Resolve or ham-fistedness?

The Pakistani army will go ahead with its plans to build a cantonment in Balochistan.

The rallying cry of the Baloch nationalists has been the exploitation of the province by the Pakistani federation and its army. A clear case of exploitation, the nationalists contend, wherein its natural resources are exploited by Pakistan but the province (and its people get very little in return). The land at Gwadar, which is being developed, has been expropriated by the federal government and is under direct rule by Islamabad.

The nationalists contend that the Pakistani army is forcing them to part with their land upon which it intends to build cantonments — which again are administered by the Pakistani army. Given that the cantonments and the new township at Gwadar will be predominantly populated by non-Baloch Pakistanis, the nationalists also suspect an attempt to change the demographic profile, leaving the Baloch people a minority in their own province.

Almost all segments of political opinion are against a military crackdown against the nationalists, favouring instead a political solution. Notwithstanding the fact that political solutions in Pakistan are often engineered by the ISI, the Pakistani army has announced that it will indeed speed up the construction of the cantonments. For good measure, it has moved tanks to the troubled province.

The Pakistani army is certainly demonstrating the resolve expressed by its chief when he warned the rebels not to challenge his authority. But setting up a cantonment and strengthening military power in Balochistan at a time when tensions are peaking is a provocative move that can well qualify to be called ham-fisted. But then, this is the stuff military dictators are meant to do. What was it again that Saddam Hussein did to the Kurds?

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