The Government of Balochistan in Exile

Thursday, August 31, 2006

FP - Foreign Policy: Worse than a mistake


KALAT, Balochistan – Frederic Grare, who is a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, wrote an article for FP - Foreign Policy titled "Worse than a Mistake". This article is reproduced below for the convenience of our readers:

Worse than a mistake
How Pervez Musharraf is endangering himself, Pakistan, and the war on terror.

By FREDERIC GRARE (Foreign Policy)

The Bush administration does not know it yet, but Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf may have just outlived his usefulness. He has already failed to confront the Taliban fighters who have made Pakistan a staging area for their attacks in Afghanistan. He has delayed and postponed promises to shore up his country’s democratic freedoms. He has even walked away from symbolic pledges to remove his own military uniform. And last weekend, the Pakistani strongman may have finally tipped the scales too far. On his orders, Pakistani security forces killed Nawab Akbar Bugti, the tribal leader and former governor of Baluchistan. The elimination of the leader of one Pakistan’s most strategically important border regions threatens the country’s territorial integrity, the war on terror, and Musharraf’s own political future. In one deft stroke, Musharraf has made himself an ally no longer worth the effort.

On August 26, Bugti was killed by Pakistani forces in a firefight close to his mountain hide-out. For 60 years, Bugti was a Baluchi nationalist leader and a key figure in the various insurgencies that have gripped Pakistan’s largest and most mineral-rich province. The Baluchis feel they are exploited by a central government they view as a colonial vehicle for Pakistan’s most populous region, the Punjab. They want more political autonomy and a greater share of their region's lucrative gas revenues.

Bugti commanded a sizable force, and he has long been a thorn in Islamabad’s side. But, unlike other leaders in Pakistan’s unruly border areas, he always deployed his forces with politics in mind and an eye on the future. Just last year, he proposed, albeit unsuccessfully, a compromise peace based on a proposal from Pakistan’s Muslim League leadership. His own stature, combined with the fact that he was in charge of the tribe controlling most of Baluchistan's natural gas reserves, made him unacceptable to the military leadership—even though he was Islamabad’s most credible partner for peace in the region.

Some argue that because the insurgency is essentially tribal, the removal of this tribal leader cuts the head off the snake. But that is a fundamental misreading of the insurgency. A prolonged, low-intensity conflict is now likely. With Bugti’s death, the insurgency will be led by far more radical elements, many of whom, including the largest tribe in Baluchistan, the Marri, will settle for nothing less than independence.

Baluchistan’s strategic location, bordering Iran, Afghanistan, and the Arabian Sea, as well as its wealth of minerals and hydrocarbons, means that Baluchi independence will always be unacceptable to Islamabad. So, the army will be ordered to redouble its efforts to crush the insurgency. But the military will struggle to control a province representing some 43 percent of the country’s territory. More forces will likely be redeployed to the region from the Afghan border. Such a move will further thin the army’s presence along the Afghan border and weaken the help it can offer NATO in the fight against the Taliban and al Qaeda remnants.

Indeed, the army is already paving the way for a drawdown from the Afghan border, which would free up soldiers for Baluchistan. The Pakistani press reported several days ago that a truce is being negotiated with the Taliban in the frontier area of Waziristan. Such a move would result in the army's withdrawal from all border posts and effectively allow the Taliban to cross the border at will.

If the consequences of Bugti’s death on the ground are still difficult to predict, some of them are already apparent in the political arena. Every political party, even Musharraf’s own political allies, has condemned the killing. The division between the civilian leadership and the military is widening—a frightening trend in any country where the military has such a stranglehold on political life. If this rift continues to widen, the Pakistani military might demand that Musharraf, who is still simultaneously—although unconstitutionally—the army’s chief of staff, choose between his two positions.

The killing of Bugti has exposed a Pakistani president both unable to fulfill his commitments in the war on terror and only able to act decisively against his own people. Musharraf’s actions have reversed decades’ worth of slow progress toward national integration. Reporting restrictions will guarantee that we will not hear much from Baluchistan in the coming months. But the next thing we hear might well be an explosion that reverberates as far as Washington.

Baloch News Bureau Report

Mir Azaad Khan Baloch
General Secretary
The Government of Balochistan in Exile


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