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Chaudhry Nisar’s choices

June 20, 2013

THE deliberations on a national security policy being held under the aegis of the interior ministry in Islamabad today will bear fruit only if the truth is faced squarely and without reservations and there is no lack of will to take courageous steps, particularly in Balochistan.

Once again the need for a new, rational and efficient security framework has been highlighted by organised massacres in Balochistan, of which last Saturday’s bloodbath is the latest example. Much has been said about the activities of the banned outfit that has claimed responsibility for the attack on the girl students and the medical complex but quite a few questions are yet to be answered.

It is important to find out as to how the militants were able to carry their arms into the Bolan hospital complex, and one hopes the information gleaned from the sole member of the group of attackers captured alive will not be suppressed. But a more important issue is the freedom enjoyed by a Punjab-based organisation to continue its murderous activities in Balochistan. The presence of its armed bands in Quetta is no secret and the local officials have often complained of the support these militants receive from their superiors in Punjab.

No effort to end their rule by terror, or even to contain them, will therefore succeed unless it is backed by the Punjab government. The latter may have to dispel the impression, even if it is wrong, that it will not proceed against a terrorist organisation based on its territory so long as it carries out its sanguinary operations outside its provincial domain.

The authorities meeting in Islamabad today may also reflect on the apparent nexus between the reign of terror in Balochistan and the mushroom growth of religious seminaries in that province. Few people in Balochistan or outside dispute the role these institutions have played in destroying the community’s traditions of tolerance and rejection of sectarian violence.

There is no need to enter a debate on the madressah curricula because the conduct of the indoctrinated young men produced by them is on record. It is no secret either that these mostly foreign-funded seminaries are used as safe havens by well-trained militias. The need to clean up the hotbeds of militancy cannot forever be ignored. Speaking in the National Assembly the other day, Interior Minister Nisar Ali Khan posed some questions to which he perhaps knew the answers as well. There is no mystery about the terrorists’ operations in spite of the heavy deployment of security forces and a network of checkposts in Quetta and elsewhere in Balochistan. Either the law-enforcing personnel are thoroughly incompetent or they are accomplices of terrorists.

Many people have clear views on the subject. For instance, there was no ‘either or’ in Mehmood Khan Achakzai’s speech. He was dead right when he declared that if the ‘establishment’ could not be reined in — and he generously gave two years for this task to be accomplished — parliament would lose its justification.

The demand for reining in the security forces, especially the intelligence agencies, has been before the political leaders of the country for at least a quarter of a century. The study done by retired Air Marshal Zulfiqar Khan under (the then) prime minister Benazir Bhutto’s instructions over two decades ago has never seen the light of day.

The commission of 2010, comprising three retired judges, that was set up to probe the cases of enforced disappearance, made a forthright plea for the intelligence agencies to be reined in through a comprehensive legislation. The one man-commission of Justice Saqib Nisar of the Supreme Court, that probed journalist Saleem Shahzad’s murder, also pleaded for a definite law to regulate the work of secret services, for making their activities at least legal.

Chaudhry Nisar Ali will find in the reports of these commissions much valuable support for his resolve to re-establish law and order in this unfortunate state of Pakistan. Maybe he can use his authority to arrange for parliamentarians’ access to these reports, even if keeping the ordinary citizens ignorant is essential for the security of the state.

But terrorism and anarchy in Balochistan cannot be viewed in isolation from the political crisis that nobody is talking about. The country’s much-maligned civil society has pointed out more than once that Balochistan was denied the elected civilian authority’s accession to power in 2008, to the extent this was possible in the rest of the country. The new federal government as a whole, and the interior ministry in particular, must ensure that no force or institution can now override the authority of the elected government of Balochistan.

This is necessary not only to render unto commoner Abdul Malik Baloch what is due to him but also for preparing the ground for a grand reconciliation. One of the main reasons for the Balochistan people’s alienation from the state is their belief — strengthened by a series of crude assaults by the centre — in their rights and their pride, that those installed in office in Quetta are surrogates of a power that is inflexibly hostile, or at least insensitive, to their interests.

So long as the people of Balochistan are not convinced that their representatives can exercise all the autonomy the Constitution allows them it will not be possible to eliminate the trust deficit in that long-troubled land.

Finally, peace will not return to Balochistan, nor will Pakistan succeed in putting an end to the debilitating centre-province tensions, through resolutions by the legislature or by high-sounding rhetoric alone. The times call for bold initiatives and perseverance on the path opened by the choice of moderate politicians for leading Balochistan through a transition to democracy, justice and equity.