Army Says No to Balochistan Operation
By Salahuddin Haider
Karachi , Pakistan


Will the Pakistan Army continue to be driven or dictated to play an outsider’s game or will it chose to draw the red line somewhere? It is a multi-million dollar question, and may have baffled a weak civilian administration in Pakistan, who would have been forced to toe  the Washington line, as it has been doing for the last two years, but General Kayani, in a frank and upright fashion, decided to use his own judgment as to what should be in our interest, and what should be done in future.

In fact, about two weeks ago, US drones were seen flying near the Kandhar-Chaman border, obviously in search for possible Taliban concentrations. The ticker line, announcing the development on a private TV channel, caused an obvious consternation in concerned circles, but the policy makers remained unmoved. They knew that they had told the Americans that committing further troops could only be possible after sometime, and that too, after a proper assessment of the situation. Eastern borders, where a phenomenal arms build-up is being resorted by an unfriendly neighbor, is needed to be monitored closely.

Secondly, America’s decision to create problems on the Balochistan side will be a major headache for Pakistan. In fact, the Karzai government in Afghanistan, or even the US or NATO troops, brought for his help, have failed to achieve any major success in the last ten years. It was the Pakistan Army, which within a year’s time, delivered results and the Taliban began to abandon their bases and concentrations in Swat and other areas, moving to Yemen, Somalia, Aden ,etc. Many of their principal leaders were killed, others forced to flee. The Pakistan Army won praise from America, NATO and world leaders for its professional handling of the situation. But asking it to stretch it too far, beyond its capacity, was like asking for moon.

The military did well to convey to its US allies that no more military operation was to be done in Northern Waziristan or elsewhere. The same was true for Balochistan side of the Afghan border, as far as the troops involvement was concerned. In fact, Pakistan, will be under too much pressure if the US decides to launch operation on the Kandhar side. Infiltration of refugees, and militants, in search of shelter from bullets or bombs, will be a major problem for the Pakistani civilian and military authorities. If the Army decides to check their entry into Pakistan through the Ghazni-Spinboldak border, it will have to commit extra troops. It already has some forces on the Pakistani side of the south-western border, but committing a fighting machine, will be a burden it can hardly afford at this time.

For the present, the Army is busy in a full-fledged, six-week war game along the eastern border in Bahawalpur and Multan. Some 20,000 regular soldiers are taking part. The exercises, codenamed Azm-e-Nau (reviving commitment to national cause) has its third session in progress.  Previously, Zarbe-e-Momin ( Punch of a Muslim) was conducted during the tenure of General Aslam Beg, soon after he succeeded General Ziaul Haq, as the country’s army chief. Kayani is monitoring the progress of these exercises closely because they involve air force, and heavy artillery, and is designed to deal with emergencies in case they arrive.

American war campaigners tried to raise the bogey some months back about the presence of a “Taliban shoora” (Taliban network headquarter) in Quetta, capital city of Balochistan. Pakistan’s vehement denial and invitation to the Americans to submit evidence of that for possible action from the Islamabad administration, dew a blank, Local journalists deny existence of any such organization in Quetta or at any other place. It is possible however that some militants or their leaders, fleeing from Afghanistan or from Swat and Malakand because of the army operation, may have moved quietly to Balochistan. But setting up of a network for organized moves against the authorities in Pakistan, looks highly unlikely. Balochistan had seen a quite uprising from the radicals in the last about one year or so. Pakistani national anthem and Pakistani flags became a taboo there. But some political decisions taken by the government —President Zardari, and Prime Minister Gilani especially -- yielded enormous benefits. A change of hearts among dissidents is now clearly visible. Then the prime minister during his meeting with his Indian counterpart Manmohan Singh in the Egyptian Summit of Sharm-al-Sheikh did present to the latter a comprehensive brochure on alleged Indian involvement in Balochistan.

The issue may possibly have been raised by Gilani during his meeting with President Obama in his meeting in Washington prior to the nuclear summit. Manmohan Singh too had a similar meeting with the US President and did complain against Pakistan, including allegations of interference in Balochistan or Indian activities in Afghanistan which Pakistan considers as detrimental to its security.

Irrespective of the correctness or otherwise of these charges, Pakistan’s south-western border on Balochistan side has portents of getting hot. That may be a real problem for Islamabad. There is no doubt about that. —



Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
2004 . All Rights Reserved.