OUR military and its various arms and agencies believe they have what it takes to formulate and execute the country’s foreign and national security policies.
The recent multiparty conference, rather fallaciously called all-party conference even though there were notable absences, saw carpet coverage by our TV news channels during which a range of opinion was heard.
Among the ‘expert’ commentators whose opinion one benefited from was an academic-analyst who is said to have personal experience of counter-espionage and, while working for a security agency in the national interest, was reportedly responsible for the expulsion of a foreign spy.
In the opinion of these experts, the political parties were bereft of the wherewithal (as manifested in the absence of think tanks/experts and research papers) to formulate foreign/national security policies. Therefore, the vacuum was filled by the military.
They cited the ‘excellent research’ being carried out at army institutions such as the National Defence University, the papers that are published there, the lectures by faculty and guests of substance and expertise as the reason for the military’s ‘superiority’.
Let us not go into the detail of what for example the civilian politician Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto delivered to the country in terms of successful foreign and national security policies. We won’t look at the Simla agreement that saw 90,000 prisoners of war return home and the Islamic Summit.
We won’t get into whose policies lost us half the country and made 90,000 of its proud soldiers prisoners of wars. We won’t even ask whose brilliance had pushed us into the Kargil disaster and how another ‘bloody civilian’ Nawaz Sharif got us out of the Himalayan mess.
We won’t even get into who did what to these civilian leaders after they bailed out the most powerful of our institutions or shall I say political entities.
We will accept the assessment of our patriotic sons and daughters, analysts and commentators, and say, yes, the military is the only institution with the intellect, the paraphernalia to draw up policies to safeguard our country’s interests.
But then of course they’ll also have to agree that as the sole arbiter of policy, the military must be held to account when things go pear-shaped. And, boy, pear-shaped things have gone wherever you look.
Look at Balochistan. Nearly 500 murders of a relatively small community of Hazara Shias over the course of a few years ought to have been enough for everyone having any responsibility for law and order in the province to be spurred into action.
But no one seemed to take notice. Now the violence against this community has reached mind-numbing proportions as demonstrated by the mass execution of Hazara Shia bus passengers near Quetta in two separate incidents barely a few weeks apart.
And these mass murders claimed by one of the most lethal sectarian terror groups, Lashkar-i-Jhangvi, have come against the backdrop of continuing disappearances of Baloch nationalists seen as being too close to the separatist cause.
Trying to gain an insight into an increasingly murky Balochistan scene I approached someone whose knowledge of the province I have come to rely on over the years even though we may have often disagreed over his pro-establishment worldview.
“You see the resources of the security agencies are limited. So first they are focusing their attention on those who are trying to break up Pakistan at the instigation of foreign powers. Once they have dealt with the threats to the country’s existence, they’ll deal with sectarian groups too.”
I couldn’t believe my ears. But once the meaning of the remarks started to sink in disbelief was replaced by insane rage.
Eventually, of course I was to break out in cold sweat at the thought our national security was in the hands of ones so wise, so prudent.
Okay. You might say such thoughts are completely unsurprising and unremarkable coming from someone who is always pro-democracy (no matter how imperfect) and against the meddling of military in the civilian domain (no matter how grave the civilian shortcomings).
But look at what a recently retired inspector-general and one of the most respected police officers in the country Tariq Khosa wrote earlier this week in a national daily: “…Balochistan is fast slipping into chaos and turmoil that may result in [the] disintegration of the State of Pakistan.”
He laments the “lack of political will and wisdom to set things right”. But goes on to say: “The security establishment has a barrel vision as its current strategy is perpetuating tit-for-tat killings and violence.”
Khosa is very open about the shortcomings of the police but says: “The Frontier Corps looks up to the army command rather than the Ministry of Interior to respond to acts of terrorism and disorder in the province.
“A huge force is being fed gigantic internal security allowance out of limited financial resources of the province, and yet it is not accountable and responsive to the needs of the provincial government….”
“Intelligence Bureau, the civilian police-led agency of the Federal Government, has been made ineffective as power lies somewhere else. Its role in Balochistan is to act as glorified partner of the local special branch.
“The military-led all-powerful ISI is not willing to part with its administratively acquired technological prowess for intelligence-based investigations against the terrorists and insurgents. About Military Intelligence (MI), less said the better in the context of Balochistan.”
Khosa justifiably laments the lack of political will and wisdom. Many of us feel that the PPP-led government in Islamabad may be forgiven for many of its sins but its expedient silence over Balochistan will forever be a black mark against its name.
And, to pick up on Khosa’s phrase, the less said the better about how the guardians of our national security and how their role in Balochistan will be judged by history.
The writer is a former editor of Dawn.