End of ceasefire raises many an eyebrow


SOURCE: DAILY TIMES, LAHORE

* BLA spokesman says government did not respond positively to truce
* Armed groups say they see no justification to end their operations

By Malik Siraj Akbar

QUETTA: Three armed militant groups operating in Balochistan have finally ended their four-month ceasefire. The Baloch Liberation Army (BLA), the Baloch Republican Army (BRA) and the Baloch Liberation Front (BLF) had announced a swift, unconditional and unilateral ceasefire last September as part of their ‘guerilla warfare tactic’. The decision raised many eyebrows among young Baloch nationalists. While some accused these outfits of ‘compromising’ with the government on the ‘Baloch interest’, the others ridiculed them for supposedly

running out of ‘ample Indian assistance’ to pursue their resistance movement.

The Baloch militants, on their part, repeatedly brushed aside such allegations, claiming they had now become so ‘powerful’ no one could dictate them any more. They could initiate a war whenever they wanted to and end it when it pleased them to do so. The main purpose of the ceasefire, as a BLA spokesman told Daily Times, was to avoid bloodshed that was causing the death of innocent women, children and elderly citizens. In addition, the ceasefire was intended to see if the government would also positively respond to the truce and pull out troops from the conflict zones of Balochistan as a confidence-building measure. That did not happen.

The biggest loser during the four-month lull is undeniably the Pakistan People’s Party government in Balochistan and the Centre. This period of peace and tranquility could have been taken as a golden opportunity by the ruling party to address the Balochistan issue. Federal Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Senator Babar Awan believes there is still sufficient time to address the issue. Therefore, he believes the people of Balochistan should wait until “the government gives them good news in March 2009″.
This explicitly shows the government’s lack of interest in Balochistan. The governments in Islamabad still tend to underestimate the power of the Baloch armed resistance, besides defiantly skirting the demands of genuine democratic forces. On the other hand, the expanding insurgency has become an unavoidable headache for everyone who tries to rule Balochistan. The PPP leadership seems to be missing the point that the year 2008 was the most violent year in the past decade. Target killings claimed 73 lives of mainly those working for the government – the police, Frontier Corps (FC), army, intelligence agencies and other government institutions. It is for this reason that the conflict in Balochistan cannot afford to wait until March to be addressed by the government.

The government should have taken the ceasefire as a blessing in disguise. It substantially stopped the cycle of target killings in Quetta. In August 2008, the security situation went out of the control to the extent that Governor Nawab Zulfiqar Ali Magsi was obliged to announce on August 14 that he was planning to quit his office. The governor said he had promised to improve the state of law and order in the province soon after assuming charge. Later on, he realised that he had failed to meet the daunting challenge.

Furthermore, Magsi also recommended Balochistan Chief Minister Nawab Aslam Raisani to join him in tendering resignations because the latter had also promised to bring peace to Balochistan.

“Since both of us have failed to deliver and bring peace to Balochistan, we should quit,” Nawab Magsi was quoted in the media as saying.

Such feelings were understandable given the fact that the Baloch armed groups had by that time frustrated the government law enforcement agencies, measures to overpower them. They were unwilling to negotiate with the government. The remaining moderate political parties, such as the Balochistan National Party (BNP), National Party and Jamhoori Watan
Party (JWP), were skeptical of the government for “not doing enough to restore the Baloch trust”. But when the ceasefire was announced, it was the right moment for the PPP leadership to take the opportunity to bring the Baloch political parties to the negotiation table. Had it been done then, it would have remarkably helped the PPP government isolate the militants in Balochistan and pit the Baloch political parties against the hardliners.

The armed groups say they see no justification to end their operations given the ‘indefinite timeframe’ they had offered to the government to show by its actions that it wanted to drastically change its approach towards Balochistan. The moderate and secular parties complain that the PPP did not fulfil the promises it had made to them before the general elections. A number of controversial issues still remain unaddressed.

The future of security in Balochistan appears bleak after the conclusion of the ceasefire. The first week of 2009 has already proven violent. It witnessed deadly clashes between the FC and the militants. Three times in one week, the Baloch militants attacked passenger trains. BRA spokesman Sarbaz Baloch told Daily Times his party wanted the Baloch people to avoid travelling via train.

“In the past we used to attack the railway tracks and now we will attack the trains carrying passengers. Anyone who would travel on the trains despite this warning would be responsible for his own safety,” he warned.

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