News Analysis: The Father, the Son and the I.G.

By Malik Siraj Akbar

IN BALOCH traditions, if a boy is too rebellious and hard to control, the best thing for the folks in the neighborhood is to reach out to his father. If the father is not at home, they would most likely reach out to the boy’s elder brother.

Major General Ubaidullah Khan, the Inspector General of the Frontier Corps (FC), is not a Baloch, nor is he from Balochistan. Therefore, he does not know the rules of engagement while dealing with Balochistan. It was hilarious for many people to learn that he applied this rule  in the opposite way. He reached out to the son of the Khan of Kalat to seek his help to bring his father on the ‘right’ (read official) track.

Can you imagine how the I.G. would have conversed with the Khan’s son if he spoke Balochi?

He would have probably said, “Aday Wathi Pissa Samjahen!” [ Boy, make your dad behave well].

The confident son, who also attended the Pakistan Day ceremony with the Corps Commander, assured the I.G. that his father would behave and he would also persuade him to return to Balochistan. The top F.C. officer was too delighted. He impatiently wanted to break the great news. For him, it seemed to be the greatest diplomatic breakthrough of all times. He convened a press conference and informed everyone that the Khan’s son had promised to convince his disillusioned father to come back to Balochistan. Politically naive, the I.G. seems to have thought that he required only a week time to resolve the Balochistan crisis once and for all. It was a good, but a failed, effort.

There are two fundamental problems attached to this official approach.

Firstly, the army and the F.C have become main actors in the Balochistan conflict. They can do a great favor in conflict management if they only stay away and allow the civilian government to initiate a dialogue process. Having done that, they also have an important responsibility to cooperate with such a broad-based dialogue process and and honestly offer all support they can to make sure that a political process is not derailed. The derailment of rapprochement in Balochistan has historically come from the military and the F.C. While politicians engage in talks, sometimes (as happened in 2004-05) a military captain is either blamed for raping a lady doctor at a gas plant in Balochistan or the FC is seen shooting at a political rally killing activists.

Secondly, there seems to be some cultural misunderstanding when the armed forces try to impose a peace model which may have successfully worked elsewhere in Pakistan. There is a reason why these two security organizations continue to fail in what they may call their ‘true’ and ‘sincere’ efforts to resolve the Balochistan conflict. The army mainly comprises of the Punjabis while the FC is heavily manned with Pashtuns of FATA. Considering the absolute absence and under-representation of the Baloch in both the forces, the top strategists in these organizations fail to understand the Baloch culture and negotiating style. If there was a sizable portion of Baloch officers in the army or FC, they could at least provide honest advice and a workable strategy to their top bosses before reaching out to the Baloch leaders. For instance, the Pashtuns in the Pakistan army play a key role in advising the army how to negotiate with the Taliban. That strong element is missing when it comes to reaching out to the Baloch.

Thirdly, the army does not know how to play politics but it continues to insist upon doing so. It is not primarily trained to run businesses but it is bent upon running the country’s businesses. As said above, it does not have a successful history of brokering deals with the Baloch but it also refuses to pave the way for political actors to come forward to decide what can best work in Balochistan. In the past, the military has committed two types of blunders in the province in its conflict resolution strategies. First, it pitted Baloch tribes, family members and neighbors against each other. One among several examples is the crowning of Mir Aali Bugti as the Nawab of the Bugti tribe only to discredit is anti-government cousin Bramdagh Bugti. The experiment should have succeeded by now considering the fact that apolitical generals induct the depoliticized Nawab some three years back. Second, the army has off and on offered unsolicited development projects to (what they say) make the Balochs rich, happy and healthier! The opening of the Chamalaang coal project was one such example of the army’s unnecessary involvement in an economic project. In serious conflicts, like Balochistan’s, coal projects headed by the army or schools constructed by the FC, do not make much sense. They only aggravate the situation.

Fourthly, Murtaza Baig, the spokesman for the FC, does not confide with us actually gave the I.G. the formula of reaching out to people’s sons to bring fathers on the negotiation table. I fail to agree that someone in Balochistan gave him this suggestion. The thought must have struck him somewhere in FATA or in Islamabad. In Balochistan, there are already more practical examples to be analyzed before reaching out to another son to please another disillusioned father.

While there is absolute consensus about the significant role the Marris are playing in the current nationalist movement, a son of Nawab Khair Baksh Marri, the ideological father of the current movement, is already the provincial organizer of Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League. If such approaches could work, Jangiz Marri, Nawab Marri’s son in the PML, would have surely convinced his father and brothers long ago to give up their demand for a free Balochistan and become a part of the Pakistani government.

As far as the Khan of Kalat is concerned, he has his merits and demerits. Depending on which side one takes, you can praise him and you can also endlessly criticize him. He has to deal with both sections of the opinion. Only his son can embarrass him.  To ensure damage control, the Khan addressed a press conference and completely disassociated himself with is son saying that he had not interacted with his (now popular) son for the past two years.

The Khan, who know lives in London on exile, came in spotlight in September 2006 after he arranged a grand Jirga in Kalat deciding to take Balochistan’s case (of forced annexation by Pakistan in 1948) to the International Court of Justice.

The Khan can easily be criticized for three reasons: (a) He is too religious (b) He does not have a political party  (c) most of his family members are pro-Pakistan ministers, MPAs and senators and do not share his vision of an independent Balochistan.

What, nonetheless, still makes him look genuine and credible to the Baloch movement, is his unwillingness to surrender before Islamabad. If he had agreed to give up his stance, he could have easily become the governor of Balochistan. As argued above, he does not have a political background or a political party which can sweep polls for him but, in the area’s tribal circle, he is still more respected and powerful than Nawab Raisani, the Chief Minister or Nawab Magsi, the governor. Interestingly, Raisani and Magsi and another powerful tribal chief, Sanaullah Zehri, all attended the Khan’s Jirga in 2006 but eventually all the three betrayed him and joined the government on key positions.

The I.G F.C. has indirectly offered an opportunity to the Khan of Kalat as next general elections get closer. The Khan has turned down the first offer. In such cases, it is in the greater interest of sons not to convey the full message to their fathers if they are themselves interested in eating the larger piece of the cake. Who knows?  Go Prince!