Square one again?

The announcement by Interior Minister Rehman Malik — that ‘intelligence-guided’ action against extremist groups in Balochistan is being planned — bodes ill. Malik has also said that the frontier corps Balochistan has been granted special powers of search for three months, but maintained that this is not a ‘Swat-like’ operation. The bank accounts and assets of several Baloch nationalist groups have been frozen. All in all there is the sombre sound of déjà-vu knocking at the door. No mention was made of the Pakistan Army in Malik’s statement and we trust that there are no plans to use the army in this most sensitive of operations, yet given the scale of the task it does have to be wondered if those now told to take on the militants in Balochistan are going to be equal to the job. Viewed from whichever angle, there is little that has improved in Balochistan since the 2008 election and much that might be said to have gone backwards. Fine promises have rarely turned into hard reality, and the sense of frustration among the people of Balochistan has grown alongside their feeling of being consistently marginalised no matter what spin is put on the actions of the federal government.
The ‘strict action’ now promised by the interior minister is redolent of a bygone-age, of the collective punishments of the colonial era. These actions will not be taken against bands of interlopers and strangers, in the way that action was taken against the Taliban in Swat and elsewhere. There, the people were crying out for the government to intervene to free them from a malicious and predatory aberration that butchered its way into power. No such equation exists in Balochistan. There are no spontaneous requests from the Baloch people for the government to intervene on their behalf against the groups which are now proscribed and criminalised. The government, as and when it moves in these intelligence-led operations, is going to do no more than fuel the fires of alienation. Talks have been ruled out. The government will not speak to any group or representatives of groups having ‘lashkar’, ‘army’ or ‘liberation’ in their titles and the stage seems to be set for a return to the eternal square-one that has characterised the dealings of successive governments with Balochistan. Those who believe that there is a military solution to this problem live in a fool’s paradise. Sooner or later, and the sooner the better, talking is going to have to take place. ‘Intelligence-guided’ operations do not appear to be the most intelligent of moves.