The Balochistan saga

Published December 21, 2015
The writer is former IG, Balochistan Police.
The writer is former IG, Balochistan Police.

AS 2015 draws to a close, it is worthwhile to evaluate the implementation of point 17 of the National Action Plan: “Empowering Balochistan government for political reconciliation with complete ownership by all stakeholders.”

The framers of NAP were idealists. They wanted complete ownership by all stakeholders, disregarding the fact that there is only one player that has the final say in Balochistan: our military-led security establishment, including the intelligence agencies.

Would they let the civilian provincial government as well as the provincial assembly formulate a policy of bringing the Baloch sub-nationalists to the mainstream of the strategically important province? To be fair to the civilians, an honest effort was made.


Is the security establishment willing to use ‘soft power’ by co-opting Baloch sub-nationalists?


Nawaz Sharif tried to woo Sardar Ataullah Mengal before the 2013 elections. Choosing ballot over bullet, Akhtar Mengal and his BNP-M contested elections despite grave threats and warnings from all major insurgent groups, including the Hyrbyair Marri-led BLA, Brahmdagh Bugti-led BRA and the Allah Nazar-led BLF. This was a huge step that lent credibility to the electoral process.

The election results were a surprise in the eyes of some credible analysts. The security establishment has historically preferred the Bizenjo-led nationalists to Mengal-led political elements. This was true during Gen Musharraf’s military rule when military intelligence was seen to undertake political engineering before, during and after the 2002 and 2008 general elections. As police chief of the province in 2007, I personally came across and protested acts of high-handedness by the agencies concerned against the illegal custody of Baloch nationalists.

Akhtar Mengal feels that his party was denied a few seats in the 2013 elections at the behest of the establishment. However, the Sanaullah Zehri-led PML-N and Hasil-Bizenjo-led National Party ‘emerged’ victorious and formed a coalition government. To his credit, Nawaz Sharif selected NP’s Dr Abdul Malik Baloch to be the chief executive of the province.

As far as I can recall, he was the only ‘Mr Clean’ in a governance paradigm that has always thrived on corruption and the misuse of federal funds in the past. He tried his best to set a personal example in ensuring good governance. Thank you, Sir.

However, he could not succeed on various counts: the missing persons issue is not resolved; the kill-and-dump strategy has not been outrightly abandoned; and the angry Baloch sub-nationalists have not — so far — come to the negotiating table. So, in the context of NAP, the provincial government was not allowed to deliver what it promised.

Now, Sanaullah Zehri is going to be the titular captain of the ship during 2016-18. He has said that “bringing angry Baloch into the national stream” was his first priority. He also claimed that the people of Balochistan and the country would witness positive changes in the province during his tenure.

He has a Herculean task cut out for him. First, he has to overcome his own reputation of a tribal sardar with bloody feuds haunting his past. Second, he will be compared with his predecessor on the issue of resisting corrupt practices and providing good governance. Third, as chief of Jhalawan, he has to constitute a tribal jirga for parleys with the Khan of Kalat in London and the Bugti grandson in Geneva. As for Marri in London, that appears out of the question given the rivalry amongst the sons of late Sardar Khair Baksh.

On bringing the angry Baloch into the national mainstream, he will have to play according to the rules set by the security establishment. As a Baloch sardar he may succeed in appeasing fellow chieftains (ie Khan of Kalat and Bugti). But would this make a real difference in restoring peace? Symbolically, maybe, but not unless the BLF is brought to the table.

The Baloch insurgency has got out of the hands of tribal chiefs and is being effectively led by middle-class, educated but disgruntled youth largely concentrated in the hilly terrain within Turbat, Panjgur, Gwadar and Awaran districts. With an estimated strength of 6,000 at their peak, the BLF is struggling to keep followers motivated.

Being a non-sardar and from their neighbourhood, Abdul Malik Baloch was not provided enough room to manoeuvre to bring the disaffected youth of BLF to the political mainstream by giving them jobs and empowering them through local government. He, unfortunately, missed the boat.

During 2013-14, the establishment was accused of employing kill-and-dump strategy, illegal confinements, coercion and FC-led security operations against Baloch insurgents. In June 2015, the FC claimed to have killed a brother and nephew of Dr Allah Nazar amongst 13 militants accounted for. Later, there were unconfirmed reports of the death of the BLF chief, which have been denied through a video release.

However, during 2015, a stick-and-carrot approach was adopted by the former army commander, Lt-Gen Nasser Janjua, who is now national security adviser after his retirement. The new commander of the Southern Command, Lt-Gen Aamir Riaz, has said that the “Pakistan Army wants to see Balochistan emerge as a peaceful and economically thriving province moving on the path of progress and prosperity.”

I know personally that Gen Aamir is an enlightened soldier and is capable of allowing the use of the ‘soft power’ of the state to restore peace in Balochistan. But the question is about the strategic thinking within the security establishment. Are they willing to use ‘soft power’ by co-opting the Baloch sub-nationalists rather than coercing them? Coercion results in subversive activities. The elements of ‘hard power’ should be invoked sparingly, otherwise they lose their efficacy.

Balochistan presents the saga of constant use of brute force to run the political affairs of the province. Giving the Baloch their due rights and treating them with respect would be a good way of palliating historical wounds. Meanwhile, in accordance with the letter and spirit of NAP, the provincial government needs to be empowered to bring about political reconciliation with Baloch nationalists. Dr Baloch had developed a reconciliation package. Its secrecy is vital for efficacy. The security establishment should lend a helping hand rather than trying to impose peace.

The writer is former IG, Balochistan Police.

Published in Dawn, December 21st, 2015

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