pakistan’s interior minister is not consulted in any meaningful way when it comes to carrying on with crushing the Baloch nationalist movement militarily, of which extra-judicial killings, fake encounters, and forced disappearances are staple methods.

During his Quetta sojourn, Malik also informed us that “those talking of independent Balochistan are teenagers and can be counted on fingertips”. He must have countless fingers and rather unique arithmetic to classify veteran Baloch leaders like Nawab Khair Bakhsh Marri and Akbar Bugti as teenagers. The irresponsible utterances of Rehman Malik show gross disrespect for Baloch leaders who command significant respect amongst ordinary Baloch.

Rehman Malik may not know his limits and could possibly be living in Shangri La, but most Baloch nationalists know very well that when it comes to the ill-fated province, it is the top brass of the civil and military establishment and their intelligence agencies that calls the shots in Balochistan. If Rehman Malik and his bosses are sincere and serious in restoring order in Balochistan, he needs to change the mindset in Islamabad and Rawalpindi that deems every dissenting and dissatisfied Baloch as an external agent and enemy of progress.

Instead of following up concretely on the promises made by the present government to the people of Balochistan, Mr Malik is hell-bent on giving sweeping powers to the Frontier Constabulary (FC) — a much-maligned force in the province. So misplaced were Mr Rehman’s prescriptions that the provincial government totally distanced itself from them.

The official narrative about Balochistan and how it relates to Baloch nationalist forces is ridden with contradictions. Two steps of Islamabad under the present government are good examples. President Asif Zardari apologised to the Baloch people for wrongs done to them by successive governments in Islamabad. The apology is an admission of the litany of errors. To correct some of the past wrongs, parliament passed what was termed the Aghaz-e-Huqooq-e-Balochistan (Beginning of the rights of Balochistan) Package in 2009.

Instead of controlling the damage his statements caused upon arrival in Quetta, the interior minister in his delirium slapped a ban on five organisations in Balochistan and has asked the State Bank of Pakistan to freeze accounts and assets of these organisations. This fantastic move defies even rudimentary logic. One is certain that none of the banned organisations has functioning bank accounts that are subject to public audits. Banning non-existent accounts as a means to quell militancy in Balochistan only reinforces the belief among the Baloch that the Centre is not keen to deal with the nationalists as a genuine political force. Such perfunctory measures, instead of weakening the militants, will only provide them with the political capital to market their message in the province.

I wish Mr Malik had heard about Carl Sagan’s statement: “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” The knee-jerk attitude of reducing the Baloch nationalists to pawns in foreign hands has eerie similarity to what India does in the Kashmir Valley. Rehman Malik’s extraordinary claims lack extraordinary evidence. Most Baloch youth feel alienated in the state of Pakistan. Malik’s statements will only augment that alienation. Prime Minister Gilani issued a statement saying there will be no military operation in Balochistan. What is ironic is that neither Rehman Malik’s war mongering scares the Baloch nationalists nor Prime Minister Gilani’s comforting words can convince them of the sincerity of Islamabad in engaging the Baloch in the federation.


The writer teaches political science at the University of British Columbia, Canada, and can be reached at [email protected]