Sherry Rehman’s Balochistan report

Some home truths

A Pakistani parliamentarian reports her observations after a recent trip to Balochistan. Her article is interesting because she had access to both sides and sites of the story; in spite of the gravity of the situation — it threatens to tear Pakistan apart yet again — the conflict in Balochistan has received little media attention, not least because the Pakistani government has made the region a no-go area for journalists.

As it stands, the military logic is as follows: if even a proportion of all 6,000 Frontier Constabulary (FC) personnel stationed in Balochistan are transferred to Dera Bugti, to supplement the 600 odd men the FC has posted in Dera right now, they will of course win more than a pitched battle with the outnumbered Bugtis. What the military is finding hard to grasp is that they will still lose the war. Basically, the way the terrain is configured, it is almost impossible to win a final battle against hardened tribals that know the landscape, its secret gulleys, its dips and peaks. Anybody, who has followed the tortuous history of the Afghan resistance against the Soviets can see the parallels between the Salang highway bottlenecks and the negotiating power of the warlords, who routinely bartered their control of the supply route for political and fiscal exchanges. The only difference here is that the Baloch field commanders cannot be broken by cash and compromise, so they remain committed to their political objectives, and in this case they are engaged in battle against their own government, not a foreign power.

The second thing that hit home is the fact that the Frontier Constabulary posted in the Sui-Bugti area unfortunately, is as angry and as cornered as the Bugtis in their stronghold at the Fort. Both need an exit strategy from the impasse they have locked themselves into, but remain unable to break the deadlock. For the FC and the Army battalion now posted there, the situation is untenable: they have to fly in their supplies from Sui to Dera Bugti because their approach to the valley is now blocked after the March 17 hostilities. They rightly have no mandate to negotiate with the Bugtis, unlike a political agent or even the powerless DCO, and remain dependent on a dithering Islamabad for vital decisions. [The News]

When the Pakistani government says that there is no military operation in Balochistan, it only means that the regular army is not involved. At this point, Musharraf is relying on low-profile military operations targeted at the Bugti tribe, while trying to politically isolate the three leaders of the rebel movement. Musharraf may claim that 75 of the 78 (unelected) tribal sardars are behind him, but the three that are not are the real heavyweights. More importantly, Nawab Akbar Bugti controls the area which supplies energy to the rest of Pakistan, and thus has his hands on the jugular.

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