THE NEWS EDITORIAL: Bombing Balochistan

Friday, March 20, 2009

According to reports in the US media, Washington may be planning to embark on a new strategy involving drone attacks in Balochistan. The argument goes that drone bombings in the northern areas have led to key Al Qaeda militants fleeing southwards, to Quetta, where they are more vulnerable and can be targeted through aerial attacks. Senior US administration figures have also been quoted as saying the province had been used by militants as a safe haven for years. Security officials based in Balochistan have denied that Al Qaeda leaders are present in the area.

The problem is that the issue of defeating the militants must go beyond the mere aim of bombing them out of existence. We must concede that the drone attacks seen in the tribal areas all through the last year have resulted in the death of at least some militants – possibly some important figures in the movement. But what they have also done is create immense anger and resentment among ordinary people, who have also been among the victims of the bombs and missiles that flatten homes and kill indiscriminately. The graves of women, children and the elderly killed in such attacks stand dotted across Waziristan and other tribal areas. The strategy that underpins the drone attacks sees these deaths as nothing more than ‘collateral damage’. For local people, it is of course the worst possible tragedy. What, after all, could be more devastating than having a family member killed by a ball of fire that descends from planes bearing the markings of a foreign power?

The drone attacks have added to the complications we find in battling militancy. We must avoid a situation where extremism grows due to similar feelings of rage and hatred in Balochistan. So far, in the province, the extremist groups that promote militancy have had only limited success. Many groups based in Balochistan, including those who promote nationalist causes, believe in progressive values. There are indications though that they may be rapidly learning the violent ways of militants. The Pakistani government must ensure that in this situation the US is made aware of the risks and does not embark on a strategy that adds to the problems already being faced by Pakistan.

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