QUETTA: The state’s response to the latest Baloch insurgency can easily be summed up: bullets and rupees.
The extrajudicial elimination of armed insurgents and supporters of Baloch separatism by the security forces along with pouring record sums of money into provincial coffers for development and current expenditure represents a two-pronged approach to tamping down the insurgency.
Some security officials believe the approach is working. “Shops are reopening, property prices are going up, settlers are returning,” argued an official dealing with the military side of the state’s response.
But others are not so sure. Chief Minister Nawab Aslam Raisani suggested the downturn in insurgent violence is only a `lull’.
“The problem has not gone away,” Raisani said.
Such thoughts were echoed by other security officials. IGFC Maj Gen Obaidullah Khan said, “All insurgencies have the same cycle. Violence goes up, then the state responds militarily and then the political machinery kicks in. But the political side just isn’t up to the task at the moment.”
Security forces vs civilians
It’s an old problem in Balochistan: civilian officials claim the security forces compound insurgencies by trying to quell them using violence; security officials claim corruption and incompetence of civilian governments undermine military gains.
In truth, both the security and civilian arms of the state are to blame.
Of the security forces’ approach, a local politician asked, “Say they eliminate all the militants; then what? If you have no plan for what comes next, you risk losing those areas all over again.”
Agha Hassan Baloch, central information secretary of the BNP-M, said, “The problem is the state still hasn’t understood what the problem is. It’s not just about building roads and drains and providing jobs. They need to end the military operations and go back to the barracks. Recover the missing people. Find out who is responsible for the dead bodies turning up.”
But civilian officials from the chief minister downwards suggest they have been rebuffed by the security establishment when trying to broach the issue of ‘kill and dump’ operations, the security forces’ violent approach to dealing with separatists over the past year.
On the civilian side, at present a significant part of the problem appears to be that popular nationalist parties like the Baloch BNP-M and NP boycotted the Feb 2008 elections, leaving the door open for relatively weak Baloch politicians. “It was a mistake. We were misled by Nawaz Sharif and then weren’t able to wriggle out of the boycott pledge,” a National Party leader said.
The outcome of that mistake is a provincial government immersed in the old tribal politics of Balochistan. “Nawab Raisani wants to make a difference, but the trouble is he’s got a weak team. And he can’t push too hard because of the problems with (Yar Muhammad) Rind, who will pull everyone to his side if Raisani demands too much,” said a local politician.
The powerful Rind, one of a handful of opposition MPAs in the 65-member Balochistan Assembly, is locked in a bitter feud with Raisani, whose father Rind is accused of killing.
Record provincial funds
Weak though it may be, the provincial government has massive, unprecedented resources at its disposal. According to Syed Fazl-e-Haider, author of ‘The Economic Development of Balochistan’: “Under the 7th NFC award, Balochistan’s share in the divisible pool increased to 9 per cent from the earlier 5 per cent. It also succeeded in getting Rs120bn in gas development surcharge arrears outstanding since 1954, which would be paid in annual instalments of Rs12bn.”
The result is a spectacular increase in funding for the province, with receipts and expenditure doubling between 2009-10 and 2010-11. Balochistan’s annual development programme for the last financial year clocked in at Rs27bn as compared to Rs13bn in 2007-08.
The spending spree is visible in Mastung town, part of Chief Minister Raisani’s constituency. Overseen by District Commissioner Noorul Haq, a dynamo of a civil servant constantly checking his BlackBerry or iPad, the town is set to acquire a Rs230 million hospital spread over nearly 30 acres of land, a massive education complex that will house everything from primary schools to degree-awarding colleges, a squash court, a town hall and sundry other multi-million-rupee development projects.
Yet, critics contend that many such projects are white elephants and dreamt up as vehicles for earning lucrative kickbacks.
With each MPA given Rs180 million as discretionary funds in the present financial year and Rs250 million in the next, the incentive to spend is high.
An MPA explained how the process works: “You don’t just get money to put in your pocket. It’s indirect and revolves around contracts. Say some business needs protection in your area. They also need to rent vehicles. So they rent the vehicles they need from you, but instead of the normal rate of Rs1,000, they’ll pay you Rs5,000.”
While buildings are relatively easy to erect — though skilled non-Baloch labour is often hard to acquire given the security situation — the problems of staffing and maintenance are harder to resolve. In Mastung, a resident complained that the existing hospital “has no MBBS doctors, no medicines, not even Panadol.”