By Iftikhar Hussain
Faced with the pressing challenge of violent extremism at home, Pakistan Army Chief General Raheel Sharif during his recent visit to London, in the Post-Peshawar school massacre scenario, ironically, demanded of the host nation cooperation on Baloch dissidents.
“The issue of UK-based organisations creating security problems in Pakistan was forcefully raised in all the meetings. The army chief specifically talked about the Hizbut Tahrir (HT) and the Baloch dissidents, who have taken up asylum in the UK,” Maj. Gen. Asim Saleem Bajwa, the top military spokesman, was quoted as saying by Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper as saying.
Experts and critics think it is the imbalance in the civil-military focus on terrorism that still exists to deal with the issue. They argue as Pakistan looks inward to resolve the Baloch issue through dialogue, the nation’s ideological military believes the factors are external, linking it to India and anti-Islam forces.
For the Pakistan military, in the renewed anti-terror discourse after the December 16 Taliban attack on Peshawar school, the focus has been on setting up military courts, Afghanizing terrorism and seeking handover of Baloch exiled leaders, some of whom live in Europe.
Baloch nationalists and critics of the army say that the ideological strategy of the military is to externalize the Baloch issue from an indigenous to a foreign one, complicating rather than resolving the issue.
“The more you press Baloch, the harder they react”
A parliamentarian from Baluchistan, Isa Nouri, told VOA Deewa in an interview that externalizing the Baloch issue is an effort to cover up for Pakistan’s failures. He says, “If you had fulfilled responsibilities as a state, there would have been no chance of the alleged foreign involvement.”
He says that Baloch struggle for their rights is gaining momentum day by day. “This is Baloch nation’s psyche, the more you press them, the harder they react.” He adds “It’s a matter of interest, for the Pakistani state it is the foreign hand but for us, it’s the struggle of our rights.”
Baluchistan victim of Pak army ideological faultlines
Pakistan leading defense analyst and former army general Talat Masoud told VOA Deewa that Pakistan army chief raised the issue of Baluchistan dissidents with Britain because Shareef thought that Baluchistan is strategically important. Masoud said, “The army believes the world powers are not happy with the Chinese investments in the province and the other thing is that India is involved in supporting the insurgency.” Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry has repeatedly blamed India for the unrest in Baluchistan and points out that Indian Consulates in several Afghan cities, close to the Pakistani border, were being used as outposts to stir up trouble in Pakistan. New Delhi denies the Pakistani charges.
But Masoud thinks it was a fact that Baluchistan has been ignored and disconnected from mainstream Pakistan. Talat Masoud says, “It is the duty of Pakistan political and military leadership to take steps for the development of the region. And continuity is must in addressing the Baluchistan issue because it has been a long time and Baloch feels alienated, drastic course corrections are needed.”
Baloch Leaders In Exile
A number of Baloch nationalist leaders have left their homeland and are living in self-exile in UK and other parts of Europe. Hyrbiar Muree, son of Nawab Khan Box Muree lives in London. Another influential figure from Baluchistan and Khan of Qalat, Mir Suliman Daud, lives an exiled life in London. Javed Mangal, a former senator and Bloch nationalist leader who have left their land and lives in London. The two the Baloch leaders Mehran Muree, son of Nawab Muree, and Brahamdagh Bugti, grandson of slain Nawab Akbar Bugti live a self-exiled life in Switzerland. Former Senator Sanaullah Baloch remains elusive due to security reasons since for the last several years.
Religion as an ideology
Ahmar Mustikhan, a Baloch journalist based in the U.S., wrote in his recent piece published in the Examiner, that religious license is at the roots of the Baloch killings. He says, “Pakistani intelligence brainwashes the Mehsud and Waziri tribesmen from the tribal region, who work for $60 per month in the paramilitary Frontier Corps, that they are engaged in jihad against Baloch apostates.” He believes that Islamabad describes the Baloch freedom activists as apostates in the service of Indian, Israeli and U.S. intelligence, who want to harm the fortress of Islam, Pakistan. He writes in the Examiner that “apostates were treated rather harshly by Prophet Mohammed for betraying Islam, Islamist education materials by Muslim scholars themselves reveal.”
Experts in the region think Pakistan Baluchistan Province, home to most of the nation’s natural resources, sits on two ideological fault lines for the Pakistan military, India and the sacrosanct strategic relationship with China.
China has invested billions of dollars in a trade corridor that is planned to further consolidate the strategic link with Punjab, whose dominance is deeply resented in Baluchistan and Baluch leaders accuse the province of usurping their rights.
Ruling parties in Baluchistan frequently complain of the discriminatory treatment by federal government currently dominated by Punjab-based Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s PMLN party. A recent multi-billion dollar project, Pak-China Corridor, caused uproar in the county’s senate after the Sharif brothers diverted the major route to Punjab instead of the smaller provinces of KP and Baluchistan, as was initially planned. Baluchistan’s Information Minister Abdurrahim Ziaratwal told Deewa in an intv, “if the route was changed, it will re-affirm the center behavior that Pakistan is only meant for Lahore.”
Pakistan’s Islamic Identity In Collision With Modern State Imperatives
Christine Fair, an author and a leading American expert on Pakistan, has told Deewa in an earlier interview that Pakistan’s army while transforming itself in many aspects of the war; its ideology remains the same. “Unlike any other country in the world to use co-ethnics against each other’s in the war, Pashtuns are used against Pashtun in the war under the Islamic ideology & anti-Indianism.”
Aisha Jalal, a Pakistani historian and author of The Struggle for Pakistan: a Muslim Homeland and Global Politics, beautifully sums up the current situation in her book from a historical perspective. She says that Pakistan is more than six and a half decades since its establishment but it has yet to reconcile its self-proclaimed Islamic identity with the imperatives of a modern nation-state. She is more surgical than most Pakistanis in her diagnostic observations: “Pakistanis receive schooling in ideology that aims to reinforce belief in constructed national myths. These exaggerate Muslim differences with Hindu India to justify the existence of Pakistan and, more problematically, to deny the welter of heterogeneities within the country itself.”