By Dr. Haider Mehdi

A wise adversary’s intrusiveness is better than a foolish friend’s counsel. (adapted from an old proverb)

Three fundamentally vital points in this proposal need to be clearly stated at the very outset: One: The COAS is the most important actor in the conceptualization, making and the management of the military’s operational and strategic organization. Hence, any issue pertaining to the military’s conduct and policy-making must be addressed to its top leadership, namely the COAS. Two: All over the world, the military has the right of legitimate institutional input into the overall political system of the country, both domestically and in external affairs. Be mindful, the emphasis here is on constitutional and legitimate institutional input. So this universally accepted practice for efficient working relations between the civil and military institutions must be respected and accorded to the Pakistani military as well. Three: A mutual understanding and clear demarcation of the rules of engagement between civil and military institutions must be clearly defined and respective institutional prerogatives respected. 

It is not important here in the present context to go into the past history of civilian-military relations in Pakistan. Indeed, the army generals have overstepped their political role and successive civilian political administrations have time and again failed in their democratic mandates to deliver sufficiently to the masses. As a result, both the civilian and military institutions have mismanaged their respective part in the conduct of national affairs and have caused the nation to suffer indefinitely, hopelessly and almost incurably. Hence, today’s Pakistan stands at the crossroads virtually fighting a battle for its future survival.  Because of the grave political challenges facing the nation, the need for a rational approach to find a political solution has never been greater.

One of the fundamental problems in the checkered history of Pakistan has been that the military leadership has historically turned national political issues into military confrontations. It is the mindset and training of soldiers that a sufficient use of force can terminate adversaries in an actual battlefield as well as in the arena of political dissidence and discourse. The military-political history of Pakistan from Ayub Khan to Pervaiz Musharraf is a testament to that fact.

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Now we are faced with yet another grave national crisis: the fastly-deteriorating political situation in Balochistan may lead to another disintegration of the nation.  The US has internationalized the Baloch issue, and those who think that the US is only making tactical moves to pressure Pakistan into resuming NATO supplies are certainly mistaken.  The move in the American Senate is part of the US doctrine of global expansion of power through regime changes and the shifting of territorial boundaries in this region for its greater geo-political hegemonic objective of containing China and Russian.  Make no mistake about it: the US will employ all means – manipulative, coercive, military, diplomatic – and the use of political force to get what it wants.

So the question is: Cognizant of the fact that Pakistan’s civilian regime is inefficient, dysfunctional and helpless in the face of American demands, how is Pakistan’s military leadership going to act in the political resolution of Balochistan and save the country from the impending crisis of further destabilization? Indeed, rightly or wrongly, much of the Baloch problem has been pinned on the conduct of military leaders (turning  political issues into military confrontations) past and present alike. General Kayani, the incumbent COAS, has recently stated publically, that the military is neither engaged in Balochistan nor are its troops stationed there. On February 17th, the Inspector-General of hpw Frontier Corp (FC), a serving two-star military general, in a TV talk show, confidently articulated the role of the FC as a credible force of stability, peace and development in Balochistan. However, the IG admitted that there are 50,000 soldiers stationed under his command with the FC having access to all civilian administrative departments in every district of Balochistan – assisting the civilian administration on the constitutional and legitimate request of the provincial democratic government.

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Let’s assume that what IG, FC has said is true. But the Balochi perception of the FC role is quite the contrary.  It is not perceived as legitimate; it is perceived as a “de-facto” military power engaged in terror against the Balochi citizens and dissidents.  As it is said at many important conjunctures, “perception is reality,” and here for historical and conceptual reasons, the Balochi perception of the FC must be considered as the political reality.

And here is a word of the warning for the COAS: Given the ground political realities in Balochistan’s simmering situation, it is not time to offer technical or legal justifications of the army’s role and its presence there. Indeed, the FC is a part of the military outfit – and that is a fact. It is the need of the hour to make visionary, imaginative, versatile, determined, and effective political judgments on the Baloch issue – that is how the federation of Pakistan can be saved and national sovereignty safeguarded. The COAS would be well-advised to counsel the civilian leadership in the country to completely disengage the FC force from civilian affairs in Balochistan and pave the way for a political resolution in the province. Nothing less will suffice.

An inspired, dedicated, well-informed and enthusiastic political activist associated with the movement for Balochistan’s provincial autonomy and the rights of the Balochi people, has suggested (personally to me) a 10-point agenda for a peaceful political resolution of the Balochistan issue. It is produced verbatim here:

“The problem in Balochistan is more complicated than it seems and it is difficult to bring people who have crossed the Rubicon back to fold. But attempts should be made.

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First: All the Frontier Corps should be withdrawn from Balochistan. Cantonments reduced and Coast Guard pickets be removed.

Second: Those responsible for the abduction and killing of nearly 400 persons should be brought to book.

Third: Guarantees regarding demographic changes should be iron-clad.

Fourth: The consent of the local population in any development project in any area be made essential. This should include road building as well.

Fifth: The land rights and consequently the right over minerals including oil, gas, etc. of tribes be accepted.

Sixth: the principle for positive discrimination be enforced for at least 15 years in all job quotas for Balochis.

Seventh: The right to carry arms should be respected.

Eight: Naval bases should be limited in size and number and should in no way hinder fishing.

Nine: Apologies for previous nuclear tests and dismantling of all nuclear and missile testing facilities in Balochistan.

Tenth: Free and fair elections with unhindered international monitoring be held.”

Military generals and some vested-interest political groups might consider Balochi political activists and dissidents as their enemies as well as enemies of the state – but as the old proverb goes, “A wise enemy is better than a foolish friend.” 

It is time to pay heed to what the perceived enemies of the state are saying – before it is too late!

The hounds are at our doors! Don’t provide them an opportunity to manipulate and control the situation!

The COAS must act now to disengage the FC from Balochistan.