WHAT'S wrong with the army isn't necessarily the choices it makes, but the fact that it's the decision-maker.

You can see the effects in Balochistan. Confronted by an armed, low-level Baloch threat against the state and certain segments of the non-Baloch population, the security forces are doing what comes to them naturally.

First, they have assessed the threat. Militarily, it isn't very big — definitely several orders of magnitude smaller than the '70s insurgency. Next, they have rummaged around in their bag of instruments for policy responses — and come up with the obvious response of men in uniform: bullets and rupees.

Put yourself in a pair of army boots for a minute and have a look around Balochistan. Insurgents are killing Punjabi 'settlers', Baloch moderates and attacking the state apparatus. The overall impact has been to virtually cut off an already isolated Balochistan from the rest of Pakistan. Nobody wants to go there and few can.

Vast mineral and gas reserves remain untapped, or are being extracted with great difficulty. Internal demographic changes have occurred, with Punjabi 'settlers' who have called Balochistan home for over a century having to flee. Business is down, property prices have plummeted and fear and uncertainty stalk the land.

What do you in your army boots do about the insurgents dragging the already antediluvian province a further generation back?

You can't prosecute them: the courts are too weak, the security forces' training in the art of forensic evidence non-existent. You can't accommodate them politically: there's already an elected government and, in any case, beyond rigging elections and manipulating governments, you don't have the power to dictate permanent outcomes in politics.

Yet, you believe that doing nothing isn't an option. Pakistan is the motherland and the fatherland and anyone who doesn't accept that reality needs to be dealt with.

So what do you do?

You go after the insurgents. You figure out what their lines of supply, their means of communication are, who the foot soldiers are, where they are operating — you squeeze them and you hunt them down.

And because there is deprivation and because it is a tribal society, you worry about copycats and vendettas, so you throw money at the people who may be susceptible to separatist ideas: jobs, development projects, economic growth — anything to take the minds of young people off 'dangerous ideas'.

Frankly, the army's approach seems likely to work.

Barring some disastrous Musharrafian move to go after the tribal fountainheads of the insurgency, the fifth insurgency in Balochistan since the time of Pakistan's creation appears set to slowly disappear. Forget the money sloshing around the province; you can't sustain an insurgency without fighters.

But here's the problem with the army's approach: the preferred solution to the fifth insurgency almost guarantees that there will be a sixth one.

Who knows, it may come five years hence or a decade from now. But anybody who knows anything about Balochistan is certain there will be another insurgency. The reason is a time-worn one: the army has been trying to solve a political problem by military means. And by throwing more money at it.

There is a curious paradox at work in Balochistan. The small size of Balochistan's population — 6.5 million in the '98 census with around 40-45 per cent Baloch — means the army regards it as a problem that can be handled militarily. Where can they go? How many miscreants and terrorists can there be? Bring 'em on. We'll get them all. That about sums up the army's approach.

But because the population is so small — 3-3.5 million Baloch today perhaps — it has been easier to perpetuate the story of Baloch alienation, of mistreatment at the hands of the state, of political repression since the absorption of the Khanate of Kalat into Pakistan in 1948.

It's quite remarkable, really. The smallness of the Baloch 'problem' tempts the army into believing it can be manageable militarily, but the 'problem' never goes away because the legends of Baloch grievances are easily nurtured and perpetuated in a small population.

The real problem, of course, is the army itself. Not because of how it thinks — arguably, armies the world over would react the same way to an internal threat — but because what it thinks becomes the policy towards Balochistan.

It's not that the civilians have a magic cure for all that ails Balochistan. But accustomed as they are to the process of the negotiated settlement, they understand how to surgically defang a threat rather than smash it in the mouth.

If nothing else, a civilian leadership with genuine powers would have been able to call the army out on its selective memory when it rails against Khair Buksh Marri and rants about the evilness that was Akbar Bugti (both have been used by the security establishment before).

But because there is no one on the civilian side to challenge the army's narrative on Balochistan and no one to veto a military response to a political problem, Balochistan lurches from one insurgency to the next. The underlying causes are never addressed.

And, in Balochistan's case, it's not just that armies don't deal in underlying causes. It's also that fundamentally the Pakistan Army views Balochistan through a security prism.

When generals look at Balochistan they see a strategic asset with vast natural resources, not an impoverished people with little hope of a better life. When generals look at Balochistan they see Iran to the west, Afghanistan to the north and the Arabian Sea to the south, strategic threats and opportunities. The Baloch are just pawns, a population to be manipulated either against Pakistan by outside forces or neutralised as a threat by Pakistan. n

If you look at a land and see not the people, is it any wonder the people fight against you?

The writer is a member of staff.

cyril.a@gmail.com

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